Thursday, September 8, 2011

Making a Hearty Soup

Now that your pantry is set up (see posts 1 and 2), lets dive in and make a nice hearty soup. Fall is in the air, well, at least on the east coast, so it seems as good a time as any to share one of my favorite recipes. 
I will be honest and say that making a soup stock does take some time. However, it’s one of those things can can be started and left to bubble on the stove for a few hours, while you are doing other things. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon! The house (or apartment) will be filled with a warm yummy aroma, that is very cozy. 
So lets get to it. First you are going to want to start the stock. The rule of thumb here is the longer the better. But given that you are all on the move and time is precious I am suggesting at least a few hours of simmering. If you can let it go a bit longer, even better; but just at a simmer. You don’t want all of your liquid to boil away. 
Last week I talked about reading the ingredient labels and thinking about the end result. Take a close look at everything you buy. For instance, the cost difference per pound of chicken could swing .50 to .80 cents, or more. What does that mean? not all that much for a 4 pound chicken. I paid $1.79 a pound for the one I used in this recipe. The difference between that and the others I looked at came to $2.40. In my opinion buying a better products and spreading the cost over many meals will make it worthwhile in the end. Ask almost any chef the question and you will get this statement: "mediocre ingredients give you a mediocre dish."
Staying on that thought, the overall cost for the ingredients for this dinner will run you around $20, with items left over for other uses: chicken stock, carrots, celery, fresh herbs, tortilla chips and shredded cheese. For just this soup I am estimating about $10-$12. Not bad when you consider you get many servings from this recipe!
Chicken Stock,  Makes 4 quarts
1 4 lb Chicken, giblets removed, place in a zip lock freezer bag, in freezer.
1 medium Onion
2 Carrots, peeled and cut in 3 pieces
2 Celery Ribs, cleaned and cut in 3 pieces
2 Whole Garlic Cloves
5 whole Black Peppercorns
4 sprigs of Parsley 
3 sprigs of Thyme
Rinse the chicken thoroughly under cool running water and place in a large stock pot with the remaining ingredients. Fill the pot with 10 cups of cold water. The water should almost cover the chicken. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Once you reach a boil lower the heat and simmer (little tiny bubbles) uncovered for a several hours.  Occasionally skim off the foam that rises to the top of the liquid. The foam is basically the proteins being released from the chicken. It won’t hurt you, just make your stock cloudy, so best to skim off. 

After simmering for at least 2 -3 hours turn off the heat and allow the pot to cool down for about 30 minutes, then remove the chicken to a pan. Let the veggies hang out in the water for another 30 minutes while the chicken cools down. When you are able, remove the meat from the bones and place in a bowl. You should have about 5 cups of shredded meat.  Strain the vegetables from the stock and place in a clean container.

You will have enough stock for the soup recipe below, and another. Take the stock that is left over and allow to cool completely. (You never want to put hot items in your ‘fridge or freezer!) Place it in two pint size containers, or in plastic ziplock freezer bags, and place in the freezer for future use.
This is basically my recipe for the tortilla soup base. Don’t worry about being completely exact with your measurements. If you end up with a little more or less onion and pepper it will be fine. One of the things I like best about cooking is that it’s a fluid process, unlike baking were you need to be precise in your measuring.

Mexican Tortilla Soup
Makes 6-8 servings
3 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 medium Onions, 1/4” dice, about 2 cups
1 Poblano Pepper*, 1/4” dice, about 1/2 cup
2 Garlic Cloves, minced, about 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper, plus more to taste
1 14 oz can of Diced Tomatoes
1 bunch of Cilantro, roughly chopped
2 Limes, 1 quartered and 1 zested and juiced
4 cups Shredded Chicken
4 cups Chicken Stock
Tortilla Chips
Shredded Cheese
Avocado (optional)

* For a spicier soup 1-2 small Jalapenos can be substituted.
In a 4 quart stock pot, over medium-low heat saute the onions, pepper, garlic, salt and pepper, until the vegetables are soft. That will take about 5-10 minutes. Continue to cook it until it takes on a golden brown color. This is called “caramelization.” Caramelization is a chemical reaction by which the natural sugars in the vegetables are released during exposure to high heat, which turns them a brown “caramel” color and allows them to take on a nutty flavor. That will be about another 5-10 minutes.

Once you have achieved a beautiful caramel color add the tomatoes and turn the heat down to low. Allow everything to cook down to a nice rich pulpy texture. This step will take about 15 to 20 minutes, low and slow. 

I start the tortilla soup base once I take the chicken out of the stock and it’s cooling. At the point where you add the tomatoes to the onion mix, your chicken should be cool enough to handle and start to shred. Make sure you get every last piece of the bone!
When your base is nice and thick add in the shredded chicken, chicken stock, half of the chopped cilantro, the zest of one lime and it’s juice. Raise the heat slightly to achieve a low simmer and taste for seasoning. Add a pinch of salt and pepper as needed.

Top your soup with additional cilantro, a squeeze of lime, shredded cheese, slightly crushed tortilla chips and avocado, if desired. This is a really hearty soup that is very filling.  

I hope you enjoy this recipe. Next week I’ll be coming “live” from Elinor and Julifer’s kitchen in Burlington. We’ll see what the girls are cooking up, in Vermont! 
Buon appetito tutti! 

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