Friday, July 29, 2011

Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Soup Garnishes
Tortilla soup is one of the earliest dishes I learned to make... so early, in fact, that my favorite recipe is nowhere to be seen on this blog. Scandalous! So in an effort to rectify that I whipped up a batch this week... and whipped up is the right word, as this is definitely a solid week night meal option. Except for the garnishes, which can be pulled together along the way, there really isn't a whole lot of prep or fancy knife work here...  just some simmering, food processor-ing (not a word, I guess), and straining. Easy and delicious.

There are actually even easier recipes out there, like this quick classic from Rick Bayless, but what I like about this particular recipe is that you punch up some store bought broth during the process of poaching the bone-in thighs. So obviously if you've got your own homemade stock then, by all means, go the quickie Bayless route... but no matter how many times Ruhlman and Bittman exhort the miraculous culinary powers of homemade stock, roasting a chicken every week in a household of two (where one of the two is a vegetarian!) is not super practical. Don't get me wrong, I love to use homemade stock when I have it, I just don't have it in my freezer that often... and I think this Cooks' Illustrated method is a very nice compromise.

Note that if you have some spare corn tortillas, then feel free to fry them up, but I sort of feel it's not generally worth the effort since they soak up the soup and become soggy almost instantaneously... so I go with those tortilla strips they sell for salads or chips unless I have some corn tortillas I need use up. Clearly freshly fried tortillas will make for a sexier presentation than I achieved, so your call.

The original Cooks' Illustrated recipe is here (sub required). You can also find it in the March 2005 issue of their magazine. I've slightly adapted it to my preferences, but the general outline is the same.

  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 1 1/4 pounds), skin removed and well trimmed of excess fat
  • 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 very large white onion (about 1 pound), trimmed of root end, quartered, and peeled
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, peeled
  • Table salt
  • 8 to 10 sprigs fresh cilantro (or 1 sprig of epazote if you can get it - I can't and am jealous of you)
  • 2 medium tomatoes, cored and quartered
  • 1 medium jalapeño chile, stemmed
  • 1 chipotle chile en adobo, plus 1-2 tablespoons of adobo sauce according to taste
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • Tortilla strips or chips (if chips break them up a bit)
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  • 1 avocado, diced fine
  • Fresh cilantro leaves
  • 8ounces cotija cheese, crumbled, or Monterey Jack cheese, diced fine
  • Minced jalapeno pepper
  • Mexican crema (or crème fraiche or sour cream) 
Tortilla Soup

  1. Bring chicken, broth, 2 onion quarters, 2 garlic cloves, cilantro, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to boil over medium-high heat in large saucepan. Note that you are only using half of the garlic an onion here, the rest is for the puree.
  2. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until chicken is just cooked through (roughly 20 minutes).
  3. While the chicken is poaching, puree tomatoes, 2 remaining onion quarters, 2 remaining garlic cloves, jalapeño, chipotle chile, and 1 tablespoon of adobo sauce in a food processor until smooth and set aside.
  4. Once the chicken is done, transfer it to large plate to cool and pour broth through fine-mesh strainer, discarding solids.
  5. When it's cool, shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces and discard the bones.
  6. Heat the vegetable oil in heavy bottomed pot over high heat until shimmering.
  7. Add the reserved puree and a dash of salt, cooking while stirring frequently, until the mixture darkens in color (10 minutes).
  8. Stir your strained broth into the tomato mixture, bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until flavors have blended (15 minutes).
  9. Check your seasonings, and add up to 1 tablespoon additional adobo sauce if you likes the hot and smokey stuff.
  10. Add your shredded chicken back in and simmer until heated through (5 minutes).
  11. Ladle your soup into bowls and pass around the garnishes.

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