corn chowder with chile, lime and cotija – smitten kitchen

Beans By Elena Boaghi |

I evicted a longtime resident of my To Cook list this week with this corn chowder. I have no argument with traditional corn chowder — it has cream, bacon, and potatoes and thus would be impossible not to love as soup or salad — but I adore to the point of boring everyone around me with my gushing, Mexican-style corn either elote-style (on the the cob rolled in butter, mayo, lime juice and coated with salty crumbled cotija cheese and chile powder or a chile-lime seasoning blend) or esquites-style (all of the above, but in a cup). This corn chowder attempts to celebrate the best of both.

cutting kernels from the cornassistantblended and whole corn kernels

I started with a classic corn chowder using whole and blended fresh kernels, onion, garlic, milk, and cream but added some jalapeño and chili powder for flavor and used cooked black and small red beans instead of potatoes for bulk. Then, right before you eat it, because I am fully of the conviction that finishes are what make a soup, you make a rich street corn-like dressing with mayo, sour cream, cheese, and lime and dollop it right into the center of the soup. Squeeze more lime all over, shake on some chili powder and finish it with fresh cilantro and, if you’re not sure you’ve gilded the lily enough (or, perhaps, have children still viewing this meal skeptically), bake some corn tortilla wedges into chips.


with some chili powdercorn chowdersimmeringcrumbled cotija

Repeat as long as the corn as corn is in season, or if you’re us, exactly one more evening because tomorrow (!) we are heading to Spain (!) for vacation and no, we haven’t packed or even taken our suitcases out of the closet, I’m sorry if you previously mistook us for high-functioning adults. More soon from the other side, including some Spanish favorites, a new favorite cocktail, two new Food Network episodes, and then when we return, more news about this new little cookbook coming out this fall and some book tour dates.

corn chowder with chile, lime and cotijacorn chowder with chile, lime and cotija

Corn Chowder with Chile, Lime and Cotija

The finishing mixture is mostly from Serious Eat’s Elotes recipe, although I nixed the garlic and keep the cilantro and chili powder separate. If you use only 1 tablespoon of it per serving, you will probably have extra but I wanted to give you the option to use more if you wish.

    Soup
  • 8 medium/large ears corn, husks and silks removed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large onion, preferably Spanish, chopped fine
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 to 2 jalapeño peppers, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon mild chili powder or 1 teaspoon of a hotter one
  • 3 tablespoons (25 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups (945 ml) vegetable or chicken stock or broth
  • 2 15-ounce cans small red or black beans, drained and rinsed (or one of each) (3 1/2 cups)
  • 1 cup (235 ml) whole milk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper or cayenne to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 cup (120 to 235 ml) heavy cream
  • Finish
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) sour cream or Mexican crema
  • 1/2 cup (110 grams) finely crumbled Cotija, feta or ricotta salata cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1 lime, divided
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • Chili powder or a chili-lime seasoning such as Tajín
  • Baked tortilla chips (optional)

Make the soup: With a sharp knife, cut kernels from 8 ears corn (you should have about 6 cups); transfer half to a bowl. Chop the other half into pulpy bits on a cutting board or blend them in a food processor until half-pureed. Add to bowl. Firmly scrape any pulp remaining on cobs with back of knife into bowl with corn, unless you’re me and had weirdly dry stalks, yielding no corn “milk.” Set corn aside.

In a large (5 quarts is ideal) heavy pot, heat olive oil and butter over medium. Add onion and cook until tender and beginning to brown at the edges, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic, jalapeño and chili powder and cook together for 2 minutes more. Add flour and stir into onion-garlic mixture until it disappears. Stirring constantly, gradually add stock. Add beans, corn, and 1 cup milk and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 13 minutes, until corn is tender. Add salt (I used about 1 tablespoon Diamond kosher salt total here) and freshly ground black pepper or cayenne to taste. Add cream to taste (we found 1/2 cup sufficient, but it will be less creamy than traditional) and cook for 3 minutes more.

To finish: Combine mayonnaise, sour cream or crema, cheese, and juice of half a lime in a bowl; stir to combine. Cut second half of lime into wedges.

Ladle soup into bowls and dollop in center with 1 tablespoon (or more to taste) of mayo-cheese mixture. Squeeze lime juice over to taste, sprinkle with chili powder and chopped cilantro and serve, baked tortilla chips on the side if you wish.

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