It’s been a little over a week since my return from San Antonio, and I am starting to feel that I have been to the gym enough times and eaten enough healthy meals that I may broach the topic of what I ate while I was away. Perhaps the list of what I didn’t eat would be shorter. But here is a rough run-down, in no particular order, of the Texan delights I managed to fit in to a little over 48 hours: beef tacos; sausage, cheese, and jalapeno kolaches; bacon-and-cheese-stuffed jalapenos; chicken tortilla soup; garlic mashed potatoes; chicken-fried steak with peppercorn gravy; baby-back ribs; Texas beef stew; biscuits with gravy; and to top it all off, a big ball of chicken stuffed with cheese and ham, that was fried and covered in gravy. I’m starting to feel a little queasy again. That list doesn’t even include the less post-worthy foods I indulged in and the Shiner Bock I drank. And by the way, I was glad I only had one beer, as the San Antonio Riverwalk, while beautiful, features no railings.
Perhaps it is no surprise then, that the one food I keep finding myself wanting to recreate from that list is the chicken tortilla soup. While its flavor is distinctly south of the Mason-Dixon line, it is still something an East Coaster can eat without feeling like they need to run to spin classes during lunch and after work for a week.
I first fell in love with chicken tortilla soup during a visit to Waco this past January. Slightly hungover and wanting something warm and soothing, the chicken tortilla soup I had from a hole-in-the-wall restaurant on the side of the road in a un-notable part of Waco had a beautiful clear broth, and lots of pieces of chicken and avocado. It was garnished with fresh cilantro and cured my aching head and stomach immediately.
The chicken tortilla soup I had last week was somewhat different from the soup I first tried almost a year ago. It was spicier and had a redder broth, and did not include any cilantro or avocado. It was part of a massive meal that a brave co-worker and I enjoyed at Texas Land and Cattle, and I have been wrestling with myself to decide what my favorite part of that meal was: the baby back ribs or the chicken tortilla soup. I now officially declare it a tie. If I gave it another week or two, maybe I could stomach ribs again, but my body is still recovering from Texas and Thanksgiving, so, today I bring you my recipe for chicken tortilla soup. I took my favorite aspects of the two excellent chicken tortilla soups I have had in past to create my version. It has a pretty strong kick to it, so if you’re looking for something less spicy, don’t include the ground cayenne pepper and halve the chipotles in adobo. If you’re looking for something meatier and heartier to enjoy, by all means, just check out this menu. I fully intend to sample the bacon-wrapped steak next time I am in Texas.
Chicken Tortilla Soup
Adapted from Rachael Ray
1 pound chicken tenders
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
7 slices of bacon (or 4 slices of thick-cut bacon)
1 onion, finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 1/2 chipotles in adobo, chopped
2 tablespoons sauce from chipotles in adobo
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
28 ounce can fire roasted tomatoes, crushed
Salt, to taste
Tortilla chips, crushed (I like to use Hint of Lime chips for some extra flavor.)
Sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Place stock in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Place bay leaf and chicken tenders in the pot, bring back to a simmer, and simmer for 7 minutes. Remove the chicken from the stock, and run the stock through a strainer. Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces. Put the stock and chicken back in the pot.
Coat a pan with olive oil, and fry the bacon to desired crispiness on the pan. Remove the bacon from the pan and cut into fine pieces. Remove excess grease from the pan, leaving about 2-3 teaspoons of grease on the pan.
Cook the onion and garlic on the pan for about 5 minutes. Add the chipotles, adobo sauce, crushed tomatoes, and ground cayenne pepper to the pan, and cook over low heat for an additional 5 minutes.
Place the bacon and the mixture from the skillet into the pot with the chicken and stock. Mix all ingredients and simmer on low heat for about 15 minutes, until soup has reached desired thickness. Salt to taste.
Crush tortilla chips and place in the bottom of a bowl. Ladle soup on top of chips, and garnish with cheese, sour cream, and avocado.
Enjoy! And in case I start feeling like I can stomach more rich, gravy-laden, fried, and bacon-stuffed foods sooner than I expect to, do tell, what is your favorite Texan food?