In the days following Irene, when no one in northern Westchester had any power, my neighbor (and landlord) did the smart thing: he fired up the Big Green Egg, pulled meat from the freezer and put it in to smoke. Lots of meat: two whole chickens, a couple of fat slabs of salmon, a bunch of steaks. And being the kind landlord (and neighbor) that he is, in addition to bringing us ice from the City, he gave us one of the chickens, saying that he and his wife would never be able to eat all that meat before it spoiled.
He had given the chicken a dry-spice rub of some kind: super-spicy and delicious (there was definitely cayenne in there, paprika, dried rosemary and other spices, I’m sure). So for a couple of weeks we had this lovely smoked chicken in the fridge: I would slice pieces of breast meat off for a quick lunch, or nibble on a wing for a snack. Tai would make sandwiches or have a few pieces of meat with whatever leftovers were in the fridge. Although it wasn’t an excessively large chicken, it seemed to last forever: like a Hogwart’s platter, every time we went in there, there was still meat on the bird.
Finally, we seemed to have picked the white meat clean, and were left with two large chicken thighs & drumsticks. Since it was two weeks out at this point (and even smoked chicken won’t last forever) and neither Tai nor I are big fans of dark meat by itself (it’s a texture thing) but like it in soups and stews, I decided to make soup with the remains. And since it was a spicy, smoky chicken, and I had just put up a smoky, grilled corn cob stock, a Mexican-flavored chicken & corn soup seemed just the thing. Like all soups the world over, it started with onions & garlic, sautéing in some oil; then dried Mexican oregano and heirloom tomatoes; then sweet & smoky corn cob stock, simmered until the tomatoes began to break down and flavor the broth. Lastly, chicken and corn, simmered until the broth tasted smoky, spicy, amazing. Tossed a few fresh cilantro leaves on top and was amazed anew at how complex a few simple ingredients can taste.
This soup is already gone: but I have corn stock in the freezer, tomatoes on the counter, and memories. I really need to learn how to smoke a chicken.
- 2 tbsp olive oil or bacon grease
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 12 oz tomatoes, diced
- 1 tsp dried oregano (I used Mexican)
- 1 tsp salt
- 6 cups corn cob stock
- dark meat from 1 whole smoked chicken, or about 2 lbs smoked chicken thighs, skinned & shredded (about 3 cups total)
- corn kernels from 2 – 3 cobs (I used grilled corn), OR about 2 cups kernels, fresh or frozen
- fresh cilantro for garnish
- In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium flame until shimmering. Add onion, stir to coat, then lower heat and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 1 – 2 minutes more, until fragrant. Add tomatoes and oregano; sauté for another few minutes until tomatoes are wilted. Add stock and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until tomatoes are very soft and stock takes on a reddish hue, about 20 minutes.
- Add chicken and corn. Bring to a high simmer, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until the smoky chicken flavor permeates the broth, about 20 minutes. Taste, adjust seasonings, and serve, garnished with plenty of fresh cilantro.
- For even more smoky flavor, add a dollop of chipotle en adobo, to the broth, or as a garnish.
- Although I love this soup as a clear, light broth, I can see the flavors working as a hearty winter chowder, bulked up with potatoes and carrots and partiallly pureed before you add the chicken.
- I think the soup definitely needs a little spice: if your smoked chicken is not spicy, add some ground cayenne, chipotle, smoked paprika; or chop a fresh jalapeno or two and toss it in with the onions.
- If you don’t already have a smoked chicken on hand, or can’t source one, well, this soup is a project. But it seems like a fun weekend project to me: fire up the grill, grill up some corn. Bank it down and smoke a chicken all day while you put up some frozen corn and make corn cob stock. Smoked chicken & grilled corn on the cob for dinner on Saturday, chicken & corn soup on Sunday. Hard to beat.
Refrigerated, for up to 5 days. Frozen for up to 6 months.
Summer, or year round with frozen corn and fire-roasted tomatoes.