Amazing Chicken Tortilla Soup

When I mentioned a few weeks ago that I am bringing a strong soup game this winter, I was not kidding! I have classes on Monday and Tuesday evenings after work, from 5:00-9:30, so dinner usually needs to be completely prepared in advance, or I end up eating take-out…which makes me feel awful and doesn’t do anything to set me up for the rest of the week. To combat this, I’ve taken to making a huge pot of soup on Sundays and eating it for lunch, dinner, or snacks the entire week (or until it runs out). Knowing that I have a healthy, delicious option mere moments away usually deters me from hitting the drive-thru between work and class, or on my way home.

I’m a person that usually struggles with left overs, though- I get bored easily, and I tend to hate the taste of microwaved food (why, yes- I am a finicky eater!). So I know that, if I’m planning to eat leftovers, they need to be really delicious, insanely flavorful, and need to reheat well. In my experience, dishes with lots of liquid tend to do best in the microwave- otherwise the texture can change and that definitely affects the taste. Soup fits the bill in this regard, especially one that is jam-packed with flavor, like today’s Chicken Tortilla Soup.

Chicken Tortilla Soup3Full disclosure: I have been working on tortilla soup for about two years now, and it’s always come up short. I don’t like a creamy soup (a la Max and Erma’s velveeta disaster) but I couldn’t seem to get enough body with a broth based version. Then I couldn’t figure out which peppers were best for maximum flavor without overpowering spiciness. Finally, through uncountable trial batches (don’t worry, no one minded taste testing) I landed on this incredible recipes.

Chicken Tortilla Soup2Friends, I am not exaggerating when I say that this soup is incredible.

This is one of my recipes that is not particularly quick, nor simple. There are plenty of short cuts available (like using rotisserie chicken and boxed stock/broth) though, so please don’t let that stop you! On the other hand, if you have two hours available on a Saturday afternoon, making this recipe from scratch would not be a bad way to spend your time.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Amazing Chicken Tortilla Soup

  • Olive oil
  • Chicken (one whole 4-5 lb chicken, or 2-3 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, or about 3-4 cups of shredded chicken)
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp chipotle powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp salt**
  • 6-8 cups water or 4 cups of broth and some water**
  • 2 cans fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1(7 oz) can green chiles**
  • 2 chipotles in adobo**
  • 1/2 cup cilantro**
  • 1 onion
  • 1 orange or red pepper
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 1-2 cans black beans
  • 4 corn tortillas
  • 1 lime
  • Toppings: lime wedges, monterey cheese, avocado, crispy tortilla strips, sour cream, etc

** FOOD NOTES: the amount of broth you end up using is completely discretionary. I like a thinner soup, so I use more, and Evan likes a thicker soup, so he would prefer I use less. Add water and broth until you achieve a texture that makes you happiest. Salt is also completely discretionary- I use a pinch of salt at nearly every step, so in addition to the spice mix, I probably also salt the veggies, and the blended tomatoes, and the final product. The only way you will learn what you prefer is to taste often, and practice. Remember, you can always add more! As it pertains to heat- the green chiles are not particularly spicy, but the chipotles are. If you’re trying for a less spicy soup, I recommend that you use the chiles and only use the adobo sauce that the chipotles are in (it has a distinctly smokey flavor that you could leave out, but is better in!). And the cilantro- I know that ½ cup seems like a lot, and it would be if it were being served fresh! But after it cooks for a while in the soup, all that flavor is subdued into something much more subtle. I really suggest that you stick to that amount and try it- I don’t think you will be disappointed J

Prepare the chicken and broth: First, stir together the spice mixture. If you already have shredded chicken, stir about half of the spices into the chicken, set that aside, and move on to the next step. If you’re using the raw chicken (whole or parts) use half of the spices, and rub them into the flesh of the chicken. Heat a heavy cast iron to medium high heat, add a tablespoon of oil, and sear the meat for a few minutes on all sides, until browned. Cover with water (about 8 cups) top with the lid, and let simmer for about 1 hour (or until a meat thermometer indicates that it is cooked through). When the chicken is cooked, transfer to plate or cutting board to cool for at least 30 minutes. Strain the broth into another bowl/pitcher/large measuring cup, and clean the dutch oven. When cool enough to handle, pull the chicken from the bones and tear into bite sized pieces; discard the carcass.

Prepare the broth component: In a blender, mix the tomatoes, chiles, chipotles, and cilantro. If you need to, add some of the broth to thin to a pourable consistency- but you don’t want it to be very thin at this point.

Prepare the soup: Dice the onion, orange pepper and celery into a medium dice, and finely slice the tortillas. Mince the garlic, and drain and rinse the black beans. Heat the dutch oven or soup pot to medium or medium-low heat, and add a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Saute the onion, pepper and celery for three or four minutes, until they start to soften a bit. Add the tortillas and garlic, and season with a pinch of salt. Cook this for another seven or eight minutes, adjusting the heat as needed, until the tortillas start to break down. Add the other half of the spice mixture, cooking for a minute, then stir in the chicken and beans. This will be a bit dry, but cook for two or three more minutes (you really want the tortillas to break down as much as possible before adding more liquid, to add texture and release that corn flavor). Stir in the blended pepper and tomato mix, and cook for another fifteen minutes. Finally, stir in the reserved broth- you may need to supplement with water to achieve your desired soup consistency. Simmer for twenty minutes, then remove from the heat and stir in the juice of one lime, and salt to taste.

Serve: with any and all toppings. I like avocado and extra lime, Evan likes extra tortillas to thicken- do it up!

  • Sara

    This looks delicious and I’ve been on the hunt for a new, simple soup recipe! Will have to try this!

  • Katherine Becker

    Uh oh – did you just inspire me to spend hours making soup?!

    • Erin

      I hope so 🙂