Mexican Tortillas Soup with Frizzled Tortillas
Ancho (Ahn-cho) Chile (Capsicum Annum) means Wide Chile Pepper. This chile ranges from 3 – 4 on a heat scale of 1 to 10. An Ancho is the dried form of a Poblano Pepper and often is mislabeled as a Pasilla or Mulato Pepper. Anchos have sweet fruity flavor with hints of cherry, prune, and fig. Anchos, combined with the Pasilla and Guajillo, form the Holy Trinity of chiles used to prepare the traditional mole sauces. Scoville heat units are 1,000 to 3,000.
Anchos are great in salsa, soups, enchilada and any sauce needing mild heat and chile flavor. Chopped, pureed or ground, they can be added directly to your recipes.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 pounds onions, peeled, cut in half vertically, and sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
3 dried ancho chilies
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced or pressed
½ cup brandy, optional
½ cup dry red wine, optional
six, 6½-inch diameter corn tortillas, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 jalapeno chilies, stemmed, seeded, ribbed, and minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin (tastes even better if you lightly toast the seeds in a dry saute pan and then grind them yourself)
2 bay leaves
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock, plus more as needed
3 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped (or three 14.5-ounce cans chopped tomatoes)
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
½ cup canola oil
three, 6½-inch diameter corn tortillas, cut into narrow strips
1 cup grated or crumbled cotija cheese, optional
½ cup green onion, chopped, optional
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped, optional
1 avocado, peeled, seeded, chopped or sliced, and quickly tossed with fresh lime juice, optional
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped, optional
1 cup sour cream, whisked to smooth, optional
6-8 lime wedges
Melt the butter, add the onions, sprinkle with sugar, and slowly sweat the onions, partially covered, until they are deep brown. This takes 45-60 minutes, sometimes even longer, depending on the heat level and onions. You will need to stir only occasionally during the first 30 minutes, more often during the next 15 minutes, and frequently in the final 15 minutes.
NOTE : If the onions are cooked too rapidly, they will burn if too briefly, they will not lend the necessary color and depth of flavor to the finished soup. So take your time, cover partially, and sweat the onions until they are deep brown, translucent, and soft.
While the onions are browning, put the ancho chiles into a small, dry sauté pan set over medium heat. Toast for 2 to 3 minutes, turning often and pressing flat against the pan with a wooden spoon. The chiles will soften, puff slightly, and give off a lovely fragrance. Remove from the heat, cool briefly, remove the stem and seeds, and tear into small pieces. Put the chiles in a mixing bowl and cover with boiling water. Let hydrate for 30 minutes, and then drain, reserving 1 cup of the water.
When the onions are brown, stir in the garlic, and then carefully add the brandy and reduce to about 2 tablespoons. Add the red wine and reduce by half. Add the toasted, hydrated ancho chiles, cut tortillas, jalapeno chiles, cumin, and bay leaves. Heat, stirring, for 2 minutes.
Add chicken stock and tomatoes, stir, cover partially and simmer slowly for 30 minutes. Fish the bay leaves from the soup. Then, either puree the soup with an immersion blender, or for a super silky texture, in batches in a blender. Adjust the consistency of the soup by adding additional stock if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
If you have time, cool and refrigerate the soup overnight to develop the flavor more fully. (Highly recommend as it makes a big difference.)
Before serving, heat the oil in a small sauté pan until a drop of water sizzles when flicked on the surface. Fry the tortilla strips, turning with tongs, until crisp. Remove to paper towels to drain. Prepare the other embellishments as indicated above.
When ready to serve, reheat the soup if necessary and adjust seasoning if necessary. Ladle soup into individual, wide rimmed soup bowls, and top each serving with cooked chicken and fried tortillas. Add some or all of the embellishments. Serve with lime wedges.