It’s always amusing to listen to the discourse between Merrie Bechtold and customers new to her Spoons soup counter.
Spoons offers three soups daily, and Bechtold will supply samples of each. Even after tasting, though, customers still dither over their choices.
Spoons’ secret, as explained in this month’s story for Oregon Healthy Living, is the stocks made daily from scratch: either with vegetables or roasted bones. The proof is in the flavor. The day that Bob Pennell and I visited Spoons for the story, a first-time customer, an older woman, exclaimed that Bechtold’s soup and “crust” of homemade bread was the best food she could remember eating in years. That for $5, too!
Some unforeseen circumstances have forced Spoons from its original digs in the Woolworth Building for the past few weeks next door to Capers restaurant, in which Bechtold also has a business interest. But the soup’s the same.
It tastes so good because it tastes homemade, meaning home cooks can achieve the same flavor, provided they start with homemade stock. Covered numerous times over the years in this blog, homemade stock is simple, economical and a mealtime jump-starter if frozen in practical quantities. (For me, that’s in quarts.)
Here’s a basic method for making chicken stock from assorted chicken parts and pieces stashed away in the freezer. Once you have enough, usually 3 to 4 pounds, you’re ready to make stock.
Scatter thawed chicken pieces on a sided sheet pan along with 1 large, coarsely chopped onion, a few coarsely chopped carrots and two chopped celery ribs. Place pan in a preheated, 425-degree oven for about 45 minutes or until pieces are well-browned. Check to make sure bottom of pan doesn’t burn.
Once bones and vegetables are browned, transfer them to a large stockpot. If needed, degrease sheet pan. Add hot water to pan and scrape up any browned bits on bottom; add those to the pot as well.
Add water to cover all ingredients, about 4 quarts (16 cups). Add a few peppercorns or bouquet of fresh herbs. Heat over medium to just a simmer, then reduce heat to low. Cook for about 3 hours, skimming surface of any fat or foam.
Strain into another pot or container, discarding solids. Cool completely before refrigerating, then chill uncovered. Once chilled for several hours or overnight, remove any fat that has solidified on top. Season lightly before using. Stock will keep for several days in the refrigerator.
If you have stock on hand, this soup comes together in a flash with fresh or leftover chicken and another leftover side dish — Spanish-style rice — I never would have thought to incorporate in soup before spying this recipe. It’s an homage to Bechtold’s tortilla soup that we photographed (and savored) for the story. She would doubtless appreciate its thriftiness.
Chicken and Rice Soup With Crispy Tortillas
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large onion, peeled and diced
1 large green pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced
2 large chicken breast halves, each cut in half
8 cups (or more as needed) homemade chicken stock or fat-free, less-sodium broth
1 (28-ounce) can stewed tomatoes
1 (4-ounce) can diced green chilies
1 canned chipotle chili in adobo sauce, diced
2 tablespoons chili powder or more to taste
1 1⁄2 to 2 teaspoons favorite all-purpose seasoning
1 1⁄2 cups cooked Spanish-style rice
Salt, to taste
Baked tortilla strips (see note), for serving
Shredded Mexican-style cheese (optional), for serving
Diced avocado (optional), for serving
In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and pepper and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken-breast pieces and 2 cups water. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover pot and poach chicken for about 15 minutes or until tender.
Remove chicken (leave remaining ingredients in pot) and use 2 forks to shred chicken. Return shredded chicken to pot. (Alternatively, use 3 cups cooked, shredded, leftover or rotisserie chicken instead of poaching chicken breasts.)
Add 2 more cups water to pot with the chicken stock, tomatoes, green chilies, chipotle in adobo sauce, chili powder and all-purpose seasoning. Simmer soup for about 45 minutes, uncovered. Taste and season with the salt to taste. Stir in the cooked rice and simmer for about 10 minutes more.
Serve soup topped with the baked tortilla strips and, if desired, the shredded cheese and avocado.
Makes about 16 cups.
NOTE: To make tortilla strips, cut 20 small corn tortillas into 1⁄4-inch strips. Preheat oven to 375 F. Place tortilla strips on a sided baking sheet and drizzle with 1⁄4 cup canola oil. Sprinkle with chili powder, a pinch of cumin if desired, and salt. Bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until strips are crispy. Strips will keep several days stored in plastic bag.