Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Soup & Stew--Chicken Tortilla Soup

It was beautiful. I wish that I had taken a picture, but, alas, we had company over for dinner and my mind did not run to pictoral preservation of the meal as I made sure that everyone was situated. It's to bad, too, because the soup is beautiful with its yellow, red, green, and brown colors vibrant against one another. Oh well. I am certain to plan for this dish again!

Chicken tortilla soup belongs to the family of last-minute assembly. Unlike some soups and stews, whose success depends on the magical melding of flavors that is accomplished with long, steady simmering, chicken tortilla soup is an elevation of ingredients, which, though pleasing separately, are sublime when combined. The flavors and textures must remain somewhat distinct even as their characters blend into the whole soup. Because chicken tortilla soup depends on this partnership of its components it is at its best when high quality ingredients are used.

1-2 cups chicken broth per person served, preferrably homemade (see below)
Salsa
Guacamole
1/4 cup corn kernels per person served (thawed if frozen, cooked if fresh)
1/2 cup shredded chicken per person
Tortilla chips baked with shredded monterrey jack cheese at 300-degrees until the cheese melts

Place all ingredients onto the serving surface. Provide bowls and allow each person to assemble the soup himself. Place a few cheesy tortilla chips on the bottom of the bowl. Add the chicken, corn, salsa, and guacamole. Ladle the chicken broth over all and eat immediately.

Homemade Chicken Stock
1 chicken carcass plus any necks or backs you have been saving, raw or cooked
1 large or two medium onions, cut in half and root end removed
2 stalks celery with leaves (optional)
2 carrots, scrubbed and ends removed (optional)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
Water

Place the carcass and vegetables in a Dutch oven and fill to nearly the top with the water. Bring this to a simmer. Allow it to simmer for about ten minutes. Skim the foam off the top. Add the bay leaves and salt. Simmer for two hours. Remove carcass, vegetables, and bay leaves, and discard. Cool the broth and skim the fat off of the top. Alternatively, if you need the broth immediately, you can remove the fat by pouring batches into a large fat separator and separating the fat this way. Stock may be frozen and is particularly convenient frozen in quart containers.

Salsa
1 28 oz can plum tomatoes, drained
1/2 onion, chopped fine
1 jalapeno, chopped fine (want spice, use seeds & ribs) OR ½ - 1 tsp chili powder
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 lemon or lime, juiced
½ to 1 tsp salt
1 handful cilantro, chopped

Place the tomatoes into a large bowl and mash them into pieces the size you desire. Drain off excess liquid. Stir in the onion, jalapeno, garlic, citrus juice, salt and cilantro. Place the salsa, covered, into the refrigerator to allow the flavors to meld and adjust seasonings before serving.

Guacamole
2-3 avocados
2-3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 lime, juiced
¼ tsp salt
½ onion, minced
1 jalapeno (include seeds and ribs for spicier guac), minced OR ½ tsp chili powder

Mash all of the ingredients together and place the guacamole in the refrigerator with plastic wrap directly on its surface. Adjust seasonings prior to serving.

Shredded Chicken
Raw, skinned chicken (you can cut up and skin your own and save a ton of money, which allows you to buy free range or pastured birds)
Olive oil
1-2 limes per 1/2 cup of oil, juiced and zested (with additional limes do not increase zest amount)
4-5 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 tsp salt per 1/2 cup of oil

Whisk together the oil, lime juice and zest, garlic, and salt. Test and adjust seasonings. You are seeking a nice balance of tart, earthy, garlicky, and savory. Pour over the chicken and place in the refrigerator to marinade for at least a couple of hours and up to overnight. Place the chicken with its marinading juices into a crock pot and cook over low or high heat (depending on your schedule) until the chicken is cooked and tender. Remove the chicken and shred the meat. Whisk together the cooking juices and pour over the shredded chicken.

VEGAN NOTES: Use vegetable broth and cooked pinto beans, tossed with 3 cloves of garlic, pressed, that have been briefly sauteed in 2 Tbsp olive oil and whisked with 1 Tbsp lime juice, in lieu of the chicken. Omit the cheese but toast the chips briefly to enhance their flavor.

GLUTEN NOTES: Be sure to use corn chips that are gluten free.

© Katherine C. Otterstrom, August 2012

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