About a year after Nick and I met we were having a discussion about smoking. We had both smoked a bit in college and we were both very anti-smoking at the point of the conversation. I told him that I had been absurdly excited when the smoking ban went into effect while I lived in NYC. I started saving about a hundred dollars a month on dry cleaning (which is significant when your rent is 60% of your take home pay) because I frequently went out to dinner after work and, as I told him, my cashmere sweaters always reeked the next day. I had to get them dry cleaned every time I wore them and it was a complete nuisance.
Then I thought, what? Did I really just say that? Who am I? I grew up on a gravel road in Louisiana! What the hell am I doing complaining about dry cleaning my cashmere sweaters, “Oh, darling, it was just dreadful. I had to bring them all the way to the dry cleaner and Jeeves was no where to be found. It was horrible.”
Ugh. Yuk. I hated myself. I mean it was true. I did save money and I did hate the way my clothes smelled of smoke but really? That’s what I had to bitch about?
Well, the smoke story lives on and occasionally one of us will catch the other being a bit pretentious and it will come out, “Wait, what about your cashmere sweaters? You didn’t have to dry clean them did you?”
Which brings me to smoking and a way to do it without your clothes reeking. I discovered this while day dreaming about a shrimp and corn chowder. Not that way I usually made them, which, until about a week ago, resulted in a a beige gloopey mess, but instead the way they were served in the Northeast, milky white, with a rich thin broth loaded with goodies and bursting with a variety of flavors.
I really wanted to create an intense flavor that would stand out without being overpowering. I have no idea how it all came together but before I knew it I was researching how to smoke corn. Fortunately I have genius level Google skills and within a few minutes I had uncovered a really neat technique by Israeli-born Sarit Packer, one of the chef-owners of Honey and Co. in London.
So there I was. I had set out with two goals: one to create a lovely, silky, rich chowder. The other was to create something with interesting flavors. Well the smoking thing nailed the second criterion. You let the husks burn and use the smoke from them burning to flavor your food. It takes about 15 minutes and you need a nice big heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. Oh, and a hood vent if you can.
As far as the first part I learned something even more valuable than home smoking: Patience. It turns out that a rich, silky white chowder needs you to cook it slowly. No caramelization. No high heat. No intense boiling. Just cool, calm and collected. Like those black crew-neck cashmere sweaters stacked high in my closet.
- 5 ears of corn
- 4 strips of bacon cut into 1/2" pieces
- 1 small white onion diced small
- 13 oz (370 g) yukon gold or small white yukon potatoes cubed (1/2" cubes)
- 1 can (350-400 ml) good fish stock
- 1 cup (240 ml) milk
- 1 cup (240 ml) heavy whipping creme
- 1/2 lb (225 g) shrimp peeled and deveined
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- Tablespoon of finely chopped chives
- Shuck and rinse the five ears of corn. Reserve the husks from two of the ears of corn. Cut the corn away from the cob and pour into a bamboo steaming basket or a small colander that will fit into a stock pot with a tight fitting lid.
- Line the base of a that large stock pot with the reserved husks. Put it on the stove over a high flame for 3 minutes, until the husks begin to burn.
- Place the steamer basket or colander containing the corn into the pot and put the lid on the pot. Cook over high heat for five minutes, then turn the heat off but leave corn in the pot for another five minutes.
- Cook the bacon strips over medium heat until the bacon is crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside over paper towels to drain. Add the potatoes and onion and cook in the bacon fat for about 5 minutes until the onions are beginning to be transluscent and the potatoes are starting to soften. Add the corn and let cook for another 5 minutes.
- Add the can of fish stock. Bring the heat up to medium high and bring to a boil. Add the shrimp and return to a boil for 3 minutes. Turn heat down to medium-low and add the milk, cream and salt and pepper to taste.
- When the shrimp are cooked through (about 2 more minutes) turn the heat off, return the bacon to the chowder and serve immediately garnished with a generous amount of finely chopped chives on top for color.
- Remember my big discovery: Be patient! Don't crank up the heat until you add the broth and then only for boiling purposes and to cook the shrimp. Any other time it should be on medium or medium-low heat.
- The other key is to not boil the soup after you add the milk. That makes the broth "break" and look like baby puke. Sorry. I've got a 12-week old child. That's what I see.