Fresh corn straight off the cob is one of the great joys of summer. This soup is the freshest of fresh corn flavor, maximizing both the juicy sweet kernels and extracting every last drop of flavor from the cobs to make a broth redolent of summer. There are a few steps involved, but the velvety texture and bright flavor are worth the effort. I really want the corn flavor to shine, so I do not add much else to the basic soup.
Beautifully simple on its own, this bisque is brought alive by toppings. Here, I used a playful, fun sprinkling of popcorn seasoned with thyme-infused butter. You could season some popcorn with any flavor you like (Old Bay Seasoning is particularly good with corn). Or try a dollop of crème fraiche and a sprinkle of fresh herbs. Chopped bacon or garlic buttered croutons. A swirl of olive oil infused with chives or basil.
Fresh corn bisque
8 ears of yellow or yellow and white corn
1 stalk celery
1 bay leaf
1 large yellow onion, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup whole milk
1. Fill a large bowl or the sink with cold water and ice. Bring a large stockpot full of water to a boil. Blanch the corn in the boiling water for 30 seconds and remove it immediately to the ice water bath to stop the cooking. When the corn is cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off the cobs into a large bowl. Scrap the cobs to release any juices. Toss the kernels with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, cover the bowl with a tea towel and place in the refrigerator.
2. Cut the corn cobs in half and place in a large stockpot (if you use the pot you blanched in, rinse it well to remove corn silks). Add the celery, thyme, bay leaf and half of the onion and cover with 10 cups of water. Bring the stock to a boil, skim off any scum that rise, reduce the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, for 1-1/2 hours. The liquid should reduce by about half. Pour the stock through a strainer and discard the solids.
3. Rinse out the stockpot and add the olive oil. Chop the remaining onion half (you need one cup chopped onion) and cook in the olive oil over medium heat until soft and glossy. Stir frequently and do not let the onions brown. Add the reserved corn kernels and any accumulated liquid. Stir to combine the onions and corn, then pour in 4 cups of the corn cob stock. Bring to a boil, reduce to medium low and cover the pot. Simmer the soup for 30 minutes, until the kernels are very soft.
4. Leave the soup to cool a little, then carefully puree it in batches in a blender. Pour each batch through a fine mesh sieve set over a large, pressing the liquid through. Rinse out the pot again, and return the smooth soup to it. At this point, you can refrigerate the soup for up to 2 days.
5. When ready to serve, whisk in the milk. Gently warm through on low heat.
For the Thyme Buttered Popcorn
For 1 cup of popped corn, strip 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves and sprinkle them with 1 teaspoon of coarse salt on a chopping board. Chop very finely. Really go to town, rocking your knife back and forth over the herbs until you have thyme salt. Stir the thyme salt into 3 tablespoons of hot melted butter. Stir very well, pour over the popcorn and toss to coat.
Notes: Corn stock is a wonderful thing to have around, it pumps up the flavor of a winter chowder made with frozen corn or any vegetable soup. Make big batches and freeze. I keep a Ziploc bag in the freezer and add a striped cob everytime I use corn. When I have about a dozen cobs, I make stock.
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