Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Mansion’s Tortilla Soup

The Mansion’s Tortilla Soup
Serves 4
Fabulous tortilla soup!
The wonderful Mansion on Turtle Creek has a long and illustrious history in Dallas. Originally it was constructed as a private home for the cotton mogul Sheppard King, and completed in 1925. In 1979, it was purchased and restored as a restaurant, managed by the famous 21 Club of New York. Within a year, it was receiving rave reviews. The tortilla soup quickly became the restaurants signature dish and remains so today. Dean Fearing was executive chef for over 25 years before leaving in 2007 to start his eponymous restaurant at The Ritz. Chefs may come and go, but this soup remains on the menu. It is that good!

I was fortunate to stay at their hotel over 15 years ago – and could not wait to try their restaurant.  I had the tortilla soup that night, followed by lunch and dinner the next day. At that time the only way to get the recipe was to badger the wait staff for their secrets. I have made a few modifications over the years to make it easier or healthier. I love this rendition of tortilla soup and think you will also.
  • 3 Tb corn oil
  • 7 Corn tortillas (divided)
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tb chopped fresh cilantro or epazote
  • 1 C sweet onion, pureed
  • 2 C pureed fresh tomatoes (canned Italian if off season for fresh)
  • 1 Tb ground cumin
  • 2 tsp hot chili powder
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • 4 Tb canned tomato puree
  • 2 Quarts chicken stock
  • Vegetable oil to a depth of ½” for frying
  • Salt
  • Cayenne pepper to taste
  • Cooked small rotisserie chicken – skin and bones removed, shredded or cut into strips  (or one large whole cooked chicken breast)
  • 1 Avocado, peeled, seeded and sliced or cubed
  • 1 C cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 large lime, cut into wedges

Heat 3 Tb corn oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Coarsely chop up 4 of the corn tortilla. Sauté over medium heat until tortillas chunks are soft. Add 6 cloves of garlic; finely chopped and 1 Tb chopped cilantro or epazote, sauté an additional minute.

Tortilla squares

 Add 1 C pureed onion and 2 C fresh tomato puree and bring to a boil. Add 1 Tb ground cumin, 2 tsp hot chili powder, 2 bay leaves, 4 Tb canned tomato puree and 2 quarts of chicken stock. Bring to a boil again, and reduce heat to a simmer. Add salt and cayenne pepper to taste, and cook stirring frequently for 30 minutes. Skim fat from surface, if necessary.

Strain the soup, pushing on the solid elements with a rubber spoon or spatula to extract as much flavor as possible, into another saucepan. It can be made one day ahead at this point. 

Straining the soup
Cut the remaining 3 corn tortillas in half, then cut crosswise into ¼ inch strips.  In a medium saucepan, heat ½ inch of oil over medium heat to 350-degree F. Use a thermometer if you can. If unavailable, the hot oil will shimmer when ready and you could test an edge of one tortilla piece to ensure it sizzles vigorously. Turn down the heat if the oil smokes. Add half of the tortilla strips, stir them around in the oil nearly constantly until they are golden brown and crispy.  With a slotted spoon, scoop them out and drain on paper towels.  Repeat with the remaining tortillas. Frying tortillas in too little oil is always disappointing; they never crisp evenly and always seem grease-soaked. There is an alternative though if the classic tortilla soup beckons but the smell of hot oil discourages. Heat the oven to 375 degree F.  Spread your cut tortillas in a single layer on a baking sheet and spray or lightly brush with oil and toss to evenly coat. Set in the oven and bake, stirring around every couple of minutes until lightly browned and crispy, about 8 minutes.
Frying tortilla strips
Assemble garnishes: Cooked chicken, sliced or cubed fresh avocado, shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, lime wedges and crisp tortilla chips. Serve the soup in bowls. Allow your guests to add garnishes to their bowls. 

Shredded chicken
Fixin's for the soup
This recipe can easily be modified for a vegetarian soup by substituting vegetable broth for chicken broth.  In lieu of chicken garnish, substitute with 2/3 C chopped zucchini and 2/3 C canned, rinsed and drained black beans.

I have tasted numerous tortilla soups with numerous variations.  However, I always come back to this as the quintessential tortilla soup. For a recipe to survive over such a long time….well there just has to be a reason. It is healthy, quick and easy – especially if you use store-bought rotisserie chicken. It can be made one day ahead and gently reheated before serving with garnishes. Wonderful!


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