Mexican Shrimp Tortilla Soup

Monday, April 15, 2013

What's a girl to do when she's got all the ingredients for tacos in hand but craving something a little different? Tortilla soup, of course. But there's no need to stick to traditional chicken tortilla soup when you can make this delicious version so much faster that's bursting with the flavors of wild caught shrimp. It's also a much cleaner version, using baked tortilla strips and low-fat garnishes. Y'all know that I love my seafood and I've been on this Mexican kick lately, so merging the two was a match made in heaven. I also figured out another way to make use of those dried Guajillo chilies I bought for my last recipe. Don't skimp on the shrimp - while there are some Kitchenista approved shortcuts you can take when it comes to stock (I'll get into that below), you really want to buy the best quality fresh shrimp you can get. There are so many variations you can play around with when it comes to adding veggies and garnishes, so pile them on and have as much fun with soup as you would with tacos!

Don't be intimidated by the long list of ingredients. The process moves along quite easily with most of it being thrown into one pot.  I started with some notes jotted down to walk through the process as I cooked it...ended up making a few tweaks here and there (forgot to include the garlic in my list, um hello!) but for the most part my plan worked and an hour later I enjoyed a flavorful bowl of soup for dinner.  Think through your meals, take your time, and by all means have a beer or two while you cook. You'll find cooking to be a much more enjoyable process when you can relax and find your own natural rhythm in the kitchen!

P.S. It's an indisputable fact that a little Merengue in the background will make any Mexican dish taste better...take my word for this.

Mexican Shrimp Tortilla Soup

1 lb large wild shrimp, shells on
1 qt fish stock*
4 large dried Guajillo chilies
1 large sweet onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 serrano peppers, sliced
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 c. chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp ground oregano
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 can organic black beans, rinsed
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
6 corn tortillas
2 limes
Non-stick cooking spray
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Cracked black pepper

*Substitutions for stock discussed in recipe below.

Optional garnishes:
Lime slices
Greek Yogurt
Avocado slices
Sliced green onions

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 15 min
Cook Time: 45 min
Equipment Needed: Large pot, medium pot, baking sheet

Guajillo chilies will add a nice flavor base to the stock. Start by slicing off the stems and discarding the seeds and core. If you can't find Guajillo, look for dried Ancho or Chipotle chilies which have a little more heat.

Heat your pot over medium high and toast the peppers briefly. Do not add any oil to the pan. Within 30 seconds or so you'll smell the chilies and see them start to puff up, flip them over and toast on the other side for a few seconds then remove.  Avoid toasting them too much or you'll end up with a bitter tasting flavor in your soup.

Let's talk about stock. There's a few directions you can go here. For maximum flavor and freshness, a homemade shrimp or fish stock is always the way to go. I have a gigantic bag of shrimp shells growing in my fridge for a rainy day. Tonight was not that night. So here's Plan B: shrimp shells steeped in store bought seafood and/or fish stock. I really enjoy Bar Harbor's line of canned stocks for this purpose. If you're absolutely out of luck and can't find seafood stock or don't feel like going out to get it, you can do the same with a vegetable or chicken stock, but I recommend adding a splash of fish sauce or some clam juice.

Peel your shrimp, reserving the shells. Don't buy large shrimp without the shells on. I'm serious. So much flavor is in those shells; you really are wasting your money to buy them peeled, and it takes just a few extra minutes of your time to do it yourself.

In your medium pot, warm the stock, toasted chillies and shrimp shells. Bring to a low boil then simmer for 15 minutes while you finish your prep work for the soup.  Always try to use dead time wisely for dicing, chopping, cleaning up, etc.

 Once the stock has simmered a bit, the shells will turn pink and the flavor (and some color) from the chillies will release into your stock. Strain, reserving the liquid only.

Preheat your oven to 350°. In the large pot over medium heat, add a couple tablespoons of olive oil and saute the diced onion until translucent.

Add the minced garlic and continue to cook for a couple minutes until fragrant. Season with a pinch of salt.

Stir in the sliced Serrano peppers. Two peppers added quite a bit of heat in my opinion, so if you aren't a fan of spicy foods you may want to just use one pepper, or remove the seeds prior to adding them. My son Jaden was brave on this one...the heat caught him off guard but he survived after a couple glasses of milk, ha.  Builds character! I told him if we keep going in this direction he'll be ready for my dad's hot wings in no time!

Add the tomato paste to the onions and peppers, allow that to cook for a minute. I rarely use a whole can of this stuff even though they're pretty small, so I just store leftovers in the fridge. A couple tablespoons is really all you need to boost the richness of tomato based dishes.

Add the spices - oregano, cumin, cinnamon and some cracked black pepper - to create the flavor base for the soup. If you've followed my recipes you'll notice this is very similar to the way I prepare curry dishes. It's all about creating formulas that work, then all you have to do is tweak ingredients.

Let this mixture cook for a couple minutes until fragrant. If the pan is super dry, you can add a small splash of olive oil to moisten it a bit.

Reduce heat to medium low and add the chopped tomatoes. Season with a couple pinches of salt. If you're making this in the summer and have awesome fresh organic tomatoes at your disposal, by all means take advantage! I love Pomi's boxed tomatoes when that's not possible though.

Pour in the warm shrimp stock and simmer at least 15 minutes to let the flavors meld. You can check the seasonings and adjust here if necessary. Go easy on the salt though, wild shrimp really does taste like it's fresh out of the ocean and will add plenty of salt to your soup towards the end.

While magic brews in your pot, go ahead and get your garnishes ready. To prepare the tortilla strips, simply slice them into 1/4" thick pieces using a knife or pizza slicer. Spray with cooking oil and spread them out on a foil lined baking sheet in one layer.  Bake at 350° until crisp and lightly toasted, about 10 minutes.  Careful, these will burn on you quickly if you forget about them (trust me!)

If you're using Greek yogurt as a garnish, mix 1/2 cup yogurt with the juice of half a lime, season with a pinch of salt. Set aside until needed.

To finish the soup, add the rinsed black beans and continue to simmer another minute.

Add the chopped cilantro and juice of two limes.

Add the raw shrimp and simmer until cooked; the shrimp will turn opaque after a few minutes...and then it's time to eat!

To serve, place some of the tortilla strips at the bottom of your bowl. Ladle some soup on top (extra shrimp please!) and then top with additional tortilla strips and the garnishes of your liking.

Now remember what I told you, and don't forget the beer or the Merengue music. Enjoy! 

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