Periodically I start to wonder about the typology of various kinds of foods—what makes a curry a curry? A chili a chili? A chowder a chowder? (I do occasionally wonder about foods not starting with the letter C, but those are my standbys.) For example, “curry” can’t be dependent on the presence of curry powder, which is a blend of spices rather than any single one, and it’s not the presence of curry leaves, which I’ve only ever seen in Sri Lankan curries. So I’ve decided that a “curry” is what English speakers call any stew with unfamiliar “ethnic” spices; otherwise it’s hard to figure out why we call both Thai dishes and Indian dishes “curries.” My Unified Theory of Curry fails to explain why we don’t call “exotically” spiced Ethiopian stews “curry,” but I’m willing to accept that the theory is not perfect.
If you have an opinion about the Unified Theory of Curry, please let me know. Now I want to talk about chowder.
My life was lacking in chowder for a long time, as I’m not the biggest fan of clams—the most conventional use for a chowder. But then I was exposed to fish chowder and corn chowder, and now the world of chowders is a beautiful, beautiful thing to me. According to the internets, what makes a chowder a chowder, as opposed to just a soup, is that it’s thickened in some way. Potatoes often do the job, but it seems that cream can as well. This corn chowder gets the job done with cream and pureed corn. I’m confident the corn chowder would be perfect on its own, but after a weekend in Tybee I was hankering for some crab, so I did some lily-gilding. I’d recommend that you do the same.
I also recommend, though, that you take pictures of your delicious corn and crab chowder before you start drinking wine, or else this might happen:
Corn and crab chowder
Adapted from the New York Times
2 onions, diced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
6 ears of corn
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
freshly ground black pepper
Old Bay, to taste
8 ounces crab meat
Place the shucked corn upright in a bowl. Using a sharp knife, cut the kernels off the ears of corn and set aside, reserving the cobs.
In a large saucepan, combine the cobs, 1 of the diced onions, and 8 cups water. Place over high heat to bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to steep for an additional 30 minutes.
While the corncobs are steeping, place a large saucepan over medium-low heat, and add butter or olive oil. Add remaining diced onion and sauté until translucent and soft, about 20 minutes; do not allow to take on any color. Add corn kernels and sauté until slightly translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
When the stock has finished steeping, strain it, discarding the cobs and onions. Add 6 cups to the pot of corn kernels; discard any remaining stock or reserve for another use. Return to medium heat and simmer until the corn is soft, about 2 minutes. Add heavy cream, reduce heat to low, and cook for 15 minutes.
If you have an immersion blender (highly recommended), blend in the pot until about half blended. If no immersion blender: Remove half the soup and allow to cool until no longer steaming when stirred. Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender until kernels are partly broken, or smooth, depending on your preference, then return to pot, reheating gently if necessary.
Add crab to soup and stir to blend. Season with salt—extra salt goes a long way here—a few grinds of black pepper, and Old Bay to taste.