I like to make this soup in early fall, when the temperatures are just starting to drop and the days are suddenly cooler. I pair the taste of the year's fresh corn with sea scallops that are dusted with smoked paprika, cumin, and pepper. Other chowder mainstays -- potatoes, bacon, and onion -- also contribute to the delectable taste and enticing texture of this soup.
1 pound large red-skin potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 cups fresh corn kernels or frozen thawed corn kernels, divided
2 cups chicken stock, divided or 2 cups broth made with chicken-flavored broth powder
8 thick smoked bacon slices, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 cup chopped onion
1 1/3 cups half-and-half
1 pound large sea scallops, side muscles removed
1 1/2 teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
vegetable or olive oil for cooking the scallops
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add potatoes and cook until just tender when pierced with a knife, for about 10 minutes. Drain potatoes and set aside.
Purée 2 cups of the corn kernels with 1 cup of the chicken stock in a food processor or blender and set aside.
In a large, heavy pot set over medium heat, sauté the bacon until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour all but 1 tablespoon drippings in pot. Add onion and remaining 2 cups of corn kernels. Sauté, stirring, until onions are softened and corn starts to brown lightly, for 5 to 6 minutes.
Stir in the remaining 1 cup chicken stock and the pureéd corn mixture. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add potatoes, bacon, and half-and-half and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more. Do not let the soup come to a boil. (Soup can be prepared 1 day ahead to this point; cook, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat over low heat and proceed with recipe.) Remove pot from the heat; taste soup and season with salt, as needed. Cover to keep warm while you prepare the scallops.
Pat scallops dry, then quarter them. In a small bowl, mix together smoked paprika, cumin, black pepper, and cayenne; spread spice mixture on a dinner plate. Coat the scallops on all sides with the spice mixture.
Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a large, heavy skillet set over medium-high heat. When hot, add enough scallops to fit comfortably in the pan (do not crowd) and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes per side, until just seared. Transfer scallops to plate. Repeat with remaining scallops. Season scallops with salt.
To serve, ladle the chowder into 6 soup bowls and top with scallops, dividing evenly. Garnish each serving with some chopped chives.