Corn enjoys an almost mythical status in the history of civilization in the Americas. Grown by the native Americans of Mexico up to 7,000 years ago, the cultivation of corn had spread long before Columbus arrived and found it growing in Hispaniola.
Ben Bohen is a local chef and food writer. His column appears every Wednesday.
There are five major varieties of corn grown. Among them are: dent corn, which is used mainly as fodder for livestock; flour corn, which, as its name suggests, is ground into flour and meal; and the glorious snack popcorn.
The tender, juicy variety is most often sold on the cob. Its sweet flavor is the result of a gene that delays the conversion of the grain's natural sugars into starch until the corn is picked. Hence, as soon as an ear of corn is picked it starts to become less sweet.
In Juneau, this means that the sooner after the corn gets to town, the sweeter it is. If sweetness is important to you, I recommend buying and preparing it on a Monday or Tuesday as produce shipments tend to arrive here early in the week. When purchasing sweet corn, avoid dry or yellow husks and silks, or shriveled kernels. Look for kernels that are firm and juicy if pressed.
One of my favorite ways of preparing corn is to roast unhusked ears in a 500 degree oven until the kernels begin to brown. This process caramelizes some of the corn's natural sugars and lends the kernels a pleasant crunchiness. The roasted kernels can be eaten off of the cob, or sliced off by standing the cob on end and slicing sections of kernels with a knife. The loose kernels can then be used in a variety of ways including salsas, salads, succotash and soups, such as chowder.
As with any soup, this recipe is best if you make your own chicken broth.
Cilantro can sometimes overpower other ingredients, so I have left the exact amount up to your taste - between one-fourth and 1 cup of chopped cilantro will offer varying levels of intensity. As for the shrimp, fresh or frozen Alaskan spot prawns are generally superior to any other types shipped in to our local supermarkets. Cooking the shrimp separately at the last minute keeps them from overcooking in the soup. Sautéing them with a dusting of cumin and coriander gives them an earthiness and a slightly crisp exterior.
Roasted corn chowder with cumin shrimp
5 ears corn, husked
1/4 pound dried chorizo, andouille or kielbasa, sliced into14" rounds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrot
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
5 cups homemade chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh cilantro to taste, chopped
1 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1. Roast the corn in a preheated 500 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, turning once or twice, until the kernels are golden brown. Slice the kernels off of the cobs.
2. In a soup pot, sauté the sausage in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat, until just starting to brown. Remove the sausages from the pot and set aside.
3. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pot and sauté the onion, carrot and garlic over medium low heat until softened - approximately 5 minutes. Add the bell pepper and sauté another 5 minutes. Add the corn kernels and sauté for another 5 minutes.
4. Add the chicken broth and reserved sausage to the pot. Bring to a boil briefly and then simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add salt, pepper and cilantro to taste.
5. While the soup is simmering, toss the shrimp with the cumin, coriander and salt and pepper to taste. Sauté them in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat until just cooked through - 1-2 minutes. Remove the shrimp from the pan.
6. Ladle the soup into bowls, and top with the sautéed shrimp, and additional chopped cilantro.
Ben Bohen is a local chef and food writer.
Comments for him may be sent care of reporter Julia O'Malley at email@example.com.