Friday, January 15, 2010

Tortilla soup

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.

Tortilla Soup
from Firehouse Food

Serves 6

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
sour cream
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.


  1. First off, I couldn't agree with you more about remakes. It angers me to the point that my anger amuses my girlfriend when people do that.

    Second, that soup looks awesome. I'll have to try it while I'm still between jobs, that way I can spend an afternoon doing it. :D

  2. remakes... honestly, except for Star Trek this year, can't think of another worth spit...

    But that is one beautiful soup. I am a whole chicken convert for most things

  3. The soup sounds great, but all those tasty garnishes kick it up. It looks wonderful.

  4. Bleh on Tortilla Soup, the Movie! Yay on your version of the tortilla soup, looks beautiful!

  5. Amen to making only remakes of cruddy movies!!
    Your tortialla soup looks absolutely soul satisfying. DELICIOUS!

  6. I love a good tortilla soup, especially because the garnishes add so much flavor, texture and color. A big bowl of this on a cold evening with some guac and chips would be heavenly.

  7. I have yet to see the remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory because as much as I love Johnny Depp I can't imagine it being as good or better than my beloved original. I need to see Eat Drink Man Woman! Your soup looks wonderful. I love tortilla soup and need to give this a try!

  8. I'm firmly in the crispy tortillas camp - although I always have to make extra since so many end up as snacks before the soup is finished!

    Also, I totally agree with you about simmered vs. sautéed chicken in soup. I have only onoe beef (ha!) with the pho ga at the place up the street from me, and that is that they obviously roast the chicken before shredding it and adding it to the soup, which is still delicious, but still.

  9. Thanks, everyone! I think we have a consensus on the no-good-movie-remake idea. Now if only Hollywood would get on board.

    cookbookapprentice: I highly,highly recommend EDMW--just a wonderful movie all around.

    croquecamille: yeah, the crispy tortillas (they're basically chips, right?) can disappear disturbingly quickly...gotta make them at the last moment, I think.

  10. I've thought of making tortilla soup for ages, so this is my chance to make your version! Should be a good soup to freeze too and if one is very judicious with the crunchy yummy toppings, not too caloric. See you tomorrow! MOM

  11. something must be in the SF air. just made this soup last night. it was awesome!

  12. This soup looks great. I love all the garnishes you put with it. Fabulous picture.
    Wishing you a wonderful weekend.
    *kisses* HH

  13. Hi Mom, I'll have to make this for you one day soon!

    DS: How funny! I guess rainy, foggy weather= tortilla soup...

    Heavenly Housewife: Thank you. Hope you are having a fabulous weekend as well!

  14. I love this recipe of a favorite soup of mine and can't wait to try! I literally hear the cold wind blowing outside - this is perfect for a night like this!

  15. I've been on a soup kick lately, thanks to the weather. I'd forgotten about tortilla soup--this one's going on my list.

    I think the only thing worse than a sorry remake of a movie is a movie made from your favorite book--it NEVER measures up.

  16. So annoying when they remake something that just CANNOT be remade. Right off the bat I am thinking The Thomas Crown Affair. And I loved the original The Women. Worth seeing just for the clothes! The remake with Meg Ryan sucked.

    Have never made tortilla soup- have had it in Mexico and loved it. The tortillas were used on top of the soup. Firehouse Food sounds like a great cookbook!

  17. Chef Aimee: If you do try it, let me know how it turns out!

    Kate: You're absolutely right. I think it's always risky to trust that hollywood translated your favorite book well onto screen...

    Barbara: I never saw either the originals or the remakes of those movies...maybe I need to Netflix both of those! ANd, I highly recommend this cookbook. I've only made 3 or 4 recipes from it but so far so good!

  18. I've never had tortilla soup before, but yours sounds enticing. I'll have to try it sometime. I also agree that making your own stock sometimes makes or breaks a dish!

    I've been away for awhile, but it's nice to be back and see that you've been consistent with your posts! I need to follow your example more.

  19. We're trying this as soon as we can get our hands on a local chicken. Likely this Sunday. Can't wait! It looks ridiculously good.

  20. Hungry Dog, looks wonderful. I love soup and cooking a whole chicken in the broth does take the flavor up a few notches.
    The pic looks good also!
    I agree with you and Kate, never amke a movie out of my favorite book.

  21. Jessica: welcome back! Good to see you here...

    Ash: I think you & Evan will really like this. Let me know what you think!

    Pam: Thanks so much :)

  22. i adore this recipe. it has everything i want in a tortilla soup (so many versions, egad!), all the way down to the avocado on top. bravo!

  23. This would have been a perfect dinner for us, especially for a rainy day like this in CA. :)

  24. I skipped the step of straining broth out properly the last time I made tortilla soup and I think I nearly killed Mr. Wasabi with a little bone that he nearly swallowed. Who would have thought soups could be so delicious... and deadly???

  25. Grace: give it a try!

    Sook: thanks for visiting! Looking forward to checking out your blog too.

    denise: yeah, turns out straining and skimming are critical steps...who knew.

  26. both the soup and the toppings sound great! I also really like the photo of persimmon in your header.