The word of the week was peaches. They’re my favorite fruit-as-fruit (with tomatoes as my favorite fruit-as-vegetable), so I’ve been heading to the farmers’ market even more eagerly on Saturday mornings than usual. The peaches have been spilling over, so apart from being eaten out of hand, mixed with yogurt for breakfast, atop salads and in salsas, they made a command performance in the quintessential summer dessert — peach ice cream (using my Aunt’s recipe for the custard base).
And because I love nothing more than gilding the lily, raspberry-blueberry coulis really set this off, providing a tart counterpoint to the smooth sweetness of the ice cream. It’s really simple to make, too. Just throw 2-3 handfuls of berries into a small saucepan, add a little sugar (I used about a tablespoon of vanilla sugar) and some lemon juice. Cook it over medium heat until the berries break down and the sauce starts to thicken. Cool, and use it to top whatever comes to mind.
We’ve been eating out a bit lately, discovering new dishes and supporting new restaurants, which resulted in haunted dreams of Picnic‘s truffled corn chowder and the urge to create my own summer dish. Since buying a truffle is hard to justify as part of an experimental dish for only Gil and myself, I went in a completely different (read: cheaper) direction while still keeping it in the chowder family. What I came up with was nothing like Picnic’s masterpiece, but it was a worthy addition to my repertoire. Here’s what I did to make Smoked Corn Chowder.
It started with meat, as you probably knew it would. I scored the skin of two duck breast halves, gave them a good all-over coating of my beef rub, then left them uncovered in the fridge for a few hours before firing up the smoker. To keep the corn from overcooking (and to take advantage of the delicious duck fat that would be rendering from the breasts), I placed two shucked ears of corn on the lower level of my Weber Smokey Mountain (just above the water pan) and the duck breasts in the center of the top rack.
Before I go any farther, you should know that Gil takes whatever’s put in front of him with equanimity, typically. He keeps his head down and eats whatever I make without much censure or praise, no matter the how I feel about what’s on the plate. But these duck breasts earned the title The Best Thing Ever from him. (Take that as you will.) And they were awfully good, even if the skin didn’t get entirely crispy, which turned out to be a good thing for the chowder.
To take advantage of that extra fat on the smoked breasts, I devised a workable solution: I’d chop the seasoned fat from 1/2 of a duck breast and render it in place of bacon in the chowder. When the skin had crisped and given up as much fat as possible, I set it aside to use as garnish for the finished soup. The rest of the chowder was a pretty standard affair, but the smoked corn and slight hint of duck really added something special to it.
I liked the proportion of smoked corn to fresh — the smoke wasn’t overwhelming, but gave the silky chowder a depth it doesn’t usually have. Feel free to play with amounts for more or less of the smoky goodness.
I assume Gil agreed, because we ate it all in one sitting. Nom, indeed.
recipe after the jump
Smoked Corn Chowder
1 boneless duck breast, split
dry rub, recipe follows
6 ears corn, cleaned
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
1/2 celery stalk, chopped
4 cups water or chicken broth
1 cup milk
1 sprig thyme
1 sage leaf
1 bay leaf
1 small russet potato, peeled and cubed
3/4 cups heavy cream or half-and-half
salt and pepper to taste
Wash and dry duck breasts. With a sharp knife, score skin and fat, being careful not to cut into the meat. Coat both sides of breasts with dry rub and refrigerate uncovered up to one day.
Prepare your smoker according to manufacturerâ€™s instructions, using your preferred smoking wood. Place two ears of corn on the lower rack just above the water pan. Place duck skin side up on the top rack over the corn. Smoke until duck is cooked through, about 40-50 minutes. Remove duck and corn from smoker.
Once corn has cooled enough to handle, cut the kernels from the ears into a large bowl and discard cobs. Cut kernels from the four remaining ears into same bowl and reserve cobs for the stock.
Remove skin from one duck breast half and chop. In a large, heavy pot over low heat, render fat from the skin. Remove crisped skin from pot with a slotted spoon and place on paper towel-lined plate to cool. Discard any fat over 1 tablespoon that remains in the pot. Add 1 tablespoon butter to the duck fat and increase heat to medium-high.
SautÃ© onion, bell pepper and celery in duck fat and butter until wilted. Do not brown. Add corn cobs and remaining ingredients through potatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Discard corn cobs, thyme sprig, sage and bay leaf.
Transfer soup to blender in batches and purÃ©e until smooth. Stir in heavy cream or half-and-half and adjust seasoning to taste. To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top with crispy duck skin.
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon black pepper, ground
1 teaspoon cumin, toasted and ground
1/2 teaspoon coriander, toasted and ground
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
Mix ingredients well and use to season any dark meat before smoking. Store leftovers in a tightly sealed container.