Rick Bayless’s Chilied Tortilla Soup

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from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, pp. 117-18.

Continuing on my tear through Mexican cookbooks, I decided to make one more recipe from Bayless’s book before moving on to Diane Kennedy, a cookbook author who has always intimidated me. But I feel ready, now that I have located several markets where I can reliably obtain the ingredients both Bayless and Kennedy call for.

Update, after dinner: Flavors in this soup achieved a balance that I didn’t expect. The chard beautifully complemented the toasted chile- and tomato-based broth. Really delicious.

Let’s start right in:

Makes about 6 cups, servings 4 to 6

4 to 6 corn tortillas, preferably stale store-bought ones

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

4 to 5 medium (about 1 1/2 ounces total) dried pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeded

2 garlic cloves, unpeeled

1 medium-large round ripe tomato

1 medium white onion, sliced 1/8 thick

6 cups good broth, preferably chicken

Salt, about 1/2 teaspoon, depending on saltiness of broth

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Mexican Chihuahua cheese, or other melting cheese such as brick or Monterey Jack

1 large lime, cut into 6 wedges

4 cups loosely packed, thinly sliced (preferably red) chard leaves (you’ll need about 2/3 of a 12-ounce bunch)

Shadowcook: Two comments here. Mexican cheese comes in various styles. The Cacique brand appears to be ubiquitous. Since I could not find any cheese that hailed from Chihuahua, I settled for Cacique’s Oaxaca style cheese, whose wrapper assures me is suitable for melting. The only other point to make is that I did not shred the chard for the photo above. The image above, I confess, is stage to take advantage of daylight.

1. Getting started. Slice the tortillas into 1/8-inch-wide strips. Heat 1/3 cup of the vegetable oil in a medium-size (8-to-9 inch) skillet over medium-high. When hot, add about 1/3 of the tortilla strips and fry, turning frequently, until they are crisp on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Fry the remaining strips in 2 batches.

Shadowcook: Because I was multi-tasking during this first step, I allowed some of the tortilla strips to turn browner than I should have let them get. Next time, I’ll pay closer attention to them while they fry.

Cut chiles into rough 1-inch squares using kitchen shears. Reduce the heat under the oil to medium-low, let cool a minute, then fry the squares very briefly to toast them, 3 or 4 seconds; immediately remove and drain on paper towels. Place 1/3 of the chiles in a small bowl, cover with hot water and let rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring regularly to ensure even soaking. Drain and discard the water. Set aside the remaining fried chiles.

Shadowcook: The pair of rubber cooking gloves that I keep in my utensil drawer came in handy here.

While the chiles are soaking, roast the unpeeled garlic on an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until blackened in spots and soft, about 15 minutes. Cool, then slip off the papery skins.

Roast the tomato on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until blackened and blistered on one side, about 6 minutes; flip and broil the other side. Cool, then peel, collecting any juices.

2. Simmering the broth. In a medium-size (4-quart) pot, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-low. Add the onion and fry until brown, about 10 minutes. Place the rehydrated chiles in a food processor or blender along with the roasted garlic, tomato and 1 cup of the broth; puree until smooth. Raise the temperature under the pot to medium-high, and, when noticeably hotter, press the tomato-chile puree through a medium-mesh strainer into the fried onion. Stir for several minutes as the mixture thickens and darkens. Mix in the remaining 5 cups of broth, then simmer uncovered over medium-low, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Season with salt.

Shadowcook: I did not press the puree through any strainer. As was the case in the other Bayless recipe I made, I did not object at all to the texture of the result. But one of these days I’m going to make a concerted effort to find a medium-meshed strainer and see if it makes a difference.

3. Finishing the soup. Set out the garnishes: Make mounds of the fried tortilla strips, fried chiles, cheese and lime on a large platter.  Just before serving, reheat the soup, add the sliced chard and simmer until the chard is tender, 5 or 6 minutes. Ladle into warm soup bowls and pass the garnishes for each guest to use al gusto.

Advance preparation — The soup itself can be prepared several days ahead. The fried tortillas will keep for a day wrapped in foil on the counter. Reheat the broth and set out the garnishes just before serving.

Shadowcook: Bayless has a very appealing variation involving beans and greens, but you’ll have to buy the book to to find it!

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Rick Bayless\’s Chile-Seasoned Pot-Roasted Pork

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from Rick Bayless\’s Mexican Kitchen, pp. 378-79.

The decision-making process I use when I consider buying a new cookbook involves finding a chair in the bookstore and counting the number of recipes in the candidate book that I would make. If I find ten, the deal is clinched. Rick Bayless\’s new book turned up far more than ten. In addition to a variety of salsas, I intend to try, among other, the Chilied Tortilla Soup with Shredded Chard, Slow-Simmered Fava Bean Soup with mint and pasilla chile, Smoky Shredded Pork Tacos, \”Drunken\” Pintos with Cilantro and Bacon, Oaxacan Green Mole with Pork, White Beans and Mexican Vegetables, Chile-Glazed Country Ribs, Tangy Yucatan Grilled Pork with Roasted Onions and fresh Garnishes, and so on.

