Jan 062013

Chicken tortilla soup

Names are funny things.

Take this soup, for instance: tortilla soup. I think that ostensibly, this type of soup is usually served with strips of fried corn tortillas or (in a pinch) bits of tortilla chips… or something. I’m not really sure. To me, this is tortilla soup, though nary a flat-bread has ever graced it, as far as I know.

And really, that’s fine with me. I’m normally kind of stickler for those sorts of things: I like to know what things are called and how to use names and terms properly, because they mean something. In this case, though? Whatevs. See, this is my grandmother’s recipe, and far be it from me to go changing the title. She was a wise old bird, so I figure that she knew what she was talking about.

And really, once you throw on a goodly hand-full of cilantro, squeeze on plenty of lime, stir in half a bit of an avocado, and take a bite of this, who cares what it’s called? You may find that after all, the only truly appropriate name is get-in-my-face soup, and isn’t that the only name that matters?

Chicken tortilla soup

Mugsy’s Chicken-Tortilla soup
Adapted from a family recipe
Makes 4-6 quarts

This recipe doubles so easily and freezes so nicely, it’d be a crime to only make a single batch. However, I’ll leave it here in its singleton-form so that those of you without stock-pots can make it easily.
If you have left-over cooked chicken, you can skip poaching the raw chicken and just sub in the bird that you already have. You’ll want about 2 cups of cooked chicken to replace 2-3 pounds raw.
Don’t worry about getting fussy when you’re chopping the cilantro. You can include stem in with the leaves because unlike parsley, cilantro stems taste as good as the leaves.
When it comes to the garnish: oddly enough, I’ve never actually had this tortilla soup with anything remotely resembling a tortilla and I love it just fine. It’s ok if you also make this a tortilla-less tortilla soup.
2-3 pounds bone-in or bone-less chicken parts (about half a chicken)
3 quarts chicken stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
4-8 ounces green chiles, roasted and chopped
2 poblano peppers, roasted, seeded and chopped
1 1/2 cups of shredded or quarter-moon-dice carrots
2 cups of chopped celery
2 cups of diced onions
16-ounce can whole tomatoes, chopped or crushed, with juice
2 teaspoons cumin (preferably whole, toasted, then ground)
2 teaspoons dried oregano or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil (not fresh)
2 teaspoons chile powder
6 cloves minced garlic
2 bay leaves
2 medium zucchinis, sliced length-wise, then sliced length-wise again, then chopped cross-wise into quarter-moon dice
1-1/2 cup corn kernels (preferably fresh)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Salt & pepper, to taste
For serving/garnish: limes, avocados, plenty of extra cilantro, fried tortilla strips or tortilla chips, Monterrey jack cheese
Poach the chicken: In a large sauce-pan or small soup-pot, bring the raw chicken and the chicken stock to a simmer. Simmer until the chicken is done and white meat registers 160F and dark meat registers 175F in the thickest part (time with vary widely with the size of the chicken parts and the presence of bone). Remove the chicken and let it cool. You can either put the stock in a bowl or pull out a slightly bigger sauce-pan to cook the soup in.
Make the soup: Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once it is shimmery, add the green chiles, poblanos, carrots, celery, and onions. Cook until the veg are soft and fragrant, about 7 minutes. Pour in the reserved chicken stock, tomatoes, and reserved tomato-juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so that you can maintain a simmer. Add the cumin, oregano, basil, chile powder, garlic, bay leaves, and zucchini. Simmer for about 45 minutes, until the flavors are starting to blend.
While the soup is simmering, shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces using two forks (or chop it up).
When the soup is ready for the next step, add in the chicken, beans, corn, cilantro, and salt & pepper. Simmer for another 15 minutes or so. Serve with the garnishes listed above (and plenty of them) or, better yet, serve the soup the next day so the flavors can blend further.
Something I haven’t yet tried but think would probably be delicious is replacing posole for the corn. It might thicken the soup somewhat but would give it great flavor. Soak the dried posole for about 6 hours, then simmer it for about two. Drain and add it to the soup at the same time as the chicken stock. If you’re making it in a slow-cooker, you can skip simmering it and add the soaked posole to the soup from the outset.
To make this in a slow-cooker: start by sauteing the same ingredients that you saute in step 2 (either in a skillet or in a stove-top-safe slow-cooker-insert). Once that is done, add the rest of the ingredients (including the whole pieces of raw chicken) and cook on low for 4-6 hours. When done, remove the chicken from the slow-cooker and cut/shred into bite-sized pieces. Garnish and serve.

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