Corn Chowder

This was inspired by a trip to the United States, the acknowledged home of the chowder. It wasn’t always so.

Chowder is considered an essentially north-eastern American dish, but it seems it is an American dish in name only. Dishes of meat and fish cooked in large pots had been part of cultures across the globe for most of time, but when English and French settlers came together in America’s New England it was not surprising that the French term for a cauldron, chaudière, should be bastardised to become ‘chowder’. Betty Russell’s terrific book on the ins and outs of American cooking and culture, I Hear America Cooking (Elisabeth Sifton Books, Viking, 1986), describes in some detail the evolution of the term and the dish.

Those of us who think we are wildly creative with food should take a look at books like this to remind ourselves that quality cooks have been fiddling with flavours – positively – forever. Hannah Glasse, that doyenne of all things to do with food in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and many other centuries, made her chowder – in England, note – adding such delights as ‘a glass of hot Madeira, Indian pepper, lots of butter and oysters, and any truffles or morels lying about in the ship’s galley’.

Such additions, I would have thought, are essential for a true chowder. Not the basics of stock, mixed with something dramatic like clams, or scallops or crayfish, or tuna or something regal from the sea, but the extras, the surprising flavour enhancers hanging about your kitchen, things to make you think and enjoy. Unfortunately this galley does not have morels and truffles lying about, but if yours does, please feel free to toss them into the pot. In fact, toss anything you like into the pot. That’s a true chowder. Corn chowders get their marvellous flavour not just from pureed kernels. The trick is to remove the kernels from the cob, slice the cob into three or four pieces, and cook the life out of the cob in a lot of milk. The milk gains an incredible flavour from the cobs, and it is this flavoured milk that makes for the guts of the corn chowder. Just be careful to keep the milk from boiling and overflowing the pot. Use this flavoured milk as the base of a corn and prawn chowder. Watch the spoons go back for more.

Corn chowder is a terrific vehicle for cooked prawns, and it’s this prawn and corn chowder that is an American staple. Slice a dozen prawns in half lengthways and add to the puree when it is being reheated. The heating process will cook through the prawns. If they are particularly large prawns, you might be wise to cook them quickly, separately, in a hot pan.

4 cobs sweet corn

1 L milk

2 bay leaves

8 black peppercorns

1 onion

1 chilli


200 mL coconut milk



Remove the corn kernels from the cob with a sharp knife. Retain a handful of kernels for the finished soup. Texture!


Cook the shucked cobs in the milk with most of the corn kernels, bay leaves, peppercorns, onion, chilli and a little salt, at a gentle simmer, for an hour. The milk will form a rather thick skin, which can be removed at the end if you wish.


Remove the cobs and bay leaves and discard. Purée the flavoured milk mix and test for seasoning.


While the purée is pureeing, cook the retained corn in boiling water for about 4 minutes, until tender.


Re-heat the purée, to no more than a simmer. Add the coconut milk, return to a simmer, and add the cooked corn. Serve with chopped chives over the top.

WINE: Try a well-chilled, full-flavoured chardonnay here. It will need the richness and depth of flavour to stand up to the soup.