Chicken Tortilla Soup
My Recipes|Luke Chavez
February 2, 2023
My version of a classic recipe from central Mexico, is bright and nourishing, with just enough warmth from dried chilis to shake off any case of late Winter blues. Simmered with tender chicken then topped with crispy tortilla strips, this lively soup is perfected with a final garnish of creamy fresh avocado and cheese.
2 chicken breasts, bone-in skin on
5 cups water
2 bay leaves
2-3 stems fresh epazote, (see notes)
2 medium ripe tomatoes
½ white onion, quartered lengthwise
2 garlic cloves
1 fresh poblano chili
1 dried ancho chili
1 dried guajillo chili
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus ½ cup for frying
6 corn tortillas, cut into thin strips
2 to 3 cups chicken stock
Juice of 1 lime
1 avocado, cut into ½-inch cubes
White onion, chopped
Fresh cilantro, chopped
Queso fresco or Monterey sharp, cut in ½-inch cubes
Place chicken breasts in a stock pot and cover with 5 cups of water, bay leaves, and a generous pinch of salt. Add more water if needed so that the chicken is just covered. Bring to a boil and add 1 of the epazote stems. Reduce heat to maintain a moderate simmer, and cook until cooked through, around 25 to 35 minutes. Use a thermometer to make sure the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Remove chicken and strain the liquid into a large bowl. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, use two forks to shred the meat, discarding the bones and skin. Skim off any extra fat off the top of strained liquid. Set aside.
Heat a dry, large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion segments and whole tomatoes. Use tongs to move vegetables around while they develop a deep charring. Roast onion and tomatoes until they are soft and have blistered char marks all around. Add the garlic and continue to roast for a few minutes, allowing cloves to develop browning all around. Remove vegetables and place in a blender. Set aside, for now.
Add the fresh poblano chili to the hot skillet and toast for several minutes on all sides. Roast until very soft and covered in black blistered char marks. Remove from the pan and place in a bowl. Cover bowl with a lid or plate, and let chili sweat for 15 minutes. Then, use a spoon to gently peel the blistered skin off the chili. Stem, and remove the seeds then chop the chili into a ¼-inch dice. Set aside with the chicken.
Meanwhile, remove the stems and seeds from the dried chilis. Place chilis in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Set a plate over the bowl and let chilis soak in water for 20 to 30 minutes. After the chilis have softened, add them and the soaking water to the blender jar with the roasted vegetables. Blend until smooth, then strain though a fine mesh strainer into a bowl, using a spatula to press as much liquid through as possible.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a Dutch-oven, or large soup pot, over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering add the strained tomato sauce. Stir and cook for 5 minutes as it comes to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook for an additional 5 minutes. The sauce will darken in color and become very fragrant. Next, raise the heat and add the strained liquid from boiling the chicken along with the other epazote stems. Bring to a boil and season with a pinch of salt. Reduce heat, again, to keep the stock simmering. Cook for 15 minutes.
While the stock is simmering, fry the tortilla strips. Heat ¼ to ½ cup oil in a saucepan. Fry the tortilla strips in batches, without overcrowding, until golden brown and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a sheet pan lined with paper towels. Season each batch with salt as they come out of the frying oil.
Assemble the soup by adding the roasted poblano chili and shredded chicken to the simmering stock. Add about 2 to 3 more cups of chicken stock, then simmer for 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt as needed. Just before serving add the fresh lime juice and take off the heat. Ladle portions of the soup into bowls, then top with crispy tortilla strips. Serve with bowls of fresh garnish toppings on the side.
Epazote is a tender herb from Central America with a pungent and distinctive flavor. Some larger grocery stores have started carrying it in their fresh produce sections. You can also find it in Latin groceries. If you can not find it you can substitute with stems of fresh oregano, mint, cilantro, or tarragon. You want to use the whole stem of herb, leaves included. After cooking you can remove the stems from the soup pot.
The garnish toppings add a lot of texture and fresh flavor to the soup. Allow guests to dress their own bowls. Have any extra fried tortilla strips in a bowl for passing around the table. Enjoy!