If it seems like I've been writing a lot about corn lately, it's because I have. Come mid-summer, there's nothing I like more—with perhaps the exception of perfect tomatoes. But perfect tomatoes are fewer and farther between than great ears of corn. My wife, Adri, and I have been eating corn nearly every day for the last few weeks.
There's nothing that beats the simple, sweet pleasure of corn on the cob, but a good corn soup comes in a close second. As an added benefit, it also eliminates the need to pick at your teeth to remove stray corn skins after you're done with it, an act that is as annoying for the picker as it is unsexy for the one who must observe the picker in the act of picking. In other words, corn soup is the corn preparation of choice for date nights.
The real key to a good corn soup lies in extracting as much flavor as possible out of those cobs. Sure, there are plenty of sweet juices and starch in the kernels themselves, but throw away the cobs and you're tossing flavor right into the compost bin. My traditional corn chowder recipe calls for you to scrape excess corn milk out of the cobs with the back of a knife, then also make a quick stock flavored with those spent cobs. It works well, but I wondered if my pressure cooker might make it work even better.
As I discovered a while back, the pressure cooker is the ideal piece of kitchen equipment for making deeply flavorful chicken stock in a fraction of the time. Stock cooked in a pressure cooker extracts flavor from chicken bones in less than 20% of the time it takes on the stovetop, and it gets more flavor out of them to boot. If it works for my chicken, why not for my corn?
I made two batches of corn soup side by side. For the first, I made a quick stock on the stovetop by simmering empty corn cobs in store-bought chicken stock, then used that stock to finish off my soup, which also included sautéed leeks and garlic, corn kernels, bay leaves, and tarragon stems. The second batch I made by throwing the corn cobs into a pressure cooker with chicken stock and the remaining ingredients from the get-go.
There was no doubt about it: The version made in the pressure cooker had a more intense corn aroma and richer texture due to the starch extracted from the cobs. Not only that, but I found that using the pressure cooker completely eliminated the need to scrape out the corn milk from the cobs—plenty of starchy liquid comes out on its own. So much, in fact, that even without a thickener like flour or potato, this corn soup comes out as thick and rich as heavy cream, despite having only a couple of tablespoons of butter in the whole batch.
After cooking on high pressure for 15 minutes, I discarded the spent cobs, tarragon stems, and bay leaves, then pureed the rest together in a blender, seasoning with a touch of salt and pepper. For extra smoothness, I pushed the entire concoction through a fine mesh strainer.
The resulting golden liquid tasted more like corn than corn itself. It was corn compressed, multiplied, and intensified.
I was blown away by how intense the flavor of this soup was. Even after I'd thinned it out with some additional stock, it was still the corniest corn soup I'd ever had. I served mine with some chopped tarragon, chopped chives, and a drizzle of olive oil, along with a few raw corn kernels for that fresh crunch.
My wife got hers with chunks of crab meat for an extra treat. This is not because I don't also love crab (I do), but because, all corniness aside, I know how powerful a few well-placed and inexpensive bribes can be in the complicated commerce of marital bliss.