Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tortilla Soup

This is an old blog post of mine posted on Myspace a little over a year ago. I love tortilla soup (as does Geoff). I made the soup again tonight, but used some stock I already had in the freezer and some already-cooked chicken breasts we grilled the other night.

It was delicious.

I also modified it slightly by adding tomatillos to the tomato puree. We had gotten some delicious tomatillos from farmer's market on Saturday and I figured I'd throw them into the mix. I also added 2 tablespoons of masa harina to the tomato mix because I didn't want to puree up the tortillas. I was trying to be fast in order to be freed up to watch Sarah Palin's speech tonight.

Geoff gets sarcastic and calls me "modest" when I admit something I made turned out great. But my defense is always that I also admit when something turns out less than great (and then he gets after me that I'm too hard on myself).

But I have to say (modesty aside): Everything tonight was fantastic: the soup, the RNC, and the baby.

I even made the Planter's Punch my brother recommended. Planter's Punch tastes suspiciously like a mai tai. And I think we all know our policy on those.

Here's the blog post and the recipe:

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I've made this a few times now, but I figured I should write down the recipe once and for all.

First things first: you will absolutely need homemade chicken stock. Boxed stock just does NOT cut it. I tried it with boxed stock once when I felt really smug, but it just didn't have that same luxurious mouthfeel as homemade stock. But homemade is so easy to make anyone can do it. Plus, it's a great way to spend a few hours in the morning drinking beer on a Saturday.

Get large pot (8-12 quarts) and 2 chicken halves (I like using the halves because they're easier to deal with than a whole chicken, but whatever works for you). Luckily enough for me (and everyone else) I had the bare bones remains of a chicken carcass I'd roasted last week in the freezer, and I added that to this batch, too. I had a lot of stock. Nobody seemed to mind the leftover soup on Sunday for breakfast.

Stock
2 carrots (broken in half/thirds with your hands)
2-3 celery stalks (same as above)
1 onion cut into 4ths (no need to remove paper, and I like yellow onions for this)
1 bulb of garlic, cut in half lengthwise to expose all the cloves
1 bunch of cilantro
1 T. oregano
1 tsp. whole cloves
Tops from jalapenos (assuming you're making/made salsa if it's Mexican night, right?)
3 bay leaves
5-6 (or whatever) black peppercorns

Put some oil in the pot and heat until the point that it scares you. You will want to turn on the vent for this, and definitely open a beer. Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides, and put one into the hot oil, fat side down and let it sear for about 5 minutes. Flip it over, let it cook 5 more minutes, and remove it to a bowl (I usually just put it on top of the bowl of veggies I've already cut up for the stock). Do the same with the other chicken half, but don't remove it to the bowl.

Dump everything in the veggie bowl into the pot, and fill the pot with cold water.

Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer for 2-3 hours (light simmer, not bubbling, but bubbling a little bit). "They" say to remove the foam, which I'll do if I'm feeling really motivated, but most of the time I let it be.

Taste it to make sure it tastes good -- if it's watery, let it boil down some more, if it needs salt, go ahead and salt it, etc. You'll know if it's good or not.

Strain into another big bowl/pot (please god don't strain it without something underneath, which my aunt did one time to everyone's horror with the leftover turkey carcass after Thanksgiving), reserving the chicken meat in a separate bowl to be sorted out later (with icky pieces fed to the very happy dog).

Now that you have stock, you can start your soup (also - I never strain the fat off -- it's flavor, right? It's good)

For the soup:

The following goes into the blender:
Dried Chiles (I use about 4-5 New Mexican and 1 Pasilla, de-seeded and stemmed and soaked in hot water until soft)
Cumin (a good 2 T. or so)
Paprika (a good 2 T. or so)
Oregano (1 T. or so)
Fresh jalapeno (1-2)
Fresh anaheim (1-2)
1 small (14.5 ounce) can whole tomatoes (or whatever is in the cupboard, really)
1-2 white onions (I like using 1 and a half, but if I'm not in the mood to have a "wasted" half, I'll just use 1)
4-6 cloves garlic
1 bunch cilantro

Blend all that up until it resembles a smooth salsa. I always taste it with a chip to make sure it's just right and it usually is (salt it if you wish, I sometimes do, sometimes not -- whatever you want as long as the final product is sufficiently salted, and you're going to use enough salt to scare anyone who sees you put it in - don't be afraid.)

Then, take your big stock pot and put some oil in the bottom, heat it up, and add the blended mixture. Cook it for, hm, like 10 minutes or so, stirring all the while so it doesn't splatter. (Speaking of which: sometimes I add some of the water I used to rehydrate the dried chiles to loosen it up a bit so it's not too thick.) You just want to make sure you're getting a good flavor.

At this point, if anyone is around, they will immediately get hungry and start asking what you're making. I promise.

When you think the red mixture is good and done, add your chicken stock, and a large can of drained hominy to the pot. (I know hominy isn't "traditional" in tortilla soup -- I just really love the texture and flavor).

Bring everything to a boil and cook as long as you can stand it -- in other words, if everyone's starving, I'd let it cook like 15 minutes or something, but I like to let it just sort of get all delicious for an hour.

While this is happening, cut up some corn tortillas and fry them in a little oil. You'll probably need to make extra because everyone around you will eat them as soon as you make them. No big deal -- there's always more than enough tortillas in a package. You probably want to make at least 10 tortillas and add them to the blender with a little of the stock/red sauce (try not to scoop up hominy, but if you do, it's no big deal). Blend it all up, and add back to the pot. Warning: it's quite possible there will be tortilla bits at the bottom of the blender -- do not fear! Just add that to the pot. They'll dissolve and give the soup a really nice texture and flavor.

When you're ready to serve, return the chicken (you've shredded it already, right?) to the soup, and heat up. Then serve soup with extra crispy tortilla strips, lime, radish, avocado, sour cream, cotija cheese, jalapeno slices, cabbage, cilantro, etc etc etc. And LOTS of Negra Modelo.

I know that a lot of that isn't really "traditional", but I assure you: nobody will mind. And, in fact, when I made it on Saturday, everyone said "This isn't like the stuff you get at Mexican restaurants; it's better."

Insert feeling of smugness here.

Crack open another beer, sit back, and welcome all compliments from your friends. Good luck!

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