Creamed Corn With Chives And Chiles

Employing cream cheese as a thickener is a surprising use of a familiar taste. People always smile when they figure out that the secret ingredient is something they have eaten and enjoyed their whole lives.

Using the well-known and fondly remembered is a great strategy for creating recipes that people are predisposed to like. It's a door that opens out onto the pleasure in other less familiar ingredients and combinations.

I was introduced to this use of cream cheese in my early days on the barbecue circuit. I always made it a point to stop in at every barbecue place wherever I went, and that was how I came upon a restaurant named Jack Stack in Kansas City, with superfriendly people and equally super creamed corn.

"I love it," I said, "creamy and tangy . . . ? Hmm, I know what it is, but I can't place it."

"Philly cream cheese," they answered.

Cream cheese, just like what we had with bagels and lox on Sundays at home on Long Island. I think I may have been the only person in that part of KC who had regularly—or ever—eaten bagels and lox. I was connected to that recipe in a nostalgic way.

As for the combination of chiles and corn: they are both Native American foods, as is barbecued meat.

Creamed Corn With Chives And Chiles
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  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup Spanish onion
  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 4 cups corn kernels
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup mild cheddar cheese
  • 2 tablespoons scallions
  • 3 tablespoons mild red chile pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chives
  1. Cut 2 tablespoons of the butter into ½-inch cubes and refrigerate. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until it crackles. Add the onion, bell peppers, garlic, thyme, rosemary, and cayenne and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is just translucent, 3 to 4 minutes.
  2. Add the lemon juice, raise the heat to medium, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by half.
  3. Add the corn kernels, bring to a simmer, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, bring the cream just to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the cream cheese and whisk gently until melted and smooth.
  5. Add the cream mixture to the corn and stir gently until thoroughly incorporated, then simmer very gently for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Season with salt and white pepper to taste, then swirl in the cubed butter piece by piece until incorporated. Stir in the shredded cheese.
  6. Remove from the heat and stir in the scallions, chile, and chives. Add more lemon juice and/or salt and pepper to taste and serve.
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