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Okay, I love chowders. I mean, I absolutely adore chowders. I have a book by a guy named Jasper White called 50 Chowders, and I highly recommend it. It is one of those great-to-actually-read cookbooks that contains the history behind each recipe and a loving account of the author's own chowder fetish. I've tried almost every chowder in that book, and they are uniformly delicious. I am kind of a chowder snob, truth be told. I don't like the gluey, floury concotions that claim to be chowders, and I think that a good chowder is distinguished by its skillful melding of flavors rather than by its spoon-can-stand-up-in-it texture. (Denny's, Shoney's, I'm looking at you.)

Imagine my surprise when my mother plopped a bowl of this stuff in front of me.

I'd been out most of the day running some errands, and when I got back the house was enveloped in the most incredible smell imaginable. Whatcha cooking, Mom? I asked hungrily. Oh, here, it's done, have a bowl, she said happily.

When I saw it was chowder I was skeptical. I knew Mom was a great cook and all, but I thought that I was the sole arbiter of good chowder in the family. I asked her where she found the recipe while I stirred my hot soup. It was an insert in one of my magazines, she said.

My skepticism rose.

I was expecting an insipid chicken-corn soup clone. What I got was a spectacular soup that I make at least twice a month, to great fanfare and applause from my family members.

This soup is, in a word, comforting. The heading on the little recipe card reads "LIKE A HUG IN A BOWL", and I can't argue with that determination at all. It is simultaneously rich, velvety, sweet, and spicy. It has an immunity to being enjoyed in one-bowl increments. You will cast squirrely glances at your fellow diners to make sure they aren't eating too much of Your Precious. You will want to eat the entire potful of it all by yourself, lick the pot when no one is looking, and begin making another potful.

This is one of the few meals I have ever actually eaten myself sick on. It's a tribute to its supreme deliciousness that I still wanted another bowl of it after I got sick.

The jalapenos were my own addition after I'd made it for a while. I like a little spice, but if you leave them out it is still an absolutely transcendent soup. It has bacon, cheddar cheese, garlic, potatoes - almost all the things that make life good. I've also played around with adding fresh spinach, which is also very good. I think you'd be hard pressed to ruin such a great soup. It's a perfect time of year to make this soup as the sweet corn is in and should be utilized often and well. The chowder has a thick-but-not-too texture and an alamingly decadent mouth feel.

Serve it with cornbread for maximum effect. It's a perfect light dinner with a nice spinach salad, and even though chowder is traditionally a wintertime soup this stuff is too damn good to relegate to colder weather. Make it for someone you love tonight. You will not be sorry, and they won't either.

"Hug in a Bowl" Cheddar Chicken Corn Chowder

You will need the following ingredients. Go get them right now.

  • 4-8 slices bacon, diced (I am a bacon nut, so I use 8. Original recipe called for 3, which is preposterously stingy.
  • 1 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
  • Optional: 1-3 fresh Jalapenos, seeded, ribbed, and finely diced (almost minced, and do taste them for spice. If they are too spicy, they'll overwhelm the soup. Not spicy enough, you may as well just add more green bell pepper.)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (more if you'd like; see above re: bacon)
  • 3 cups chicken stock or broth (the richer the better; I prefer stock, but you know what? Chicken bouillon is actually quite delicious.)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups unpeeled red potatoes, cubed (about 2-3 medium sized taters)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups corn kernels (of course fresh is best, but if you can't get fresh sweet corn use frozen. The flavor of frozen corn is much better than canned.)
  • 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk (please use whole milk; skim is just silly)
  • 2 cups cooked chicken, cubed
  • 1 cup seeded, peeled, chopped tomato (yay, it's also tomato season!)
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese (I like sharp; mild is fine. I often add a bit more than 1/2 a cup as well.)
  • 3/4 Teaspoon salt (more to taste)
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp. Transfer bacon to a plate and leave 1 Tablespoon of the lovely drippings in the bottom of the Dutch oven. Reserve the bacon. Add onion, bell pepper, jalapeno, and garlic. Sautee veggies until tender, about 5 minutes. If you wanted to add spinach, the best time to add it is about three minutes into this sautee.

    Add chicken stock and potatoes. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer it until the potatoes are tender (about 20 minutes). Stir in your corn.

    In a separate bowl, blend your milk and flour. Stir it into the hot soup. Increase the heat to medium high and keep stirring it gently until it's all nice and thick, about 5 minutes.

    Reduce heat to medium low and add chicken, reserved bacon, tomato, cheese, salt, and pepper. Simmer it uncovered until flavors are blended and cheese is melted, about fifteen minutes. Taste, reseason, and serve in pretty, deep bowls along with some skillet cornbread and a nice salad.

Be prepared to fight off unwanted neighbors who smell this stuff cooking and try to insinuate themselves into your mealtime.

There's really no way of telling how many people this soup will feed, because everyone will want mega-portions and at least seconds.

Enjoy - I know you will!

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