Fresh Ideas: Corn Chowder

My childhood was filled with chowder.

Although I had the good fortune of being born in New Orleans, I spent my early years with my mother and sister on the coast of Maine. We lived in a small port town called Rockland, which, as many locals have told me, is the “Schooner Capital of the World.” (It’s true. Look it up.)

Rockland is a fascinating city with red-bricked downtown shops, museums and inns all along a heavily populated waterfront stuffed full of every kind of boat.

These early years instilled in me the best food traditions: an appreciation for coastal living and food, especially the way New England chefs do it.

Unlike the spicier food traditions of south Louisiana, coastal southern Maine is all lobster, chowder and whoopie pies (now the state’s “official” dessert).

During the holidays, I’d watch my mother cook, and, more often than not, she’d be bringing milk to a boil with haddock and clams, pouring cream over potatoes and sprinkling bay leaves into her broth.

At last, she’d return the lid and let time go to work. Chowder is something I’ve always eaten and loved, but you can’t find the chowder I grew up with in south Louisiana unless it’s an imposter from a can.

The rainy post-holiday weather made me increasingly wistful for Mom’s clam, oyster or fish chowder. Not having these resources immediately on hand, I turned to the large quantities of corn in my fridge (an impulse buy from a local farmer who had bright yellow corn). Here, I’ve improvised on a classic family favorite that typically features seafood as the main ingredient and a larger serving of potatoes in bacon grease, but I substituted vegetables sautéed in butter.

This version of corn chowder may not be my mother’s soup, but it certainly inspires some similar tastes and memories.

Stuffed with sautéed vegetables — the Cajun holy trinity (onions, peppers and celery), jalapeños, corn and potatoes — it’s a vegetarian take on a seafood classic.

Creamy and a little bit spicy, Corn Chowder blends the sensibilities of my childhood menus with the subtle spicy flavor of Cajun cooking that I’ve come to love.

Helana Brigman is a food writer, photographer and cookbook author. She can be reached with daily recipes at http://clearlydeliciousfoodblog.com or via email at hbrigm1@tigers.lsu.edu.