Celery takes the lead role in this hearty dish
We all have celery in the fridge, right? Usually a wilted, half-used head buried deep in the vegetable bin.
Most of us wouldn’t even think of using celery as a main ingredient. But I say it’s about time this shy veggie got some love.
Our Celery, Corn, and Bacon Chowder highlights the flavor of celery—in a warming comfort food. And with the cold, snowy weather we’ve been having in most of the US lately, I need all the warming comfort I can get.
Recipe: Celery, Corn, and Bacon Chowder
Chowders are cream- or milk-based stews, usually thickened with potatoes or crackers. Although we often think of seafood (particularly clams) when someone mentions chowder, there’s no reason veggies can’t play the main role—as noted when we posted about our Winter Squash, Corn, and Bacon Chowder.
Each year, we like to showcase an underused vegetable on our blog—and spend some time getting to know it better. In the past we’ve explored sweet potatoes, Belgian endive, and fennel. This year our focus will be on celery. We’ll also highlight celeriac (a/k/a celery root—a variety of celery grown especially for its root, not its leafy ribs). But be aware that some people are allergic to celery; more on that in the Notes.
Exact quantities aren’t critical in this recipe (the same is true with most chowders). Feel free to use a bit more or less than we recommend when it comes to celery, potatoes, corn, bacon—basically anything.
Prep time for this recipe is about 15 minutes, with cooking time of half an hour or so. So you can have this chowder on the table in about 45 minutes.
This recipe yields 4 main-course servings, or 8 first-course servings. Leftovers keep for a couple of days if stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.
- 3 to 4 strips of bacon (about ¼ pound; if you want to make a vegetarian version of this dish, see the Notes)
- 1 pound celery (6 or 7 trimmed ribs; about 3 cups)
- 1 medium-large onion (about 1 cup when diced; yellow, white, or red onions all work well)
- 1 or 2 jalapeño peppers (to taste, and optional; I like the red—fully ripe—ones in this dish)
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste; if using regular table salt, use about half that amount)
- ~12 ounces potatoes (2 cups or so, although exact quantity is not critical; I use a waxy type, like Yukon Golds, but a russet potato will work too)
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon celery seed
- 3 cups chicken stock (may substitute vegetable stock or water)
- 2 cups frozen corn
- 1 - 2 cups milk or cream (less if you want a thicker chowder, more if you want a thinner one)
- additional salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- chopped or whole parsley leaves, reserved bacon bits, jalapeño pepper, and/or diced onion for garnish (optional)
- Cut the bacon into ½-inch pieces. Place the bacon bits in a 4-quart cooking pot or Dutch oven, and turn the stovetop heat to medium. Sauté the bacon bits until they’re crisp and brown. When done, remove the bacon bits and set them aside (I drain them on paper towels). But leave the fat in the pot.
- While the bacon is sautéing, wash and trim the celery. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the fibrous strings off the outer part of the celery (the convex surface). Then cut the celery crosswise into pieces of about ½ inch.
- Peel the onion and cut it into ½-inch dice.
- Wash the jalapeño peppers and cut them lengthwise. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the ribs and seeds (be careful, the oil on these is hot; keep fingers away from your eyes). Chop the peppers into very small dice (or use a mini food processor). Then wash your hands with soap and water to remove the hot jalapeño oil from your skin.
- Add the chopped celery, onion, and jalapeño peppers to the pot/Dutch oven in which you cooked the bacon bits, then add salt to taste. Sauté the celery mixture in the hot bacon drippings over low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the veggies begin to soften (but keep the heat low enough that they don’t change color).
- While the celery is cooking, wash the potatoes. Peel them if you choose (it’s optional, but I usually do) and cut them into dice of ½ inch or less.
- After the celery mixture has been sautéing for 10 minutes, add the potatoes, thyme, celery seed, and chicken stock to the cooking pot. Bring to a simmer, and cook until the celery and potatoes are tender—when you insert the tip of a paring knife into a potato piece, you should meet no resistance (this usually takes 10 minutes, although it may take as much as 15).
- Zap the mixture briefly with an immersion blender to help thicken it (breaking up the potatoes helps thicken the chowder; see Notes for why you want to use an immersion blender with a steel shaft). After blending, add the corn, bring the mixture back to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes. The chowder will be very thick.
- Add milk or cream to thin the chowder (and provide more flavor), and simmer for a minute or two. (Add more milk or cream if you want a thinner chowder, less if you want a thicker one; I usually add about a cup.) Taste and, if necessary, season with additional salt and pepper (I often let people do this at table).
- Garnish (if you wish) with parsley leaves, bacon bits, diced or sliced jalapeño pepper, or diced onions. Serve.
