19 July 2007
An Answer, in Soup Form
My mother has a tendency to ask rather odd questions at random moments. This may be endearing to her friends, but in the unique position of a daughter, I have the special ability to turn just about anything into an embarassment. The other night she mused, "I think I'll give up electricity. I'll buy a house without power." Umm, "Mom, this is the part where I roll my eyes at you." When traveling on our recent vacation there were plenty of opportunities for random observations and quotable quotes, including, "if you were the first colonist to sail up the Chesapeake Bay, what do you think you'd eat?" Out of nowhere, I kid you not.
"Well," I said, "crabs. And corn." I tried to channel Rachel Carson and think of the bounty of the Chesapeake several hundred years ago, before the menhaden all died. But my mother's question had also sparked another inspiration, albeit a more trivial one. I'd been puzzling around an idea for a Thai-style curry in my head, some kind of coconut milk stew, but I couldn't figure out what components I wanted. Aha, I thought, why not take those traditional Maryland ingredients, corn and crab, with coconut they'd be perfect together.
My instincts were right, and the marriage of ingredients are sweet, creamy, with a hint of spice. This is the perfect use for sweet summer corn, and though it takes a little bit of prep-work, the flavor is worth it (I do, however, give a shortcut version below that's good in a pinch). I know crab meat is expensive, but it stands out here, whether ladled into deep bowls or draped luxuriously over rice. If you want, I imagine some halved cherry tomatoes or sautéed red peppers would also be good, and add some acidity to balance the sweetness. In the end, I decided this is more summer-time stew than Thai-style curry, but no matter what you call it, it's sure good, so maybe mom's questions are useful afterall.
Corn, Crab, and Coconut Stew
Don't be fooled by the use of the word stew, though this dish is thick and satisfying, the sweetness of coconut and corn and wonderful lumps of crab mean it's perfect for summer. If you have access to good fresh corn, it's worth it to make the full-scale version, but if you're in a pinch check out the cheat's version below. Serve in bowls with a green salad on the side or serve over rice.
1 teaspoon butter
1/2 a large sweet white onion (such as Vidalia), diced
1 tablespoon minced lemongrass (optional)
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
6 large ears sweet white corn, or 4 cups corn
2 cups (12 oz) lump crab meat
salt, to taste
Aleppo pepper, red pepper, or chile sauce, to taste
1 tsp lime juice
1. Shuck the corn. Working over a deep bowl, cut the kernels from the cobs, then scrape the cobs with the back of your knife to get the remaining corn juices. You should have about ~4 cups corn. Transfer half the corn kernels to a food processor and pulse until you have a chunky puree. Add the puree back to the bowl with the corn kernels.
2. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the onion and lemongrass and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water to the pan, stir to deglaze the bottom of the pan, then add the coconut milk. Stir in the corn mixture and season with salt. You may want to add some more water to adjust the consistency of the soup. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until thickened and combined, about 5 minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the crab meat and season with red pepper and lime juice. Ladle into bowls, then mound reserved crab in the center of each bowl. Put a few drops of hot sauce on each bowl if desired. Serve immediately.
Optional Additions: Try adding some halved cherry tomatoes or diced sautéed red peppers or minced basil leaves.
1/2 an onion, diced, 1 can coconut milk, 1 can cream-style corn, 1 cup corn (preferably cut fresh from the cob), 1 1/2 cups lump crab meat, hot pepper and lime juice to taste
Sauté the onion in a little butter or oil until softened. Add the coconut milk, cream-style corn, and corn kernels and season with salt. You may want to add a touch of water to adjust the consistency of the soup. Simmer about 5 minutes to combine. Stir in the crab and season with red pepper and lime. Serve.