Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pioneer Woman Chicken Tortilla Soup (from her blog)

Verdict:  A hit!
Cook it again:  Absolutely!
Cost factor:  Not bad, especially if you buy the chicken on sale and tend to keep peppers, onions and beans in the house.  You can cook this for $10-$12 if you plan for it.

Because this is a soup, and we tend to make soups a fair bit around here, I have to admit that I took some liberties (accidentally and on purpose) with the recipe.  I started out trying to be true to it, but veered off course a little bit here and there and went with my gut.  I will be more careful with the quiche, since I've never made a quiche before.

First, the recipe called for red and green bell peppers.  I skipped the green and used red and yellow, in part because I like the sweeter peppers better and in part because, well, that's what I had in the house.  I also didn't measure the 1/4 cup of each and just put in what I felt looked like a good amount.  I probably put over a cup of peppers in the soup all together; it worked great.  (If you are worried if it was too sweet, my answer is not at all.)  Another thing I eyeballed was the tomato paste.  I did three generous forkfulls, which was probably 2/3 of the little can.  If it wasn't the right number of tablespoons, it was close enough.

Second, the recipe calls for 4 cups of hot water, and as I added the first two cups I thought it looked liquidy-enough, so I stopped with the two cups.  I tend to like heartier soups, and I think it would have been overly brothy with 4 cups.

On the other hand ... 

The recipe also called for adding cornmeal about 30 minutes before you're done and letting it thicken the soup.  Since I only added the two cups of water, I didn't feel any need for a thickening agent.  So, I skipped that.

I have to admit that preparing the chicken this way was new to me, and I tried to follow it as PW suggested -- seasoning it and baking it for 25 minutes, and then pulling it with two forks. Thing is, I don't usually care for using boneless-skinless chicken breast if I want pulled or shredded chicken (first, because it's usually the most expensive chicken to buy, and second because it is always tougher for me than bone-in chicken). Usually when I want shredded chicken I boil up either whole chickens or bone-in split breasts (either of which I buy on sale in bulk), season it how I like it, and let it cook until it falls off the bone. I realize that adds time and steps to this recipe and PW likely did the boneless, skinless chicken breasts (BSCB) to make it easier on us.  Still, I always find BSCB more difficult to pull apart.  I also wanted the chicken pulled in a hurry and at the first indication that pulling it was going to be a challenge, I gave up and grabbed a knife.  I sliced the chicken really thinly against the grain, and then roughly chopped it -- just enough so that we didn't have entire slices of chicken in the soup.  I don't think the recipe suffered at all for it; the chicken was cut instead of pulled, but in small enough pieces that it was hardly "chunked," despite what the photo at the bottom would have you believe.  There may have been four chunks in the whole pot, and they all appear in the picture I took! For what it's worth, the idea of throwing two breasts on a baking sheet and having delicious seasoned chicken in 25 minutes was wonderful to me -- and definitely a technique I'll use in the future when I don't want to grill but also don't want cutlets or chicken parm!

A few more things:
  • The soup was delicious without any garnishes.  Mick and I both garnished with cheese and sour cream and I'll be darned if it wasn't like a chicken chili.  What a difference the sour cream made!  If you want a soupier soup, leave the garnishes off.  If you're serving a bunch of guys during a football game, sour cream and cheese thicken this puppy up so well that they won't even realize they're not eating chili.
  • Midway through the recipe, PW said to be sure not to under-salt.  I tasted it right as I read that, and I could get the spices but not the salt (only half my tongue was happy) so I added a generous bunch of kosher salt.  Never had to make another tweak.  I'd say it was easily a teaspoon that I added.  Sounds like a lot, but there's a lot going on in this soup (and if you over-salt, throw in a potato.)
  • The heat is just right.  It's hearty and has a little life to it, but I wouldn't call it spicy, except for my parents' tastes.  For frame of reference, my mom doesn't even like pepper.  (Mom, that's not an insult, that's the truth!)  If you fall anywhere in the realm of ever eating pepper, it more than likely won't be too spicy for you.
  • The recipe calls for adding slices of corn tortillas to the soup right before serving.  I don't tend to like mushy dumpling-ish stuff (unless, of course, they are dumplings), so I didn't do this.  I did take a few slices and dip them in my soup and they were good, but I also brushed a few tortillas with oil, put on a little bit of seasoning, and put them in the oven for a few minutes.  So I mixed it up a little with homemade crunchy tortilla strips, and they were pretty good (albeit a tad overdone because I was distracted for a little bit).
Forgive my photos -- I didn't feel like fussing too much, so these are a little rough.  The soup definitely tasted better than these photos would have you believe!  

The overdone tortilla strips. Don't be fooled; they were still pretty good!

The soup!

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