Gourmet Live’s latest issue on Water got me thinking about how our most precious liquid gets a bum rap in recipes. It’s essential to cooking, yet it often gets taken for granted. Sometimes it doesn’t even rate inclusion in the ingredient list.
Where water really gets ignored is in soups. Many cooks automatically turn to chicken broth for the liquid base, when water would work just as well, if not better, where a pure flavor is the goal. Ask any vegetarian.
In late August, when corn is busting out all over, I’m reminded of one of the simplest summer soups, made from just three main ingredients: Water, corn, and salt. Period. Okay, there are chives, too, but they’re more for garnish.
The recipe I start with was developed by former Gourmet food editor, Liz Vought Greene, but like most cooks, I’ve fiddled with it over the years. She starts with 8 cups of fresh corn kernels, cut from 10 to 14 ears. Not only do I cut the kernels from the cobs, but I scrape the cobs with the dull edge of a knife to extract all the “milk,” and save it with the kernels.
Next, I break the cobs into 2 or 3 pieces and simmer them in 7 cups water, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes, to give the liquid that extra boost of corny flavor, then toss the cobs into the garbage pail or compost bin. Add the corn kernels and “corn milk” along with 1 tablespoon kosher or coarse sea salt to the pot, and simmer it, covered, until it’s very tender, about 20 minutes.
Purée the mixture in batches in a blender until it’s as smooth as possible. As each batch is finished, strain it through a coarse to medium-mesh sieve—or food mill fitted with the fine disk—into a saucepan or bowl, pressing hard on the solids before discarding them. Taste and check for seasoning. That’s it. Pretty darn simple, no?
The soup is terrific served hot or cold. Feel free to thin it to whatever consistency you prefer. Sprinkle it with chives, cilantro, or thin slivers of basil. I’ve even made it the base for the corniest corn chowder ever, adding cooked potatoes, more corn kernels, and crumbled bacon. Think of it as the taste of late summer.