Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Smoked Corn and Sausage Soup

I love to smoke, and not just my cigars.  I’m talking about the barbecue variety, which here in Texas means cooking low and slow over a wood and charcoal fire to both tenderly cook your food and flavor it with the wonderful taste and essence of smoke. 

When one thinks of smoking foods, hearty, meaty dishes like brisket, ribs or pulled pork come to mind.  But here is a dish that captures the subtle side of the smoke flavor, using the vehicle of a tangy, creamy and tasty soup.

So, how do you smoke soup?  Don’t worry, you won’t need any elaborate smoke distillation system or a water pump.  In this dish, we impart our smoke flavor by smoking some of the ingredients, in this case, corn and Italian sausage, and then add them to the mix.  Both the corn and the sausage pick up different aspects of the smoke flavor and bring it with them to the soup, creating a mélange of flavor that is out of this world. 

Smoked Corn and Sausage Soup

4 medium to large ears of corn, husks and silk removed
4 uncooked Italian sausages, or a spicy sausage of your choice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups chicken stock
1.5 cups half and half or heavy cream
¼ cup minced fresh basil
Salt to taste

Try to get the best quality and freshest corn you can get.  If you have access to a farmers market or similar, make the extra effort to get good corn.  Also, fresh-made sausages from places like Whole Foods or Central Market will really give a boost to the recipe versus using prepackaged supermarket variety sausage. 

Fire up your smoker to cook low and slow with a nice, light wood, for instance maple or any of the fruit woods.  

I use maple for this recipe, as it has a nice, light, slightly sugary flavor and aroma that pairs well with the soup.  Avoid mesquite with this recipe, as it is too harsh for the delicate flavors of the soup, and if you use hickory, use about half as much wood as normal. 

Here I’ve set up the dampers on my Weber kettle so it will function as a smoker, with the temperature topping out around 225 degrees F.  Try to keep your smoker in the 200-250F range. 

Place the corn and sausage in the smoker...

...and smoke for thirty minutes, then rotate the corn a half turn.  Smoke another thirty minutes, and it should look like this.

Turn the sausage over, remove the corn and reserve.  Smoke the sausage another hour (two hours total) until they are well-smoked and done.

When the corn is cool enough to handle, use a sharp knife and cut the kernels from the ears.  

Reserve the kernels and cobs separately. 

While the sausages are finishing their second hour of smoke, you can start on the soup.  In a large, heavy stock pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the bell pepper and sauté for a few minutes until it begins to soften.  

Add the garlic and cook a minute more.   Pour in the stock, add three of the reserved corn cobs, and simmer for twenty minutes.  

There’s a lot of good, corn flavor in those cobs.  This will extract it.  Then, using tongs or similar, remove the corn cobs and discard. 

Try to time the above procedure so that the cobs finish simmering when your sausage is ready to come out of the smoker. 

Halve the sausage lengthwise, then slice into quarter-inch half-rounds.  

Drain the sausages on paper towels if they are greasy.

After you have removed the corn cobs from the stock, stir in the sausage along with the corn kernels, half-and-half, basil and salt to taste.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for an additional ten minutes. 

Serve immediately.

Until next time, 

Smoke 'em if you got 'em,