Writer’s Block: Caldo Weather

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

You may have seen a certain meme making the rounds on social media. A tetraptych with one panel showing a photo of a terracotta mug of champurrado accompanied by a concha, another a heavy San Marcos blanket spread across a bed, the third a bowl of menudo with all the trimmings, and the last depicting a pot of tamales ready for steaming. Above the four images are the words, “When Latinos feel a small breeze.”

I giggled when I saw it. My dad shared it, adding a comment of his own: “Caldo time again.”

Pretty much anyone who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley knows why it’s funny. And if you’ve stepped foot outside at all this week, it’s highly likely you were hit by a sudden craving for one — or all four — of the items shown in the meme.

You see, in the Valley, cold weather is caldo weather. It’s soup weather. It’s warm and snuggly weather. It’s comfort weather. And with the whopper of a cold front that came through Monday afternoon, bringing with it temperatures we often don’t see until November, many folks’ thoughts soon turned to caldo.

Now, while menudo or pozole are good, hearty and filling soups, there are two other soups that reign supreme among cold weather cravings: caldo de res and caldo de pollo. They’re essentially the same soup; which one you choose ultimately depends on whether or not you prefer beef or chicken. And they’re easy enough to make at home — all the better for having plenty of leftovers to enjoy after that first and second and third bowl.

Though Mexican caldo is the ultimate “use what you’ve got” type of soup, the following is what you’ll need to make a traditional pot. And since I’m of the “little bit of this, little bit of that” school of cooking, you won’t find precise measurements listed below. Use your discretion and keep in mind whether you’re feeding one person or six.

First, for the meat, you’ll need either chicken or beef shanks. Boneless chicken cooks faster, but bone-in provides a more complex broth. For bone-in chicken, remove the skin, then section it into separate pieces for legs and thighs, and split, then quarter the breasts.

The marrow nestled in the shank bones adds a pleasant richness to caldo de res that’s hard to beat, but will require a longer cook time than chicken.

Add to a pot of lightly salted water and bring to a boil, reduce the heat and allow to cook at a rolling simmer while you prepare the vegetables. Premade or store-bought stock, Better Than Bouillon, or Knorr beef or chicken bouillon can help enrich a thin stock.

For the veggies, you will need: cabbage, potatoes, corn on the cob, calabaza squash (not zucchini or yellow squash), tomato, and green bell pepper (optional). Chop the veggies into large chunks. Slice the squash into inch-thick circles. Break the corn into 2-3 pieces per cob.

And of course, you can’t forget the holy trinity of good soup broths everywhere: celery, carrot and onion. Chop these into large pieces, too — small enough to fit on a spoon, but big enough to give you something substantial to bite into.

The veggies should be added when your beef or chicken is nearly cooked. You can also add long grain rice or egg noodles around this time, too. Season the soup with salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and ground cumin. That’s it. No other fancy herbs or spices needed.

Add a big handful of chopped cilantro right near the end, cooking it just long enough for the leaves to wilt and impart their flavor to the broth.

Serve with a side of Spanish rice, warm corn tortillas and freshly sliced avocado. Enjoy!

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