You hear it all the time. You have to “layer flavors” when you’re cooking. Well, what the heck does that mean? Load up on ingredients? Add tons of spices?
Brrrrrrrrrr… it’s chilly up in here! North Texas may not inspire tundra-like weather, but it has officially hit the freezing mark; and, that can only mean one thing: Caldo!
Growing up in South Texas, it rarely dipped past the 40’s, but when it did, it was like the Bat Signal went up for all the abuelitas to kick into high gear and get those ollas (cooking pots) out and fill them with warm, delicious broth that overflowed with hearty potatoes, calabaza (large green squash), carrots, and celery atop large pieces of chicken that fell right off the bone. And, while I’m nowhere near abuelita status, that doesn’t prevent me from hauling out the ol’ enamel-covered cast iron 7-quart dutch oven I like to call Pun’kin… ‘cus she’s orange, large, and in charge.
You should also know that you can swap out the chicken for large chunks of beef rump roast and swap the Knorr Caldo de Pollo Bouillon Seasoning for Knorr Caldo de Tomate Bouillon Seasoning and get Caldo de Rez (beef soup). If you do this, add some fresh corn cobs cut into thirds when you add the cabbage. Everything else is exactly the same.
In the fitting words of Bernardo, “Vamonos, muchachos!”
1 Large Green Squash
4 Large Carrots
3 Large Stalks of Celery
5 Medium Potatoes
1 Large Onion
1 Small Whole Green Cabbage
1 Bunch of Cilantro
4 Chicken Quarters or 1 Whole Chicken Cut in Fryer Parts
3 TBS Knorr Caldo de Pollo Bouillon Seasoning
2 TBS Vegetable Oil
6 Garlic Cloves, diced
1 TBS Cumin Seeds
2 tsp Whole Black Peppercorns
Cumin Powder (optional)
Garlic Powder (optional)
Black Pepper (optional)
Rinse and dry all of the vegetables. Cut the squash, carrots, and celery into large 2-inch chunks, and set aside. Cut the potatoes in half, and set aside with the other veggies. Quarter the onion, removing the ends and peeling the outer layer. Core the cabbage, and cut the cabbage in half and then into large chunks. Do not worry about separating the onion or the cabbage, as they will fall apart in the soup. Set all the veggies aside. And, on a separate cutting board, separate the chicken quarters if they are not already cut into fryer parts. Then, liberally season the chicken all over with the Knorr Caldo de Pollo Bouillon Seasoning. You can find this seasoning at your local grocery store right next to the bouillon or in the Mexican/International aisle.
Get out your version of ol’ Pun’kin (large stock pot), heat to medium-high on the stove, and add the vegetable oil. Once the oil is hot, add the seasoned chicken to the pot, being careful not to overcrowd the pan at one time. Brown the chicken on one side, then turn over. When you turn over the browned chicken, add the squash, carrots, celery, potatoes, and onion on top of the chicken. Then, cover the ingredients with warm water, leaving some space for stirring and adding the cabbage. At this point, you’re deglazing the pan with water, removing any bits of the chicken from the bottom. Use a pair of tongs to gently stir up the bottom to remove all the wonderful yummy bits, being careful not to splash. Bring the pot to a rolling boil.
When you’re bringing the pot up to a boil, in a separate small skillet, add the cumin seeds. Place the skillet on medium heat, and toast the cumin seeds for about two minutes. Once you can smell the cumin, remove it from the heat, and immediately place the toasted seeds into a molcajete (mortar and pestle). To the cumin seeds, add the diced garlic and peppercorns. Take out any aggressions from a possible bad hair day or any other disaster, and smash those suckers into a paste, just like Grandma Ollie taught us how to do. Then, add some warm water to loosen the paste.
Once the pot is up to a rolling boil, add the watery cumin, garlic, and peppercorn mixture to the soup and stir. If you do not have a molcajete or mortar and pestle, do not fret. Whip out some cumin powder, garlic powder, and black pepper. Add one heaping Tablespoon each of cumin powder and garlic powder; then, add one teaspoon of black pepper. Then, go buy a molcajete. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t have one. They are cheap and are needed to truly create that magical seasoned paste that gives life to most Mexican/Tex-Mex dishes.
¡Andale! Go buy one after you eat caldo!
After you’ve stirred in the key magical cumin, garlic, peppercorn mixture, take the cabbage, and simply place the large chunks on top. Rip up the bunch of cilantro, and then place that on top, as well. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover the pot. Let simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Be careful not to let the caldo over boil. If needed, leave the lid partially open to prevent overflow of precious caldo broth, and stir occasionally. This is the kind of soup you can leave on the stove simmering all day while you serve from the pot until every last drop is gone.
Once the chicken is falling off the bone, ladle the soup into a bowl, making sure you get at least one of every vegetable in your bowl. Serve with warm corn tortillas and a squeeze of fresh lime.
In our household, my Grandpa always used to eat corn tortillas with mayonnaise (don’t knock it ’til you try it), and that’s exactly how I eat my caldo. I slather some mayo on my corn tortilla, roll it up, and dip it into that warm, comforting broth. It brings back such wonderful memories of Grandma Ollie, as well as my Ma, making caldo and me sitting in my warm pajamas, eating right next to Grandpa at the kitchen table at the ranch.
May this soup warm you up – heart and soul.
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