Chicken Soup for the Soul?
I’ve never understood American chicken soup. It’s all broth and no meat, especially if it comes out of everyone’s favorite red-and-white can. And, what’s with the noodles? Limp, slippery, wormy. No, thank you.
The chicken soup I’m used to contains a whole chicken, which has to elbow its way into a pot crowded with potatoes, carrots, zucchini, wheels of corn-on-the-cob, and fragrant herbs. Just because you’re bedridden doesn’t mean that your soup needs to be weak and wobbly, too.
Craving the comfort of chicken soup but wanting some extra heat to ward off the relentless cold, I took a cue from Mexican tortilla soups and added chiles to the base of the soup. I’ve also added hominy: processed, the hominy laces the soup with corn tortilla flavor and thickens it a bit, and toasted, it acts a garnish. The pièce de résistance are the chicken chicharrones. Rather than discard the chicken skin, I chop it and bake it along with the tortilla strips until they are bronzed and crisp. Ah-ah-ah—don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
SOPA DE POLLO PICANTITA
Serves 4 to 6
Hominy is dried corn kernels that have been treated with alkali to remove the hulls. It is sold canned in the Latin American or international aisle of most supermarkets. You can find dried chiles in that same aisle, although some supermarkets carry them in the produce section.
In Step 4, I call for a blender because in a food processor, the liquid will leak out.
4 dried pasilla or guajillo chiles, wiped clean, stemmed and seeded
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 bone in, skin on chicken thighs
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 (14-ounce) cans hominy, rinsed, drained, and patted dry
1 large yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons minced chopped chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
1 quart homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
6 small corn tortillas, cut into thin strips
¼ teaspoon cumin
Garnishes (optional): cilantro, sour cream or crema, lime wedges, and/or sliced radishes
- Toast the chiles in a dry Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat, turning them over a few times with tongs, until they begin to soften and blister, about 2 minutes. Transfer the chiles to a plate.
- Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to the now empty pot and heat it until it begins to smoke. Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels and season them with salt, pepper, and the Worcestershire sauce. Cook the chicken, skin side down, until the skin is deep golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate, skin-side up.
- Add half of the hominy to the empty pot and cook until deep golden, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel lined plate and season with salt. Tear the chiles into pieces and add them to the now empty pot along with the onion and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chipotle, garlic, and oregano and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.
- Place the tomatoes and half of the hominy in a blender and blend until smooth. To make room for the onions, transfer all but 2 cups of the tomato-hominy mixture to the empty tomato can. Add the cooked onion-chile mixture to the blender and blend until smooth. Transfer the blended tomato mixtures to the empty Dutch oven and simmer it over medium-low heat until it’s reduced by half, 15 to 20 minutes.
- Stir the stock into the pot. Remove and reserve the chicken skin and place the chicken pieces and any accumulated juices into the pot. Bring to a boil, then, reduce heat to low and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and allow to cool.
- Meanwhile, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 450°F. Toss the tortilla strips with the remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet. Coarsely chop the reserved chicken skin and toss with the tortilla strips. Bake, tossing with tongs halfway through cooking, until the tortilla strips are browned and crunchy and the chicken skin is crisp, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer tortillas and chicken chicharrones to a paper towel lined plate; season to taste with salt and cumin.
- Remove the meat from the bones and return the chicken to the pot; cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Top with tortilla strips, chicharrones, toasted hominy, and any of the suggested garnishes.
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