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Sopa de Pollo (Chicken Soup)

We are friends with a family who immigrated to the U.S. years ago with their three children and a few of their extended family members.  Having served as a police officer in Mexico, the patriarch of the family is a devoted father, Christian and highly respected by everyone who knows him.  The matriarch, who is fondly referred to as Mama Mia, is a kind soul with a tremendous amount of love for others and she happens to be an awesome cook.  I have always admired the way this family values relationships and the way they are very conscious of connections to other members of their family as well as close friends.

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When they lived nearby, I was fortunate to learn much about their food, cooking methods, culture as well as how they celebrate special occasions and holidays.  They love hosting parties and making visitors feel comfortable and these gatherings are always filled with delicious food, laughter and music.  Mama Mia is considered the head chef during these events and while the men may be outside tending to the meat that is cooking in an underground fire pit, she is always in the farmhouse kitchen creating something just as delicious!

During one of these celebrations in which my family attended, Mama Mia was cooking in a huge cast iron pot that was hanging over an open flame.  Inside this huge pot was a fragrant soup that had a very thin broth and contained whole pieces of chicken.  The broth was slightly orange in color with specks of seasonings throughout.  When it was served, the broth was poured into a bowl along with a whole piece of chicken.  Once each person received their bowl of soup, they took a seat at a large farm table.  Positioned all the way down the center of the long dining table were multiple bowls containing various condiments. 

 

Each person “built” their bowl of soup to suit their own taste.  I watched carefully as others added tortillas, cilantro, sour cream, pico de gallo and splashes of fresh lime juice to their bowls.  I followed the same protocol and began adding each item one by one.  What I ended up with was a bowl full of awesomeness!  I cannot even begin to describe to you the flavor that came from this combination of ingredients.  It was the very best chicken soup, or as Mama Mia called it, sopa de pollo, that I have ever had!

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Since that very day, I have tried to replicate Mama Mia’s delicious soup by following all the guidelines she provided me, but each time I have not quite hit the mark.  Maybe it was the love she put into the dish.  Maybe it was the generous spirit in the room and the authenticity of the kindness that was shared among family and friends. Maybe it was the enjoyment of sitting alongside great folks sharing a delicious meal and learning more about their culture, their food and genuine love for one another. Whatever the case, I have not given up on my quest to develop a recipe that could replicate Mama Mia’s famous Sopa de Pollo!

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My love for Mexican food extends way back to these days on the farm sharing meals with this special family.  As a result, my family and I are regulars at some of our favorite Mexican restaurants in and outside of our small, rural town.  I love the fresh flavors used in Mexican food and truthfully, I could eat cilantro and tomatoes every single day of my life!

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I have tried Sopa de Pollo (chicken soup) at every single Mexican restaurant I have dined in along the east coast from Atlanta, Charlotte, Baltimore, DC, Nashville and everywhere in between!  The closest I have ever encountered to a soup similar to Mama Mia’s version was at a tiny Mexican Restaurant on the outskirts of Charlotte.  While very delightful, their soup still lacked the same consistency and richness in the broth.

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So, I have not given up my pursuit to develop a soup that mirrors hers and this recipe is the result of what seems to have been a lifelong mission!  I don't think it will ever rival the "famous" soup made by our dear friend, Mama Mia, but

mine is definitely full of flavor and fresh ingredients and I could not be more excited to share this on my blog!

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Here are some important notes, key ingredients and cooking methods that make this soup extra special, flavorful and as close to authentic as I have been able to achieve.

  1.  Annatto – an orange-red condiment derived from the Achiote tree.  This tree is common in Mexico and the ground sees are used to add color and flavor to foods.  The flavor of this is described as slightly nutty, sweet and a little peppery, but very mild.  This is not expensive and can be found on the Hispanic foods aisle of the grocery store.

  2. Use bone-in and skin-on chicken ONLY.  You will not get the same results from boneless, skinless breasts or thighs.  The skin and bones add a richness to the broth that cannot be replicated.

  3. Use fresh ingredients, no canned broth or vegetables.  This means fresh limes, fresh cilantro, fresh tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, etc..

  4. I used an Instant Pot for cooking the chicken and broth, but you don’t need to do this.  This can be cooked in a huge pot on the stove.  I used the Instant Pot to save time.  I do NOT recommend using a crock pot for this recipe.  Chicken cooked in a crock pot can sometimes take on a slimy texture.

  5. Salt makes this dish exceptional and I tend to be a bit heavy on salt; however, it is easy to over season this dish, especially for those who don't like salt quite as much as I do.  I recommend the following amounts of salt, keeping in mind that bouillon cubes also contain sodium.  If you think it needs more salt, feel free to add it near the end.

 

Once the chicken has cooked with the spices and the broth is ready, the chicken is removed from the broth and de-boned.  Discard the skin and bones and pull the chicken apart into pieces.  No need to chop it up, just simply pull it apart.

The dish is built by simply using a ladle to add the broth to a bowl, then add a few pieces of the pulled chicken, then top with your choice of condiments such as pico de gallo, tortillas, sour cream, fresh lime juice, and plenty of cilantro.  You may also add rice to this dish, if you prefer.

You really will be amazed at how easy this soup is to make and how much flavor is packed into each bowl! 

 

Ingredients

For the chicken and broth:

One whole chicken or one whole chicken cut into pieces

3 cubes Knorr chicken bouillon

1 ½ tsp garlic powder

1 tsp annatto

1 ½  tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

4 quarts of water

 

Condiments and Add-Ins:

Fresh cilantro, chopped (one bunch)

Pico de Gallo (mixture of fresh tomatoes, red onion, lime juice, jalapeno, cilantro, salt and pepper)

Fresh limes, quartered

Sour cream

Tortillas

Rice (cooked & optional)

Directions

  1. Cook the chicken along with the seasonings until it nearly falls away from the bones.

  2. Remove the chicken and remove skin and bones.  Discard skin and bones.  You may also use a ladle to skim some of the fat from the top, if you prefer.

  3. Pull chicken apart into smaller pieces.  

  4. Either purchase a container of fresh pico de gallo in the deli section of the grocery store or make it yourself by combining fresh tomatoes (de-seeded and chopped), fresh cilantro (chopped), along with one jalapeno (making sure to remove seeds and veins) and chopped red onion.  Mix this together with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

  5. Add the broth to a bowl, throw in a few pieces of chicken, and top with your favorite condiments listed above.  Make sure you finish it off with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.  This takes it to another level of deliciousness!

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