My wife, Grayce, and I were in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, enjoying the swim-up pool, sun and margarita after margarita. While there, we visited the resort’s authentic Mexican fine-dining restaurant on a recommendation from a friend, who raved about the poblano soup.
Our meal started with the tableside prepared guacamole, Mexican white wine and truly amazing margaritas, which led to the soup. We each ordered a bowl. When it arrived, it was admittedly underwhelming in its appearance, with little attention paid to presentation and garnish. We agreed to try it in 3, 2, 1…
The next five minutes were followed by the type of silence only amazing food can bring to a meal. Our taste buds were ignited with the smooth heat of the poblano, but with a note of smoke—thanks to the charring of its skin, we would find out shortly after. The soup had this beautiful creaminess that was reinforced with a cheesiness; we would later learn this was the queso fresco and Mexican crema.
We both came up for air to agree this was one of the most delicious things we had ever tasted. While Grayce used her spoon to extract every bit of the soup, I used my finger to ensure I got every last morsel of that green goodness.
We completed our meal with the fresh catch, tres leches cake and some amazing creamed tequila. After pressing the server, they filled us in on how the soup was made and what was in it.
Making our way to the exit, we spotted our friends across the dining room, eating but not speaking, simply savouring the soup. Grayce said, “We should go say hello,” but I put my arm out and told her to wait a minute. Within moments, after scanning to see if anyone was looking, the couple licked their bowls clean.
This soup started with bringing this experience back home and evolved with the increasing availability of quality, authentic fresh Mexican ingredients, cheeses and creams now made right in Canada. We have grown our own poblano peppers in the past and found them to provide a surprising yield per plant. In preparing a Canadian specialty version of this soup, we started asking, “What if we remove the Mexican cream and add a creamy potato?” This instantly became a component of our version of the soup. I am a big believer that food should have three distinctive elements that stand out, and that’s where the double-smoked bacon comes in. Remember, all bacon is not created equally, so really look for the freshest locally sourced bacon you can get, and the thicker the slice the better.
Poblano Potato Bacon Soup
Total time: 45 min
3 lb of the freshest potatoes you can find, ideally new or baby, cleaned and skinned
1/2 lb double-smoked, thick-sliced bacon (best you can find)
2 green onions, bulbs and stems divided
1/2 cup butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups 18% table cream
Salt and pepper
12 poblano peppers
1 medium white onion
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, quartered
1 cup chicken stock
1 bunch cilantro
Salt and pepper
1 pkg queso fresco, a fresh, soft Mexican cheese that can be found at supermarkets and Latin specialty markets (optional)
2 soup pots or Dutch ovens
1 high-powered blender
1 potato ricer or hand-mixer
In a soup pot of boiling water, cook potatoes until they’re soft to pierce with a fork; drain and set aside. Cook bacon slices until well crispy (we suggest cooking them on a baking sheet in the oven); set aside on a paper towel.
Rinse poblano peppers and dry very well. Place on top of open flames on a gas range* until skin is blackened, or burnt. Using tongs, turn poblanos frequently so that all sides get charred. (You really need to burn the skin on the pepper! The more burnt the skin, the easier it will be to remove it.) While blackened poblanos are still hot, transfer them to a plastic zip-top bag and seal the bag well, so condensation can build. Leave poblanos in the plastic bag for 15 minutes.
While poblanos are sweating, cut white onion into 1-inch slices. In a second soup pot over medium-high heat, add oil and place white onion slices in a single layer. Add quartered garlic. Once both sides of the onions are golden brown and the garlic is softened, add chicken stock and bring to a boil, deglazing the pot.
Meanwhile, finely chop the reserved bacon slices, as well as the green onion bulbs and stems, keeping the portions separated; set aside.
Using a paring knife, scrape the skin off of the poblanos. Remove the stems, membranes and seeds. Rinse poblanos of any residual charred pieces of skin and seeds, so only the clean flesh remains.
In a high-powered blender, add the reserved white onions, quartered garlic, chicken stock and peeled poblanos, and your desired amount of cilantro leaves. We use the whole bunch, but you may only want to use a half bunch if cilantro isn’t your thing. Pulse in blender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Grate queso fresco (if using) and fold into poblano mixture.
In the same pot used to cook the potatoes, melt butter over medium-high heat. Sauté minced garlic and the reserved green onion bulbs for 2 minutes. Add the reserved green onion stems and chopped bacon. Run the reserved potatoes through a potato ricer into the green onion mixture. Alternatively, use a hand-mixer to incorporate the potatoes, eliminating all lumps but not overdoing it. Stir in table cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The mixture should be looser than mashed potatoes yet thick enough not to shift its form in the pot.
Using equal portions, plate the potato mixture first, forming a circular mound in the centre of 12 bowls. Slowly pour the poblano mixture around the potato mixture, also in equal portions.
Garnish as desired with sliced green onions, cilantro, additional chopped bacon or whatever you’re feeling like that day. Any seafood would pair well with this dish, but a seared scallop or garlic buttered crab would easily elevate the soup as a finishing piece atop the potato portion. Enjoy.
*If you don’t have a gas range, you can broil the peppers or barbecue them on high heat, turning them frequently so they become charred on all sides.