Saturday, May 31, 2008

RECIPE - Chicken Tortilla Stew

I've written before that I usually fall on the wrong side of the fine line between soups and stews. I try to make a stew and it ends up as a soup. I try to make a soup and it ends up as a stew. In this case, the more widely-known Chicken Tortilla Soup is now Chicken Tortilla Stew. I haven't yet learned how to apply reverse psychology techniques to my own cooking, but here's hoping.

What You'll Need.....

The Stew Stuff
  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, minced
  • 1 white onion, rough-chopped into small pieces
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium tomatillos, husked and minced
  • 1 can black beans (I actually don't prefer frijoles negras, as they're less likely to be organic and usually come in flavored broth and/or sludge)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1.5 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 7 white flour tortillas
The Seasoning
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • cayenne pepper
  • chili powder
  • 1 tsp. coriander
  • 1 tsp. cumin
(You could also use 1 tbs. garam masala in place of the cumin and coriander...I had to because I forgot that I was out of both and didn't feel like going to the store.)

The Other Stuff
  • olive oil
  • canola or vegetable oil
  • mild white cheese such as queso fresco or panchego
***When I'm making something that requires a fair amount of vegetables, I usually prep my vegetables the night before. In this case, I chopped my bell peppers, jalapenos, and onion the night before and stored them in separate baggies.***

What You'll Do....

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. While your oven is preheating, chop your bell peppers and onions (if you haven't already). Combine them for a sort of mirepoix. Set aside.

Spread your thawed corn kernels on a sprayed baking sheet. Season liberally with kosher salt, black pepper, chili powder, and cayenne. Set aside.

Rub chicken breasts with olive oil, kosher salt, and black pepper.

Place both corn and chicken in the oven. My oven was built in 1955, so it has two small racks and the heating element from the bottom is strong enough to fight the Russians. Because the chicken needs higher heat and I don't want the corn to burn, I place the chicken on the bottom rack.

(You may want to check the corn at least once and toss the kernels for even roasting. Whatev.)

While your chicken and corn are in the oven, prep your tomatillos, garlic, and jalapenos. Pick firm tomatillos with tight husks. Peel and clean them well; I don't know what the sticky stuff is on tomatillos but it's not pleasant.

Okay, so I said 6 cloves of garlic. I probably used 6 regular cloves and two more smaller cloves because, like butter and booze, I believe garlic makes everything better and I always use a lot of it.

Once your tomatillos and garlic are minced, combine them with your jalapenos.

WASH YOUR HANDS after you chop your jalapenos. Wash them three or four times. I am not kidding. Trust me, my eyes have suffered enough.

Separate your tortillas into two stacks -- one stack of 4 and one stack of 3.

Cut the 4-stack into bite-sized pieces. These will be used to thicken your stew and add a soft, pasta-like texture.

Cut the 3-stack into strips. These will be fried and used as garnish (and create a terrific crunch for your stew).

Remove corn from the oven. It smells pretty awesome.

Toss corn and its seasoning with the jalapenos, garlic, tomatillos, cumin, and coriander (or garam masala).

Remove the chicken when its done but before it starts to get dry (about 45 minutes). Turn oven down to 200, but don't turn it off. You'll need it later.

Shred chicken.

In a stock pot, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over Medium High heat. Once the oil is hot, add your bell peppers and onions. Stir to coat evenly with oil. Cook until the onions are soft.

(If you happen to be distracted by an episode of Clean House and your onions burn a little bit, reduce the heat and hope no one will notice. If people do notice, tell them your vegetables were fire-roasted.)

Once your sort-of mirepoix is soft (and possibly a little burned), add canned diced tomatoes, black beans, jalapeno-tomatillo-garlic-corn mixture, and chicken. Stir to combine flavors.

Add two quarts of chicken stock. See those fire-roasted vegetables????

Lower heat to Simmer and go watch more crappy TV shows for 45 to an hour or so. It's stew, so you can get distracted all you want. Big deal.

After about an hour, add your bite-sized tortilla pieces. Stir to combine. Cover and wait until the stew has had a chance to thicken (maybe another 30-40 minutes).

While you're waiting for the stew to thicken, start frying the tortilla strips.

Pour a thin layer of vegetable or canola oil into a saucepan and turn to high. Once the oil is hot, fry the strips. Depending on the size of your saucepan, you should do this in phases. Only a single layer of strips is going to fry properly.

Once the tortilla strips are fried to a golden brown, spread them on a baking sheet and place in the oven until the stew is done. This will keep them crisp.

Once the stew is done, turn off the burner and oven heat. Remove the tortilla strips from the oven so they don't dry out.

(When you store the strips for leftovers, use a baggie with a paper towel inside. This can soak up excess oil.)

Some people serve Chicken Tortilla Stew (or soup) with garnishes like salsa, avocado, or other vegetables. I'm a meat-and-tortillas kind of person, and I think I put enough vegetables into the stew already.

For me, crispy tortilla strips and some mild, creamy panchego cheese crumbles provide the ideal textural contrast to the meaty, spicy, smoky, toothy, and, yes, veggie stew.

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