Creamy Ewa Sweet Corn Soup with Kauai Shrimp

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When you hear the words “fresh corn,” do you picture flat miles and miles of dark green stands of cornstalks in Iowa or Nebraska? I know we did, before we came to Hawaii. Now when someone mentions fresh corn, my mind immediately jumps to Ewa sweet corn, grown right down the road in the fertile Ewa Plains.

Corn in Hawaii? I know, this was a complete surprise to us too. But your first taste of these tender sweet kernels will make you a believer too. And yes, the corn is grown by the same folks at Aloun Farms who also grow those wonderful sweet onions and melons we’ve looked at earlier. If you can believe it, there is a second corn grower on this small island — in Kahuku, on Oahu’s North Shore (of surfing fame). Kahuku corn are also tender and sweet and, most importantly for Oahu, local fresh!

When produce is this sweet and fresh, we don’t usually mess with it too much — steam it or grill it, and eat it. They don’t even need butter or salt. The key with sweet corn is that it must be cooked or frozen as soon as you get it home. A corn grower in California once told me that the sugars in corn begin to convert to starch as soon as they are picked from the stalk. Sugar = tender and sweet; Starch = chewy and kind of bland.

At home, remove the husks and silk, then soak the corn cobs in a vinegar-water solution (2 TBL white vinegar for every 1 liter/quart of water), and rinse. Actually, for grilling you may want to keep some of the husks intact to use as protection from the flames (instead of wrapping in aluminum foil) or as a handle to pick up the corn. Just peel back the outer layers of the jusk (like peeling a banana) and leave them attached at the stem end. Remove the interior husks and the silks, then wash and rinse corn in their husks. Pull husks back over the corn (you can season the corn before re-husking), and they’re ready for the grill!

An alternative method, popular in Japan and here in the Islands, is to grill the corn directly over the flame, seasoning with salt, pepper and a brush of soy sauce in the last minute of grilling. Delicious! You get sweet smoke with that hint of salty shoyu. This is a favorite festival food, but easy to recreate at home, too!

We are fortunate to have more than one season for fresh corn on Oahu, and one of those seasons is going on now. With our fourth or fifth bag of corn this season, I finally decided to make something other than grilled or steamed corn. This is a thick and creamy soup that has no cream or milk — I really wanted the sweet flavor of the corn to be the star here. Its co-star is an equally sweet shrimp from a Neighbor Island — their flavors complemented each other perfectly.

Fellow blogger Pomai at Tasty Island commented on an earlier post that the use of place names (e.g., Ewa cantaloupe) not only promotes the freshness of the produce, but also increases the cachet of the final recipe to either impress one’s guests or (if you’re in the business) charge a fortune! He’s absolutely right, of course. Wouldn’t you pay $30 for that Linguine with Ewa Cantaloupe Sauce in a Waikiki hotel?!

So what did we do with the corn? Here I present you with Creamy Ewa Sweet Corn Soup with Kauai Shrimp (more on the shrimp in a later post). That should fetch at least $20 as a first course, don’t you think? The sea salad adds texture and another ocean element to the soup — we liked it a lot. The only thing I would say is next time I would cut the greens into smaller spoon-size pieces before garnishing.

Don’t miss any vegetable or fruit season in the Islands — download a month-by-moth seasonal availability chart from the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, one of the sponsors of the Buy Local campaign.

Serves 4 as a first course

6 ears Ewa (or Kahuku) sweet corn, washed as outlined above, some husk kept intact

Peel husk back from cleaned corn to use as a handle when cutting kernels from cob. Place top of corn ear into a deep wide bowl to catch the kernels. Using a sharp knife, cut down and away from you, into the bowl. Turn ear and continue cutting until all kernels are cut from cob. Remove husks and place in large dutch oven. Repeat with all cobs. Reserve kernels (you should have 5-6 cups kernels).

Cover cobs with water, and bring to a boil. Boil for 20 minutes, and allow to cool completely.

(Optional step: I was taught to extract as much flavor from my ingedients as possible, but some people will omit this step.) When cobs are cool enough to handle, remove from water. Place one cob end in water and using the BLUNT end of a knife, press down along the length of the cob into the water to release the last bits of corn. Repeat over the whole cob, and repeat for each cob. Pour “broth” into a measuring cup, and add water to measure 8 cups of liquid. Reserve corn broth/water.

To finish soup:
2 TBL. olive oil or butter (use butter if corn is frozen or starchy)
1 small onion, minced
1/2 tsp. dried chervil
1/4 cup mirin or sake
sea salt, to taste
ground white pepper, to taste
1 lb. Kauai (or Kahuku) sweet shrimp, peeled and chopped (optional – reserve 1 tail per serving for garnish)
sea salad (chopped) or marinated sea asparagus for garnish

Melt butter in dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 6-7 minutes. Add corn kernels and stir to coat with butter. Cover and cook for another 5-6 minutes. Add chervil, mirin, salt and white pepper, and stir through. Cook together 10 minutes. Remove 1/4 to 1/3 of the kernels (depending on how chunky you want the final soup to be — or leave them all in if you want a smooth soup).

Add corn broth/water, and increase heat to high. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes (add reserved shrimp tails to soup in the last 5 minutes, if using, and remove to separate plate to cool before blending soup). Taste and correct seasoning before pureeing.

Use an immersion blender to puree soup. If you have to use a countertop blender, first cool the soup, then puree, and re-heat. HOT FOODS in a covered blender can “explode” from accumulated steam and heat. I don’t recommend using a covered blender for any hot foods or drink.

Return reserved kernels to soup and return to boil. Add chopped shrimp, lower heat to simmer, and cook for 2-3 minues, or until all shrimp turn pink and firm. Ladle into serving bowls, garnish with purchased sea salad and reserved shrimp tails.

Other Island Fresh produce on this site: MelonsWatercressMustard CabbageWarabiDaikonEggplantBeef and Choi Sum