Southern Manhattan Corn Chowder with Fried Pickles

Everyone knows that corn and tomatoes go together like love and marriage.  Adding pickles to the mix is my own little twist. Originally, I wanted to create a Manhattan Corn Chowder on the model of a Manhattan Clam Chowder. But when I thought of Manhattan, I thought of delis. When I thought of delis, I thought of pickles. And when I thought of pickles, I thought of the American south, where they slice, bread, and fry the sour little suckers – a fate that’s never befallen one of New York’s proud kosher dills. Too bad for them.  A fried pickle is a happy pickle, and the ones in this recipe (actually they’re sautéed) add a delightful tang and crunch to every spoonful of this soup. I have given both a summer version (fresh tomatoes and corn) and a winter variation (canned tomatoes and frozen corn) so you can make this soup all year long.

4 ounces bacon (about 6 slices)
1 medium onion
2 medium celery stalks
1 small green bell pepper
1 large garlic clove
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1/3 teaspoon dried
1 pound boiling potatoes such as Yukon Gold or Red Bliss
3 cups Homemade Chicken Stock or canned broth
3 large ears fresh corn
2 pints (about 4 cups) cherry tomatoes
1 cup dill pickle slices
1/4 cup stone ground corn meal
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces Swiss cheese
1 to 4 tablespoons pickle juice

Heat a large stockpot over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium; add the bacon and cook until crisp, about 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice the onion (about 1 cup), celery (about 3/4 cup), and bell pepper (about 3/4 cup) into 1-inch pieces. Thinly slice the garlic (about 1 teaspoon). Combine the onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, and thyme in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade; pulse 4 to 5 times until coarsely chopped. Scrub the potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch dice.

Remove the cooked bacon to paper towels to drain; remove and reserve all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat in the sawucepot. Reduce the heat to medium-low; scrape the onion mixture into the bacon fat in the stockpot and cook 5 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened. Set aside the food processor bowl. Add the chicken stock and potatoes  to the stockpot; bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the potatoes are almost tender, about 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, husk the corn and remove the kernels from the cobs (about 3 cups). Scrape the cobs with the back of a knife to get the corn milk and add it to the corn kernels. You should have about 3 cups. Combine 1 cup corn kernels and 1/2 cup of stock from the pot in the food processor fitted with the chopping blade and process until pureed. Transfer the puree to a bowl. Add the tomatoes to the food processor; pulse 5 to 6 times until coarsely chopped.

Heat 2 tablespoons reserved bacon fat in a large skillet over medium heat. Toss the pickle slices with the cornmeal in a plastic bag, and place the pickles in the skillet in a single layer. Fry until golden, about 5 minutes; turn and fry the other side until golden, adding more fat if necessary, 3 to 4 minutes more. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper to taste and remove to a small plate. Coarsely shred the Swiss cheese (1/2 cup). Crumble the bacon.

When the potatoes are almost tender, add the remaining 2 cups corn kernels, the tomatoes, and pureed corn mixture to the pot and simmer for 5 minutes. Taste the soup and add pickle juice, salt, and black pepper as desired. Divide the chowder among 4 soup plates and serve topped with the Swiss cheese, fried pickles, and bacon.

Summer VersionMakes about 9 1/2 cups, 4 servings
Hands-on time: 50 minutes
Total preparation time: 50 minutes

Winter version: Substitute a 15.5-ounce can chopped tomatoes (preferably fire roasted) and 3 cups thawed frozen corn for the fresh tomatoes and corn.

Makes about 8 1/2 cups, 4 servings
Hands-on time: 40 minutes
Total preparation time: 40 minutes

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