Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chicken Tortilla Soup and some other stuff

Chicken Tortilla Soup is a new thing for me.  I grew up in a family where Mexican food was homemade, abundant and delicious but Chicken Tortilla Soup was never on the menu.

I think of it as Nouveau Mexican, California Mexican.  I may be wrong.  It might just come from some other part of Mexico that my family was not from.  Possible, anything is possible.

Up until recently my experience with said soup has been suspect to say the least.  I had it a couple of times at mega chain Mexican places and it never struck a chord with me.

Then a few months ago I went down to the Bay Area and spent an evening with a grade school chum.  Aren't grade school chums the best?  My  friend is one of those friends that when we  see each other every 7-10 years we fall into rhythm as if we saw each other last week.  Priceless.

Any friend made a pot of killer Chicken Tortilla Soup.

Ever since, I have been having a love affair with this steaming, gorgeous, Latin, hottie.

Sorry Marcus, I still love you.  Or shall I say Marcos?

Back to the soup...the love affair is still going strong with no end in sight.  Good thing Marcus approves.

You won't be able to resist it!

I started this process by oiling and seasoning some boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  I seasoned them with lost of salt, pepper, cumin, red chili powder and oregano. You could use any chicken you had laying around, left overs, rotisserie, anything you like.  I like the idea of flavor layering, meaning that I  like the flavor of my food to be included in multiple stages and places.  Hence the seasoning and roasting.  BBQ chicken would be really good too, kinda smokey, but that didn't occur to me until just now.

Next I sauteed a whole onion and about 6-8 cloves of chopped garlic on medium heat in a little olive oil and a pinch of salt to help draw out the moisture in the onions.  

Once the onions were soft and translucent, I added about a tablespoon of red chili powder, a teaspoon of cumin, and a teaspoon of oregano.  Again, the flavor layering.  

I stir the spices and the onions mixture around a little and let them cook for just about a minute so that the heat activates and releases the flavors of the spices.  You will be able to smell when they are ready, but don't let them go to long, spices burn easily.

Then I dumped in two 14.5oz cans of diced tomatoes, brought it to a hearty simmer and covered it and let that all cook for about 20-30 minutes.  I do this for a number of reasons.  I like my tomatoes to break down a bit, the cooking time mellows out the acidity of the tomatoes and also gives a richer flavor to the broth of the soup.  I use this process as the base for any soup that I include tomatoes in.  

Once it has cooked down for a while, it should look something like this.

While I was cooking my tomatoes base, my chicken completed it's cooking.  I cooked it @ 350 degrees for about 35-40 minutes, until when poked with a fork the breasts weren't squishy at all.  Like that technical term...squishy?  I always tent my animal flesh once it is cooked.

 If this isn't something you have been doing, shame on you and the horse you rode in on. 

 Meat lesson: Once meat, any meat, chicken, beef, pork, turkey, fish is finished cooking, it needs time to rest.  If you cut into it or open it up too soon after cooking it doesn't allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat resulting in dry, stringy often tough meat.  I cover the meat up with a loosely applied piece of foil and let it rest for about 10-15 minutes.  The meat will continue to cook even after it is removed from the heat, so always factor that into the cooking time.  

Overcooked meat is an unparalleled tragedy. 

 Oh, and don't let the meat rest on a wooden cutting tends to taste like wood if it does.

Once the chicken has rested sufficiently, I shredded it with a fork...I swear I used a fork and not my fingers which work way better and give a more even and uniform shred.  I only used two of the four chicken breasts that I roasted, I reserved two for salads and sandwiches for use on subsequent days.

I then added two cartons (32oz) of chicken broth to my tomato base, which I lost sleep over because I didn't use homemade broth.  

I let that cook away for about 20 minutes.

Then I added the chicken, a can of black beans (14.5oz) and two cups of frozen corn.  You could add anything that floats your boat here.

Oh...but before the chicken and beans went in, I added a tablespoon of cornmeal to the soup to give it a corny flavor...again with the flavor layering.

I let that all cook way together for another 30 minutes or so then I shut if off to cool down a bit.

While it was cooling I made my tortillas.

I like my tortilla strips to be thin.  I used yellow corn tortillas, I find them to have a stronger corn flavor.

I heat up my canola oil to medium high heat, olive oil won't work here it's smoking point is too low.
The trick in getting these babies right is to have a really hot pan and cook them quick.  If the oil is not hot enough, they absorb more oil and get chewy.  The center strips pictured are perfect, if you look at the upper left side of the pan, that oil was not hot enough yet...soggy, really oily.

Each batch you fry, should only take about 2 minutes.  But do them in batches, don't over crowd the pan...that will also make them soggy and oily.  When I pull them out of the pan I sprinkle them with salt right away.  Ignore the unappetizing blue shop towel...someone forgot to pick up paper towels at the store.  I am not sure who it was, but rest assured I will find them and make them pay.

Now the garnishes are as much a part of this soup as everything else that has proceeded it.  I have pictured here with my soup sour cream, chopped cilantro, and diced red peppers.  What was also forgotten at the store (And when I find out who it was that forgot all this stuff, I won't rest until my soup has been avenged!) are avocados, jalapenos, red onions, cotija cheese, green onions.  Or anything you would like to have on your soup.

Hope you have a love affair with this gorgeous thing too!  It is to die for!  


  1. Sounds and looks really delicious, Nalii. I've been wanting to
    make this soup--now I'll have more motivation AND directions!