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Oct 25, 2011
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Wine With . . . Corn and Arctic Char Chowder

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

As the fresh corn season was coming to an end, we wanted to enjoy one last meal focusing on this favorite summer fare.  We decided to make a chowder, but instead of the thick, hearty New England style rendition, replete with potatoes and salt pork, we wondered if we might create a dish with more delicate flavors and textures to go with a wider assortment of white wines.  Since we were tweaking an old classic, we wanted to remain faithful to the dish’s basic nature by pairing it down to its most essential components, including pork (in this case bacon), fish, onions, corn, and cream.  For the fish, we used Arctic Char, an exceptionally mild-flavored member of the salmon-trout family. 

To extract the maximum amount of flavor from the corn we stripped the kernels into a bowl, and then simmered the bare husks in water to create a corn broth. To preserve the integrity of the elegant Arctic Char, we baked the filets separately, then nestled them on top of the chowder.  With the bacon bits and parsley sprinkled over the top, this was a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds.

Corn and Arctic Char Chowder

Serves  2

For the soup:

4-6 ears corn

4 cups water

3 slices bacon

1 small onion, minced

1 bay leaf 

1 teaspoon thyme

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

salt

1/2 cup heavy cream

For the fish:

1 or 2 Arctic Char filets, about one pound total

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon dry sherry or dry white wine

salt and pepper

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Shuck the corn, reserve the kernels, and place the cobs in a casserole or deep saucepan with 4 cups cold water.  Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes, then remove the cover and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, sauté the bacon until it is crisp, then discard all but about 1 tablespoon of the cooking fat and drain the bacon on paper towels.  When it is cool enough to handle, crumble or chop it into half-inch, or so, pieces.

Reheat the remaining fat left in the pan and sauté the onions in it until they are tender.  Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.

Remove the corncobs and discard them.  Add the corn kernels to the broth along with the bay leaf, thyme, cayenne, and salt. Simmer for about five minutes, or until the corn is almost tender. Add the cream and simmer another 5 minutes or so.  Taste for seasoning.

While the chowder is simmering, cook the fish.  Using about 1 tablespoon of the butter, grease the bottom of a square baking dish just large enough to hold the fish in a single layer.  Cut the char filet in half if there is only one.  Place the two pieces of fish in the bottom of the dish and drizzle them with the sherry or wine.  Dot the fish with the remaining butter, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for about 5-8 minutes, or the fish is just cooked through.

To serve, ladle the chowder into shallow soup bowls.  Lay the fish over the top of the chowder and sprinkle it all with the parsley and bacon bits.  Serve immediately.

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Of the eleven different white wines we tried with this quite subtle, sophisticated chowder, the ones that performed best all displayed a ripe fruitiness, with little or no oak influence.  Extremely dry wines tasted too austere, while oak-laden ones seemed heavy and ponderous.  This is a surprisingly elegant, graceful dish.  It tastes fresh and vibrant, and the wine you choose to accompany it should do so as well.

 

Selection

 

Approx. Price

Comments

Boekenhoutskloof, Western Cape (South Africa) Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc “The Wolftrap” 2010

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

 

 

 

$11

 

A Rhône-style blend, this is a seamless but juicy white, full of stone fruit flavors with a seductively floral bouquet.  An excellent value, its vivacious personality is what made it shine so brightly with the soup

 

James Oatley “Tic Tok,” Mudgee (Australia) Chardonnay 2010

(Imported by Robert Oatley Vineyards Ltd.)

 

$14

 

We tried three different Chardonnays with this dish, and two were weighed down by oak, making them ponderous on the palate.  This one shows a bit of wood, particularly in the bouquet, but the overall impression is one of grace and smooth sophistication.  It was a sure-fire winner with this dish.

 

 

 

Pacific Rim, Columbia Valley (Washington) Dry Riesling 2008

 

 

 

$11

 

 

Showing a hint of petrol-tinged age, this Riesling is not really dry, as it finishes on a sweet but in no sense cloying note.  That sweetness complemented the sugar in the corn, and so made for a very appealing match.

 

 

 

Producteurs Plaimont, Saint Mont (France) “Les Vignes Retrouvées” 2009 (Imported by Jerome Selections)

 

$14

 

Saint Mont is a fairly obscure appellation in southwest France, and this wine is a blend of grapes native to Gascony, including Gros Manseng and Petit Courbu.  It tastes bright and juicy, with fresh apple and citrus fruit flavors, and a lingering, slightly salty finish.  With just enough heft to handle the chowder, its freshness is what made it so enjoyable.

 

 

 

Scharffenberger. Mendocino County (California) Brut  Sparkling Wine NV

 

 

 

 

 

$16

 

We often choose bubbly to drink with soup, as the effervescence provides an attractive textural counterpoint.  This is a dry but not at all austere rendition, with bright apple and lemon fruit flavors, and excellent balance, especially in the finish.