The chiles are what appeals to me. I like toasting and rehydrating ancho and guajillo chiles. The smokiness is deep and rich. And now that I have finally sorted out which is the best grocery for all the ingredients I might need — and it turns out to be the store closest to me — I am determined to explore these recipes and some from the other Bayless book I own, Authentic Mexican, but have seldom used.

In spite of what I just wrote about toasting chiles, Bayless makes a point in this recipe of not toasting chiles. \”For pork that\’s cooked this long, you won\’t notice much difference in flavor between toasted and untoasted.\”

So, here we go with the recipe and my comments:

Makes 6 servings (enough meat for 20 good-size tacos)

2 medium (about 1 ounce total) dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded

4 medium (about 1 ounce total) dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1/2 small white onion, roughly chopped, plus a couple of slices (broken into rings) for garnish

2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

1 teaspoon mixed dried herbs (such as marjoram, thyme and Mexican oregano)

A scant 1/4 teaspoon allspice, preferably freshly ground

A pinch of cloves, preferably freshly ground

1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil or rich-lasting lard

Salt, about 1/2 teaspoon

3 pounds lean, boneless pork shoulder or (Boston) butt roast

or 4 1/2 pounds fresh picnic ham with the skin on (for classic crispy skin)

8 leaves romaine leaves, for garnish

3 radishes, thinly sliced, for garnish

Shadowcook: Because I had only a bone-in pork should roast, I followed the one or two stipulations for the picnic ham.

1. The chile paste. Place the chiles in a small bowl, cover with hot water, and let stand 30 minutes to rehydrate, stirring occasionally to ensure even soaking. Drain, reserving 2/3 cup of liquid, then transfer chiles and reserved liquid to a food processor or blender.

Shadowcook: I used a blender in order to ensure a smoother puree.

Pulverize the bay leaves in a spice grinder or a mortar, then add to the blender, along with the vinegar, onion, garlic, mixed herbs, allspice and cloves. Process to a smooth puree (adding a little more water if needed to keep the mixture moving through the blades); press through a medium-mesh strainer into a small bowl.

Shadowcook: Here I had to omit the straining. Both of the strainers I own were too finely-meshed for the puree. All that came through was the liquid without any of the pulp. As it happens, the unstrained puree cooked down fine. I tasted miniscule shreds of the chile skins, but not enough to notice much or mar the taste. However, I intend to add a medium-mesh strainer to my kitchenware.

Set a large (6-quart) pot with a lid (preferably a Dutch oven) over medium-high heat and add the oil or lard. When hot enough to make a drop of the puree really sizzle, add it all at once. Stir constantly as the puree sears, concentrates and darkens into a spicy-smelling paste, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and season with salt.

Shadowcook: I found this recipe very forgiving of salt. Ok, I\’m from New Jersey, where salt is one of the major food groups. Still, the sauce can stand a good dose — particularly if you use kosher salt, like I do.

2. Seasoning and pot-roasting the meat. Turn on the oven to 325 degrees. If you are using pork shoulder or butt, cut it into slabs roughly 3 inches thick (try to get them all about the same thickness so they\’ll cook evenly); leave a picnic ham whole, but make 1-inch-deep incisions every few inches all over the meat. Lay the meat into the pot with the chile paste, then flip it over to cover with the chile (slathering with a spoon or spatula to give an even coating). Pour 1/2 cup water around the meat, cover tightly and place in the oven.

Shadowcook: I left the roast whole. The size of the pot makes a difference here. My Dutch oven is seven-quart, which meant that the sauce and 1/2 cup of water barely came up the side of the roast an inch. A six-quart would have immersed the meat in liquid to a higher point, more like a braise. That, I think, would have been preferable.

Baste the meat every 30 minutes with the liquid and rendered fat that accumulates around it. After about 2 1/2 hours (the fresh ham may need another 1/2 to 1 hour), the meat will be fork-tender and will have darkened to an appetizing and crusty, rich, red-brown. If all the liquid evaporates during the cooking, leaving only chile paste and fat, dribble a little more water into th epan so you can go on basting. If time allows, let the pork stand, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes to reabsorb juices before serving.

Shadowcook: I roasted the meat for three hours and let it sit covered on the counter for 30 minutes. That last 30 minutes is crucial to the moistness.

3. Serving the meat. Line a serving platter with the lettuce leaves. With the help of tongs, spatulas or meat forks, transfer the meat to the platter, then taste the pan juices and add a little more salt if necessary. Spoon the juices over the meat, then scatter the onion rings and radish slices over all, to create a riot of color and texture.

Shadowcook: Bayless doesn\’t suggest tortillas, but maybe it\’s a given. I heated a couple and wrapped them in a towel. But next time I\’m going to follow a suggestion he makes in another recipe: wrap the tortillas in foil, stick them in a bamboo steamer over simmering water, and steam them until really warm. I like that idea a lot.

Advance preparation: The pot-roasted pork holds well in a low oven for an hour or so before serving. It can be done ahead and rewarmed in a 350-degree oven, though the texture of just-cooked pork is the best.

Final Thoughts: The chile paste is so deep and smoky that I\’d like to use in other ways. Maybe it would work as a marinade for pork chops.