No, I'm not talking about that silly movie, which, incidentally, is a remake of a great movie. (May I ask why people remake good movies? If you're going to remake a movie, pick something that was cruddy the first time around, which had potential but fell short. Don't take a movie that was already good and make a lame, watered-down version it. It's just insulting to everyone involved.)
Back to the soup. I'm talking about the real thing: soul-warming, slightly spicy tortilla soup, filled with chicken, tomatoes, chiles, and sunny yellow corn.
Of course, there are a lot of variations on tortilla soup. Some recipes call for the tortillas to be cooked in with the soup, to provide a thickening agent. And then there are recipes like the one I used from Firehouse Food, in which you fry the tortillas in little strips and use them as a crunchy garnish.
From the first spoonful, this tortilla soup catapulted to the favorite recipe category. The flavors were perfectly balanced, the broth warm and soothing with just the slightest hint of heat from the chilies. It was a cinch to put together, too.
It does take a bit of planning. You simmer a whole chicken in stock, let it cool, then shred it. You could take a shortcut on this, and use chicken breasts or thighs that you sauteed quickly in a pan, I suppose. But I think this step, while it added about an hour of cooking time to the dinner, was critical. First of all, I used good homemade stock. Cooking the chicken in the stock makes a doubly-flavorful cooking liquid, which you then use for the soup. Second, the texture of the chicken that has been simmered in broth then shredded is much different than the way it would be if you cooked it in a saute pan.
Once the chicken is cooked and shredded, though, the soup moves quickly. And garnished with cheese, crispy tortillas, lime juice, and avocado, it's perfection in a bowl.
from Firehouse Food
1 frying chicken (about 5 lbs) cut up and skin removed (do NOT skip removing the skin, or the soup will turn out oily)
8 cups chicken broth
1/2 c. plus 2 T. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 can (7 oz.) diced roasted green chiles
1 t. ground cumin
1 can stewed (14.5 oz) Mexican-style stewed tomatoes (I used regular plum tomatoes and added a pinch of marjoram)
1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce)
1/4 c. arborio or other short-grain rice
3 corn tortillas, halved and cut crosswise into 1/4" strips
1 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2 c. chopped cilantro
salt and pepper
1 avocado, pitted, peeled and diced
grated Monterey Jack cheese
1 lime, cut into wedges
Put the chicken in a large, heavy stockpot with the broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the chicken is tender and pulls away from the bone easily, about 45 minutes. Transfer the chicken pieces to a plate and let cool. Remove the meat from the bones and tear into bite-sized pieces.
Pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl and skim as much fat as possible from the surface (do not skip this step; I did and had to skim at the very end when everything was combined--not easy).
In the now empty stockpot, heat 2 T. of the oil over medium heat and saute the onion until soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in the chiles and cumin and cook about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, strained chicken broth, and rice. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
While soup is cooking, heat the remaining oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Fry the tortillas in small batches until golden brown, removing them with a slotted spoon to a paper towel. Set aside.
Add the chicken and corn to the soup. Simmer for 20 minutes more. Add cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls, top with tortilla strips and other garnishes, and serve at once.