All souped up

The Matthews family is pleased and proud to announce that we are Durham’s premiere recipients of the 2017 summer cold.And the only thing I’m pleased and proud about is that none of us has dropped dead—this thing is a doozy.  It makes the Black Death look like a paper cut.

So, at mealtime, I want something quick and easy to get on the table, and we all want something warm and cozy, that makes us feel loved and nurtured.

Chowder is the flannel pajamas of the food world.  But what is the difference between a chowder, and say, a cream of mushroom soup?  Is it the inclusion of fish or clams?

They’re both creamy soups, but a classic cream soup is pureed and not chunky.  Chowder is much more rustic; containing identifiable vegetable chunks and normally made with some type of thickener, like starch, or cracker crumbs or flour.

I use what is called a beurre manié (pronounced ‘burr mahn-yay’; it’s French for “kneaded butter”).  It’s softened butter with flour beaten in.  In hearth cooking this thickener is used because there is no ability to fine tune cooking temperatures, and roux can be more finicky, with very little room for error.  Instead, you can just drop in a knob of beurre manié, adding more as needed.To make it you just take a softened stick of butter and start by adding ¼ cup of flour.  Use a spatula or small wooden spoon, and just like the name says, knead it in, adding more flour until it has taken as much flour as possible (usually equal parts butter/flour).

I start the whole process by rendering pancetta until the fat is released, and the meat’s crispy.  Boar’s Head sell bags of pancetta already chopped and ready to go.  As for the dairy, any type is good, as long as you use at least ½ cup skim milk; that will keep the soup from separating.  And King’s Red & White on Club Blvd in Durham always has bags of sweet delicious shoe peg corn in their freezer.  If I can’t get fresh, that’s what I use.

The soup takes just a bit of work to put together, but once it’s made, it will take just minutes to heat up, or you can put it in a slow cooker and it will be waiting for you.I like making the soup, then having various garnishes available for diners to dress their bowls the way they like.  Some ideas for garnishes are the crispy pancetta, for starters.  Also, shredded cheese, green onions, oyster crackers, lightly poached crab meat, or raw spinach or kale.The Matthews family band are all of legal drinking age.  We have recently discovered a beverage which, when imbibed before retiring, helps to give us a cough-free night of peaceful slumber.  It’s a twist on the homemade cough syrup my mother used to force feed us growing up.

It’s hot, boozy lemonade.  For each serving, heat one cup of water.  Stir in ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice and honey to taste.  Pour it into a large mug and add as much bourbon as the patient desires.  If it doesn’t knock you out, you haven’t added enough.cold bewareThanks for your time.

Corn and russet chowder

corn chowder

1 cup ½-inch pancetta cubes

3 medium sized russet potatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes

2 cups shoe peg corn

1 small yellow onion diced

3 cups chicken stock

2 cups dairy, including at least ½ cup skim milk

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

Salt & pepper

Beurre manié made with ½ softened butter and approx. ½ cup flour

In a large heavy pot set to medium, render pancetta until crispy.  Remove from pot, leaving 2 tablespoons rendered fat.  Add potatoes, corn, and onion.  Season, add nutmeg, and cook until veg start to brown and get crispy around the edges.

Pour in stock and cook on a low simmer until the potatoes are cooked through (15-20 minutes).

Stir in dairy and bring to a gentle simmer.  Whisk in beurre manié until it is thick and creamy.  Stir in parsley, check for seasoning, and serve with garnishes of your choice.

Serves 4-6.

Don’t be that guy

I cook with stock all the time.  I use it for sauces, and gravies; I cook rice and pasta in it.  And almost every single time, it’s from a box, or the grocery store.  I’ve only ever made stock from scratch, once, which I recounted a month or so ago.


There is currently running a commercial for pre-made cartons of stock.  It’s actually a brand that I consider quality, which I’ve used numerous times.  I do though take issue with the message of this ad. In various vignettes, people are insisting they cook because they make “they make the best chicken noodle soup”.  Then they proceed to show them adding some chicken meat, a few veg, and some bagged egg noodles to a bubbling pot of said company’s chicken stock.


These poor, deluded folk are not chicken soup makers.  At best they are “stuff-put-er-inners”.  To produce homemade chicken noodle soup you must start with a chicken, and maybe even make your own noodles.

Anything less is practically opening a can.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I have enjoyed many cans of varieties of chicken noodle (stars, noodle-o’s, curly, spaghetti-shaped) soups.  But I never tried to pass it off as scratch-made.

Now, if you want to make a chicken soup that begins with stock (canned or made in your own kitchen) which you can still claim as your own, I’ve got a recipe for you.

This is a rich, creamy, lemony chowder.  It’s a little bit of a riff on Panera Bread’s creamy chicken and wild rice soup.  It also freezes and reheats well.

Lemon chicken and wild rice chowder

chick chow

8 tablespoons butter divided

1/2 cup flour

3 carrots, peeled and cut into same size pieces

4 stalks celery, leaves and all, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

3/4 cup dried mushrooms, reconstituted and chopped

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dry thyme

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Zest of 2 lemons, divided

Juice of 2 lemons

1 cup rice and/or grain mix with wild rice (I like Bob’s Red Mill Brown and Wild Rice)

1 1/2cups frozen shoe peg corn

1 cup white wine

5 cups chicken stock

1 1/2 cups skim milk

1 cup heavy cream

4-5 cups cooked chicken, white and dark, cut or ripped into bite-sized pieces.

Make roux:

Melt 6 tablespoons butter in small skillet.  Whisk in flour and cook over low until light blond in color.


In a large heavy pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter.  Place in pot: Carrots, celery, onion, mushrooms, thyme, bay leaves, half the lemon zest, salt and pepper.  Cook until there is some color on veg, and carrots are starting to soften. 

Stir in rice and/or grain mix and let cook until they start to brown around the edges.

Deglaze the pot with wine.  Cook, stirring often until it’s all cooked in.

Pour in stock and skim milk.  Bring to slow simmer.  Add corn.

When the rice/grain is fully cooked (time varies according to type), bring to a boil and whisk in roux until it’s cream soup thickness. 

Turn down to low.  Pour in lemon juice.  When the juice is thoroughly mixed in, stir in cream and gently add chicken.

Check for seasoning, and keep warm until service.  Garnish each bowl with a sprinkling of lemon zest.

Makes 8-10 servings.


This soup is delicious and quite impressive.  A soup that you can be proud to call your own.  So you don’t need to pretend you did something you really didn’t.

Don’t be that guy.

that guy

Thanks for your time.