Saturday, October 27, 2012

Chicken Tortilla Soup

This wonderful soup was introduced to me by my friends Jeff and Christy many years ago.  Christy graciously shared her recipe, and I’ve been making the soup ever since.  Over the years, I’ve tasted many tortilla soups in many places, including all over Texas and even in Mexico, but this recipe still makes the best I’ve ever tasted.

Just for giggles, I’ve researched other tortilla soup recipes, and they are as varied as the coral on a Cozumel reef.  All sorts of things, such as black beans, bell peppers, corn, and others that I don’t use show up in some of these recipes, as well as various techniques in cooking the chicken, achieving the broth, etc.  I’ve tried some of those versions, and I will emphatically state that this exact recipe is the best that I have tasted.  While normally I’m a fan of flexibility in cooking, in this instance I feel one should stick to the recipe as exactly as possible.  I’ll try to emphasize some of the reasons for this along the way. 

As to the history of the soup, as near as I can figure, it is a pretty recent addition to the Tex-Mex oeuvre, showing up some time in the seventies or early eighties, when someone, somewhere got the bright idea to top a hearty Mexican chicken soup with crispy tortilla strips and call it ‘tortilla soup.’  Then things went viral.  Tortilla soup is now ubiquitous all over Texas and the Southwest. 

Chicken Tortilla Soup

1 Onion, chopped
2-3 small Jalapenos, seeded and chopped
3 cloves of Garlic, minced
Vegetable or Olive Oil
2 Chicken Breasts, with bones and skin
1 16 oz can Stewed Tomatoes, chopped
1 10 oz can Tomatoes and Green Chiles (Rotel)
2 14 oz cans Beef Broth
2 14 oz cans Chicken Broth
1 10 oz can Tomato Soup
2-3 cups Water
2 tsp Cumin
2 tsp Chili Powder
1 tsp Salt
1 bunch Fresh Cilantro
6 Corn Tortillas, cut into strips
Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese

Sauté onion and jalapenos until soft, about 10-12 minutes with medium heat.  Add garlic and continue to cook for another 3 minutes or so. 

Add the cumin, chili powder and salt, stir, and continue to cook for a minute or so. 

Add chicken breasts. 

Add the broths and then top up with water, adding just enough water until the chicken is covered.  Bring to a boil. 

Make sure you use skin on, bone-in breasts.  This is one of those ‘stick-to-the-recipe” points I’ll be emphasizing.  There is a lot of flavor in the skin and bones of the chicken that will be extracted into the soup, turning those broths you used into much richer ‘stock.’  Don’t worry, you’ll discard the skin and bones later. 

Cook the chicken at a boil for 30 minutes, then remove the breasts and let them cool for a minute or two.  Slip the skin off of ‘em and discard.  Then, shred the meat from the bones and add it back into the soup.  Discard the bones. 

Try to achieve bite-sized pieces with the chicken as you shred.  The chicken meat will still be quite hot, so I usually use a knife and disposable food service gloves when I shred to make it easier and keep from burning my fingertips. 

Add the tomatoes & green chiles, tomato soup and stewed tomatoes (note, these usually come whole in the can, so I chop them before I add them), and cook another 30 minutes. 

While soup is cooking, slice the corn tortillas in strips...

...and bake them at 400 degrees F for about 10 minutes, or until crispy.  Try to get the best quality tortillas you can get, preferably from an authentic Mexican tortillaria.  And make sure to use corn tortillas, and not flour.  I know, the picture above looks like flour tortillas, but those are actually corn tortillas, made with white corn.  

Chop the cilantro...

...and add about half of it to the soup and turn off the heat.  

Don’t do it any earlier, or you’ll boil away all the delicate flavor and aroma elements of the fresh cilantro.  Also, note, using dried cilantro (or coriander, as it is sometimes called) won’t give you the full range of flavors that you get with fresh, so make sure you track down the fresh cilantro.  Reserve the rest that you chopped for garnishing individual bowls of the soup. 

Garnish the soup with the crispy tortilla strips and serve immediately.

Serve plenty of shredded sharp cheddar cheese and additional cilantro for your guests to garnish.  In my opinion, this is all that is needed, but I have seen tortilla soup garnished additionally with avocado, diced red onion, sour cream, etc, but I urge you to try it simply, as prepared, with only additional cilantro and the cheese, first, so you can appreciate this delicious soup in its most perfect, unadulterated form. 

Until next time,

¡Buen apetito!