Chilled Corn Soup with Créme Fraîche & Basil Oil
As the sun begins to fade and days get shorter, I’m already waxing nostalgic for this glorious season. Of childhood summer memories, one of my fondest dates from when my family and I lived in upstate New York. In late August, it became a favorite ritual for us to drive to a farm stand to pick up local corn—only the Irondequoit variety would do. The later the harvest, the sweeter the corn, my parents would say. They would joke about having a pot of boiling water at the ready so we could throw the ears in as soon as they were shucked, allowing us to enjoy the sugar at its peak. There was nothing like it: the steaming cobs only called for a sprinkle of salt, no butter necessary. To me, this simple chilled soup captures that very essence of sweet corn goodness. Every part of the corn is utilized, kernels and cobs, to fully enhance its flavor. A drizzle of fragrant basil oil and satiny créme fraîche makes a perfect finish to this best of summer in a bowl.
The seed for this soup was planted in my brain when I shared recipes with my cousin, Lison, as we strolled around Brooklyn one cold, rainy day in Spring. She described a delectable chowder she had made using créme fraîche and stock made from the cobs of corn…I could practically taste it. The idea stayed with me and I hope I’ve honored her with my recreation here. It all begins with the corn, of course: the fresher the better. The ears should be tightly husked, with shiny silk poking out the top and no signs of rot or worms. Each ear should feel heavy for its size. And please don’t peel that corn until you’re ready to use it—I have never understood why people insist on shucking their corn at the market. You may not want to make a mess on your kitchen floor, but you’re doing yourself a disservice: once the husk is removed, starch in the corn begins to develop, leaving you with mushier corn. Wait and shuck off the husks just before cooking, removing as much silk as possible. You’ll be happy you did.
Stand an ear on its end and run the blade of a chef’s knife down each side to remove the kernels as close to the cob as possible. Reserve the kernels in a bowl.
To make the corn stock, add the shaved cobs to a soup pot or dutch oven and cover with 6 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes until reduced.
Remove the cobs from the stock and strain the broth; it should yield about 2 cups. Set aside.
In a large sauté pan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add chopped sweet onion and cook, stirring often, until translucent but not yet golden, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Raise heat under pan to medium and add reserved corn kernels to the pan. Stir and continue to cook until corn just begins to soften.
Stir in 1 cup of corn stock and simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool slightly.
Add corn mixture to a blender in batches.
Add a dollop of créme fraîche and purée, adding more corn stock if necessary, to achieve a thick but smooth consistency. If you run out of corn stock and would prefer a thinner soup, add water. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Allow the soup to chill for several hours before serving; taste again for seasoning.
Basil oil is a great green counterpoint to the sweet and thick soup. And it’s easy to make: place torn basil leaves in a blender and purée while slowly drizzling in extra virgin olive oil. Add a pinch of kosher salt to brighten the flavor.
Another garnish for the soup is more créme fraîche; stir in a few drops of heavy cream to loosen it up for drizzling.
Ladle the soup into small bowls. Drizzle the tops with the basil oil and créme fraîche and serve.
4 large ears of corn
6 cups of water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons créme fraîche
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
pinch of kosher salt
1/4 cup créme fraîche, for garnish
1 teaspoon heavy cream