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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tortilla Soup

This recipe for tortilla soup is from Fine Cooking (#50) and I'm going to include it here. But you'll notice that my picture which accompanies the post has shrimp and scallops in it and not the chicken that the recipe calls for. That is precisely what I love about the recipe. It is completely adaptable. The soup consists mainly of a simple, flavorful broth studded with beans, corn and tomatoes. This a thin, chile-flavored tortilla soup broth. Some tortilla soups are thickened with masa (the dough used to make tortillas) and they have a thicker, corny texture. I don't know which type is more authentic; I just want you to know what you can expect if you decide to make it.

To this spicy broth, you can add the cooked chicken as the recipe describes. Or you can buy a rotisserie chicken and shred that up, or you can cook shrimp and/or scallops in the broth to make a spicy seafood soup. You can even try the rib-eye version which is included in the original recipe. I have never made it with beef, so I can't say what that would be like.

So, there's the broth (see recipe), there's the protein of your choice, there's the vegetables (corn, beans and tomatoes) which are a snap to prepare and then there's the garnishes. You can pick a couple or do all of them. I like to do all because they aren't a big deal and you get a great, luscious bowl of soup at the end. I do think the avocado, tortilla strips and lime are essential. The tortilla strips, of course, because it is tortilla soup and the avocado because it is really neat to have a bite of dense cool creaminess in your bowl of hot, spicy soup. And the lime really brightens everything.

And for the drama. You stack up all your ingredients in the bottom of an empty bowl so you literally have a tower of beans, corn and tomatoes. You could even heap on some tortilla strips for flair. Then you ladle the hot, aromatic broth into the bowl around all the ingredients right in front of your guest (read: husband) and serve the garnishes (queso fresco, avocado, chopped cilantro, sour cream, more tortilla strips...) on the side. Dear husband thinks you've made this gourmet soup, which you have; but he thinks you've gone to a lot of trouble, which you haven't. That's the magic of it... Feign exhaustion, and let him tend to the dishes.

Chicken & Tortilla Soup
by Martha Holmberg

Be sure the broth is very hot so that it heats up the ingredients in the bowl and offers a strong contrast with the cool, smooth chunks of avocado. The spice level is very low—just a slight chile warmth—so if you prefer more of a kick, add more chili powder or use a hotter powder. This recipe is easily doubled.Serves two as a light main course or substantial first course.

1 Tbs. vegetable or olive oil, plus another 1/2 to 1 cup for frying the tortillas
1/4 cup finely chopped onion (from about 1/2 small onion)
1 Tbs. chili powder; more to taste
1 Tbs. tomato paste
2 skinless chicken thighs (bone-in or boneless)
Salt to taste
4 cups homemade or low-salt canned chicken broth (I use Pacific brand)
Fresh cilantro: six 2-inch stems for the broth, plus 1/4 cup roughly chopped leaves for the garnish
4 fresh corn tortillas, 6 inches across, cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips
1/2 cup corn kernels (canned is fine)
1/2 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup diced fresh tomato

For the garnish:
1 ripe avocado, diced and tossed with a squeeze of lime juice
1/4 cup crumbled queso fresco, feta, or ricotta salata
2 dollops sour cream
Lime wedges for serving

how to make

Put 1 Tbs. of the oil in a large saucepan or small soup pot, add the onion, and cook over medium heat until the onion has softened but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add the chili powder and tomato paste and stir with a wooden spoon to mix and cook briefly; take care not to let the chili powder scorch.

Season the chicken thighs lightly with salt and nestle them in the chile paste, turning them once so they’re entirely coated. Pour in about 1/2 cup of the broth and adjust the heat to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook the chicken, turning once, until it’s extremely tender when pierced with a knife, 30 to 40 minutes (add a little more broth if the pan is drying out). When the chicken’s done, remove it from the pan, let it cool a bit, and cut or shred it into bite-size pieces, discarding any bones and bits of fat or gristle; set aside.

If there’s any visible grease in the pan, spoon it off, add the remaining broth and the cilantro stems and simmer, uncovered, until the broth has reduced by about one-third and is quite flavorful, 20 to 30 minutes.

While the broth is reducing, fry the tortillas: Linke a plate with two layers of paper towels. Fill a small, high-sided saucepan with enough oil to come to about a 1-inch depth. Heat the oil over medium heat; when it reaches 375°F or when a strip of tortilla sizzles immediately when dipped in the oil, add six to eight strips of tortilla. With tongs or a long fork, "scrunch" them for a second or two so they take on a wavy shape. Fry until the strips aren't bubbling much and have become golden brown, about 1 minute. Transfer to the paper towels. Repeat with the remaining strips.

Divide the shredded chicken, the corn, black beans, tomato, and tortilla strips between two large soup or pasta bowls. Reheat the broth if necessary so it’s piping hot and pour it over the ingredients in the bowls. Serve immediately, and let each diner add the avocado, cheese, sour cream, chopped cilantro, and a big squeeze of lime juice at the table.


Rib-eye version: Instead of the chicken thighs, use an 8-oz. rib-eye or other tender cut of beef. Trim all the fat and silverskin and cut the meat into bite-size strips, slightly more than 1/4-inch thick. Toss the steak with a little salt. Start the recipe by heating the 1-Tbs. oil until quite hot, add the steak, and stir-fry it to brown the outside. The meat will cook more in the broth, but if you like your meat medium or well done, continue cooking it a few more minutes at this point. Remove the meat from the pan and reserve. Continue with the recipe above, skipping the chicken, of course.

From Fine Cooking 50, pp. 58
photo: Scott Phillips

Kitchen Notes:

I have gone to the trouble of frying tortilla strips for this, but you can just use broken, store-bought chips or homemade baked chips. If you fry them, make extra for leftovers, snacking and salads. They're irrestistible.

If you don't cook chicken in the broth, you don't have to worry about degreasing.

You can really make this hotter and give it a stronger chile flavor by reconstituting a dry chile (ancho or guajillo,) pureeing it and frying it with the onion before you add the broth. If you want to try this, I can e-mail you more exact instructions.

For the scallops, I cut large sea scallops in half, lengthwise, to make two thin coins. Shrimp could also be cut in half lengthwise, cut in bite size pieces, or left whole.

For the corn. Usually, I'll buy a cob, cut the kernels off and microwave them in a bowl with a tablespoon of water. I cover the bowl with plastic wrap and nuke for a minute and the corn is done enough for the soup. You can use canned corn too. Frozen tends to be limp.

In the mood for super healthy? Add some baby spinach leaves to your stack of ingredients. They will wilt immediately as they are flooded with the hot broth.

I don't use Pacific brand canned broth, that's the recipe author's choice. I use Swanson, low-sodium chicken broth.


Sheri said...

I love chicken soup. I made this one a long time ago, and it was good - but it just doesn't hold a candle to my favorite version by Hugh Carpenter. I think it's in his Hot Chicken book. Maybe I'll post the recipe someday!

Toni said...

Let me know if you do. Or if it is handy, maybe you could e-mail it to me. I'm always looking for a good soup and I trust your judgement :)

Sophie said...

I'm Sophie, Key Ingredient's Chief Blogger. We would like to feature this recipe and photo on our blog. We realize it is taken from another source, but we'll be sure to note that...we just feel you've done a great job putting this meal together! Please email sophiekiblogger@gmail.com if interested. Thanks :)


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