Each morning after lecture in our Mexican Master Class, Chef Fernando has a meeting with each group of students to let them know how to proceed with their assigned recipes for the day. Chef came up to my partner Angela and I and said, “Favorite team, today you are making sopa seca—it’s a dry soup.”
“What?!” Angela and I exclaimed as we exchanged looks.
“Yes, dry soup,” he said matter of factly, so we nodded and did as we were told. Somehow Angela and I always mange to get assigned recipes without recipes, so we’re always flying by the seat of our pants trying to figure out exactly what chef wants us to do. I think that’s why he likes us so much—we do whatever he tells us with a grin.
I really liked this recipe; it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before. First, you make a fresh tomato puree and add it to a sauté of onion, garlic, celery and epazote, a fresh, bold Mexican herb. I talk about epazote more in depth here. You cook the sauce until it’s dark red and very flavorful, adding chicken stock and more tomatoes if the color or texture isn’t quite right. Meanwhile, you fry up angel hair pasta very quickly and drain it on a sheet pan.
Next, you strain the soup base of all the vegetables so all you have is a tomato-based broth, and then you add the fried spaghetti. You cook the soup on very low heat until the spaghetti absorbs all of the liquid. It’s like the Mexican version of spaghetti with tomato sauce.
Sopa Seca de Fideo translates to “dry soup with fideos,” which are basically angel hair or vermicelli noodles. It’s a meal that reminds many Mexicans, including Chef Fernando, of their childhood. It’s a food many Mexican moms makes for their children, and more than one of the Mexicans works who to our lunchtime feast told us they loved our particular dish before they even tried it. Like most Mexican meals, you serve sopa seca with condiments: sour cream, avocado, cheese, and fried pasilla chile. According to Chef, it’s traditionally made with chicken livers and hearts because it’s the only way to get children to eat them when they are young.
Then Chef demonstrated how to make fresh tortillas—a task he says is often done while chewing gum to keep the tortilla maker on pace. Tortillas are made from fresh corn masa, “dough,” a product derived from corn that’s been treated with lime to loosen the hull from the kernels and soften the corn in a process called nixtamalization. Masa harina is the dried and powdered commercial form of masa.
I got the fun task of making masa spiked with homemade adobo sauce for the enchiladas we would be making the next day. Adobo is the sauce that canned chipotles usually come packed in, so it was interesting to see what it’s really made of: fresh tomatoes, garlic, onion, cumin, toasted guajillo chiles, and a touch of chicken stock, oil and water to make it into a wet smooth paste. I added the adobo sauce to dry masa harina with pork fat, salt and baking powder and mixed it altogether. Then you add enough water to the dough until it comes to the consistency of Play-Doh. Love it!