13 January 2014

Eats: chicken tortilla soup

Last year, I attended a conference in Cancún that didn’t cater meals. That meant, for every lunch and dinner break, my fellow scientists and I had to seek out food outside the conference center. This could be a challenge, considering our meal breaks were often cut short when the talks fell behind schedule, and the restaurants around the conference center have a very different definition of ”fast service”.

“Um, hello. Hola! Um, we ordered an hour ago? Are we getting... are you cooking... do you think we will get our food soon? Please? Wait, uh, por favor?

Granted, the restaurants in this area were perhaps more used to vacationers with all the time in the world... but it only took one two-hour dinner (and immediately taking our food to-go, and eating it in the alley behind the conference center when we learned we couldn’t take it inside) to realize that meals were going to be an issue.

Fortunately, we found a few quick places off the beaten path that had truly fast service. One place we found, Vips, was so fast, inexpensive, and delicious that it became our favorite mealtime destination. Vips isn’t fancy – its diner-like atmosphere caused us to re-christen it Mexican Denny’s – but it had THE MOST AMAZING tortilla soup. We all adored it. I had a day or two when I ate nothing but Vips tortilla soup.

I’m afraid I can’t recreate Vips tortilla soup, at least not easily. I’d need Oaxaca cheese, whole pasilla and ancho chiles, and fresh pork rinds – none of which they have at Schnucks. Still, I can temper the craving with an Americanized, crockpot chicken tortilla soup. It may not be identical to the incredible sopa de tortilla at Mexican Denny’s, but it will be warm and tasty on these cold winter days!

Here’s most of what you’ll need: sliced jalapeños (use fresh if you want), roasted corn (I love the frozen stuff from Trader Joe’s), one large chicken boneless chicken breast, canned chiles and diced tomatoes, and four cups of chicken broth.

Please do not be confused. That is a chicken breast, not soup. It is a frozen chicken breast for soup. I am a little nuts about food organization.

Now, add the can of tomatoes (undrained), the can of chiles, and some corn and jalañeos to the crockpot. How much corn and jalapeños is up to you! No need to thaw the corn first, either.

Then add seasonings, not shown in the previous photo: minced garlic, minced dried onion, salt, black pepper, chili powder, and cumin.

How much? I have no idea! Just shake it on. You really can’t screw it up. Do the sip test later and you should be great.

Finally, add all four cups of chicken broth and the chicken breast (still frozen is fine!):

That... looks disgusting. Why do I even bother taking photos of that? It gets better, I promise!

Turn the crockpot on low for six to eight hours, or high for three to five hours, or really however long it takes your crockpot to cook a chicken breast. Mine takes about three hours on high to get the chicken looking like this:

As soon as the chicken is cooked through (and it’s no longer daylight and you have to deal with crappy lighting), pull it out and shred it up! Then add it back, along with some cilantro and lime juice.

Use a small, fresh lime and freshly chopped cilantro if you’ve got it. I didn’t, so it was bottled juice and dried cilantro for me! Oh, and don’t be clever and try to add the lime and cilantro earlier. They only get bitter with the extended cook time. Wait until nearly the end!

Now there’s just one thing missing from this chicken tortilla soup. Can you guess what it is?

You guys are such smartypants! Cut up a stack of six corn tortillas into strips to add to the soup. No need to fry them up first (I’ve tried that and it didn’t make a difference) – they can go in straight from the fridge.

Stir it all up and you’ve got one tasty reprieve from cold winter evenings!

But wait, it gets better. When you serve it up, don’t forget the cheese, sour cream, and sliced avocado.

That is all I need to eat this winter. That right there, in that bowl. Cold avocado, cheese and chicken, slow-cooked tomato, warm broth. Peppers to keep me warm. Love!

Now, Mr. P didn’t give this a try – he’s got that dang distaste for soup, and I made it worse by preparing an absolutely horrible first-try of this soup (too much tomato, yuck). He did eat that version, and now the man has soup PTSD.

But I thought it was absolutely delicious, and if you don’t have anyone in your family who is oddly averse to soup, this is bound to be a crowd-pleaser! But promise me one thing... if you’re ever in Mexico? Please, please try the real thing. In the meantime? This will do!

Finally, here’s the meal plan here at Casa P for this week:

Sunday: chicken pot pie (it came out AMAZINGLY well. Recipe soon!)

Monday: buffalo chicken salad

Tuesday: pork chops with tomato gnocchi and green beans

Wednesday: Kosmic Karma pizza with salad (bumped from last week)

Thursday: skillet lasagna (wait, I’ve never posted this recipe? Holy moly! I need to rectify that!)

Friday: red curry chicken with rice and veggies

Saturday: leftovers

Stay warm, dear readers! Happy Monday!