Saturday, February 26, 2011

Stale Tortillas

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         It is warming up a little now, but it has been cold, cold, cold, and I have been eating things like spaghetti and meatballs (my go-to snow-day dish), baked pastas, and soups. In the winter, I particularly love to eat spicy food—and a spicy soup like hot and sour soup, or tortilla soup, hits the spot. The quality of both are dependent on a good stock—one with good body and flavor but not quite as rich as I like it for, say, pasta e fagioli or even a good ol’ chicken noodle soup. This is one of the many reasons why stock has to be homemade; there is really no such thing as just “chicken stock”; it is light or not, rich or not, flavored (e.g., with ginger and other Asian seasonings) or not. Although you can of course add flavors, reduce your stock to change its concentration, and generally play around with it, I find I usually have something in mind when I make stock, and make it accordingly. Right after the holidays, I bought an old hen, and knew I was in the mood for some Mexican food to warm me over the ensuing winter months. Hence, a versatile medium broth seasoned with garlic, onions, salt, and cilantro stems. I’ve been using it in sauces, rice dishes, and other Mexican fare.
Last week I made tortilla soup. It was time: when you get to those last few corn tortillas at the bottom of the bag and find they are rather dry and tough, and there are not enough to fry up a big batch of chips, their last best use is for garnish. Tortilla soup is their perfect home. And perfectly homey in itself.

Tortilla Soup
Tortilla soup is sort of a broth stirred into a tomato puree, garnished with chicken, chile, fried tortilla strips, and a dry queso. I like to poach the chicken and then smash it with a cleaver into shreds. Serves 4.
3 or 4 small (6”) semi-dry best-quality corn tortillas
2 or 3 dried chiles pasillas, or 1 large chile ancho, seeds and veins removed and torn into small pieces
Lard for frying
½ chicken breast, about 6 oz

1 small onion, sliced
2 large cloves garlic, peeled
¼ tea allspice or cloves
1 medium-large tomato, roasted and core removed, or about 1 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes, drained
1 ½ qt homemade chicken stock, preferably seasoned with onion, garlic, salt, and cilantro stems only
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ cup cotija or other dry, salty cheese such as dry feta or parmesan
With your kitchen scissors, cut the tortillas in half and then cut the halves crosswise into narrow strips, about ¼” wide. Heat about ¼ cup of lard in an iron frying pan to medium-hot, and quickly fry the tortilla strips until they are golden; remove, drain, and salt. Lower the heat somewhat and in the remaining oil, fry the chile pieces until they are just softened, about 5 or 10 seconds. Remove and drain. I generally mix them up with the tortilla pieces once both are dry. Set aside.
Poach the chicken breast in a little stock or water to just cover. Bring it to a boil, reduce and cook for about 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and cover, allowing the chicken to cool in the broth or water. When mostly cool, remove to a plastic bag and, with the side of your cleaver or a mallet, smash the chicken breast, which will immediately and beautifully shred. Set aside.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Heat about a tablespoon of lard in a frying pan over medium heat; fry the onion, garlic, and allspice til golden, about 10 minutes. Place it in the food processor with the tomato(es) and puree; it will not be completely smooth. Put it back in the pan into another tablespoon of heated lard, and fry for about 5 minutes.
Ladle a little stock into the tomato mixture, now a kind of thick sauce, stirring until it is pourable—about ½ cup or more. Pour this back into the remaining stock and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Taste for salt and add a little pepper.
Serve the soup in rimmed soup plates garnished with the shredded chicken, tortilla chips, chiles, and about 2 T cotija per serving.
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1 comment:

racheld said...

Nice to see you again---and with such a tasty dish! We're all fond of tortilla soup, and daughter Caro always makes it. She's a cilantro-stems person, as well, and has a perfect hand with the seasonings.

One memory your soup kindled was a couple of years ago, when we were all outside for lunch during a yard sale, she brought out a big pot of the stuff, with the chips and sour cream and cilantro, etc., for garnishes.

As we ate, the postman came around the corner, for we hadn't heard the bell. Invited to have a bowl, he said he couldn't leave the truck, but it looked and smelled wonderful.

Later, he came strolling back, route all done, and he ate two bowls, I think. We feed all the delivery people, at one time or another.

It's TIME for the stock-making and the soup pot, at least a few times more, before Spring. Yours looks lovely.