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Column Thu Jan 15 2009
If you read last week's feature about tamale-making and made it to the bottom of the column, you saw my instructions for cooking chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks) with dried peppers. Last week I showed you how to take that chicken and shred the meat for turning into tamale filling. Which means that if you actually did that you'd end up with a couple of quarts of smoky, spicy, and dark red chicken broth.
I was thrilled by the tasty broth as I was dishing it up for storing in the fridge until I could figure out what to do with it. The following day I decided to taste the broth to see if it reminded me of anything. I was delighted when I took the lid of my jar and saw that my broth had gelatinized. In case you don't often make broth you might be slightly disturbed to see a savory and soft Jell-o mold in your refrigerator. But if you think about the fact that gelatin comes from bones that are slowly cooked down so it releases, then it makes more sense. Even when it comes back up to room temperature it'll melt and look like a dark chicken broth.
But what to do with a couple of quarts of chili-flavored chicken broth? I don't know about you, but I've been eating a lot of soup lately. Having a bowl that I can cradle and then enjoying the warmth as is spreads throughout my core is a wonderful thing to enjoy at this time of year. Whether its a hearty stew or a gentle consommé, I've wanted soup and lots of it. So as I tasted the gently spicy chicken broth, I instantly thought of Chicken Tortilla Soup.
Now this is not a recipe that I got from a generous cooking mentor, nor is it a recipe that I've adapted from a famous chef who knows what they're doing. I just looked at a handful of recipes to see what the common elements were, and went for it. The following recipe has no stamp of authenticity, unless you consider the fact that I want to make it again enough.
Chicken Tortilla Soup
1 small onion cut into thin slices
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 clove of garlic
1 tablespoon of cumin
10 corn tortillas
2 quarts of chicken broth flavored with dried chilis (instructions below this recipe)
1 whole chicken leg, cut into small bits
1 15 ounce can of hominy
1 15 ounce can of pinto beans
1 15 ounce can of chopped tomatoes (plain or with flavoring added)
1 teaspoon of paprika
1 pinch of cayenne pepper
sour cream, shredded cheese, and chopped cilantro for garnish
Preheat your oven to 350-degrees F. Slice two of the tortillas into 1/4" strips. Cut these strips in half and sprinkle them across a baking pan. Bake it in the oven for 15 minutes or until the tortillas are crisp. While those are cooking, place the sliced onions and oil in large cooking pot over medium heat. Stir frequently while the onions soften and just start to turn yellow for 5-7 minutes. Add the cumin and minced garlic to the pan and let it cook while stirring constantly for about two minutes. The cumin and the garlic should be very fragrant. Add the stock to prevent the garlic from burning. Cut the remaining tortillas into 1" squares and sprinkle them over the broth. Stir the tortillas into the soup and then stir in the remaining ingredients. Let the soup simmer and stir occasionally. The tortillas will break down and slowly thicken the soup. (The only "secret" trick to this soup, really.) Once the tortillas have broken down serve the soup in bowls with the tortilla crisps, sour cream, cheese, and cilantro as a garnish. Closing your eyes and pretending its warm outside is optional, but encouraged.
*If you didn't make the tamales, but still want to go all out when making this soup, here is what you need.
4 whole chicken legs
22 dried New Mexico or guajillo chiles
1 tablespoon of cumin
Place a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Place a single layer of chicken in the pot and let it sear for a few minutes on each side. Do it in batches if necessary. Cut the stems off the chiles and scrape out the seeds. Cut the dried chiles into 1" strips and sprinkle over the chicken. Cover the chicken with water (preferably at least 3 quarts of water) by an inch. Add the lid and reduce the heat to low and let it simmer at the lowest flame for 4 hours. You'll know that the chicken is ready when you start to lift out one of the legs and it begins to fall apart. Remove the chicken from the pot gently to keep it from breaking apart. Discard the bones, cartilage, and skin. You know should have at least two quarts of spicy chicken stock and a large pile of shredded chicken. The soup uses all the stock but only a portion of the chicken. The remaining chicken can be used to fill enchiladas, make pulled chicken sandwiches, or it can be chopped and sprinkled over a salad.
I gotta say that if there is a season to have a large pot of yumminess simmering on the stove, this is it. One of the home cook's secrets is that the kitchen is often the warmest room in the house when you're making dinner. And if your dinner takes a couple of hours to make, then more heat for you, eh? Stay warm out there, Chicago.