- For a vegetarian version of this dish, leave out the bacon and skip Step 1. In Step 5, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the cooking pot/Dutch oven and use it for sautéing the celery (since you won’t have residual bacon grease). In Step 7, substitute water or vegetable stock for chicken stock. (The veggie version of this chowder is quite good—though of course you’ll lose the savory bacon flavor.)
- I like to use thick-sliced bacon in this dish, though you can substitute salt pork if you’d like. Salt pork is actually traditional in chowders, but I prefer the flavor of bacon.
- I like to use the outer ribs of celery for this dish, saving the inner heart for another use. Celery leaves are more strongly flavored than the ribs, so use them or not as you wish (I usually do).
- When you boil celery (as you do in this dish), you can probably get away without removing the fibrous strings on the outer part of the celery (as Step 2 directs). But I always do it anyway.
- Traditionally, the best celery always became available after the weather turned chilly—November and December in the Northern Hemisphere. Nowadays, good-quality celery is available year round.
- There are two main types of celery that are grown for their leafy heads: self-blanching (yellow) and Pascal (green). We usually see green celery in the US; in other parts of the world, yellow is more common. But even in the US, good produce departments sometimes stock the self-blanching kind, too.
- Celeriac is grown for its bulb. Although you sometimes see it with its leaves and ribs attached, they aren’t widely used (at least not in the US).
- A note about nomenclature: I often see recipes in which the word “stalk” is used to mean both the whole head (i.e., bunch) of celery, as well as the individual ribs. Technically, however, the head is the “stalk,” while each rib is, well, a rib. To be clear, I try to avoid the word “stalk” altogether in recipes when talking about celery.
- Celery stays crunchy for a few days in the fridge when stored in a plastic bag. If you need to store it longer, place it upright in water (the same way you store asparagus). In a chowder like this one, wilted celery works OK (it turns soft as it cooks anyway). But don’t use celery that’s too old—its flavor diminishes.
- Unfortunately, celery can cause a severe allergic reaction in some people. It’s similar to peanuts in this regard—and for those who are highly allergic, exposure can be deadly. Celeriac (celery root) contains even more allergens than do heads of celery. Cooking does not kill these allergens. So remember that celery can be a problem food for some individuals.
- Interestingly, allergic reactions to celery appear to be more common in continental Europe than in the United Kingdom and the US.
- For more fun facts about celery, check out this post by Louise on Months of Edible Celebrations.
- Jalapeño pepper isn’t traditional in chowder, but it adds a bit of zip, which I like. Green jalapeños work OK, but the red (fully ripened) ones add wonderful color—and better flavor for chowder, IMO.
- Frozen corn generally is high quality, and I never hesitate to use it in a dish like this. But of course fresh corn makes a dandy substitute (if it happens to be available).
- I prefer milk to cream in this dish. Cream makes the chowder a bit too rich, IMO. I use whole milk, but skim certainly works if that’s your preference.
- When using an immersion blender in hot liquid, make sure you use one with a metal shaft. A plastic shaft can crack from the heat. Ask me how I know.
“So we have a blog called Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things to thank for our vegetable of the year?” asked Mrs. Kitchen Riffs.
“Yes, well, the ‘good things’ in the blog’s title comes from Jane Grigson’s cookbook—also called Good Things. I hadn’t looked through that cookbook in years. The book is wonderful, so I read it again.”
“And saw some recipes for celery?” asked Mrs K R.
“A whole bunch of recipes,” I replied. “Or should I say a whole stalk of them? Heh, heh.”
Mrs K R rolled her eyes.
“Anyway, it got me thinking about how celery is an underrated ingredient,” I said.
“With puns like that, it’s no wonder,” she replied.
“Then a few months ago, I saw a recipe for Lamb with Celery and Cumin on Blue Kitchen. The recipe looked terrific. And although celery wasn’t the dominant flavor, it played a leading role.”
“And that inspired you?”
“Well, that’s when I decided to work on some more celery dishes,” I said. “You might say I was stalking celery. Heh, heh, heh.”
Mrs K R looked heavenward, and sighed.
“So we’ll be featuring lots of celery in our next few posts,” I said. “And for good measure, we’ll throw in some recipes for celeriac.”
Mrs K R fixed me with her gaze. “So I guess we’ll be having a real celerybration,” she said.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Winter Squash, Corn, and Bacon Chowder
Sweet Potato Chili with Black Beans
Fennel Soup with Shrimp and Beans
Chunky Pork and Sweet Potato Chili
Sweet Potato Soup with Chilies and Corn
Kale, Quinoa, and White Bean Soup
Or check out the index for more recipes