What’s Cooking at Third Coast? It’s Smoky Spicy Chicken Tortilla Soup

I love soup and tortilla soup is one of my favorites. When I’m in the Loop around lunchtime, I like to go to the Frontera Grill counter on the seventh floor of the State Street Marshall Fields’s/Macy’s store. You can get a large delicious bowl of tortilla soup, with or without chicken.

But sometimes you like to make your own. I have made it from Rick Bayless’ recipe in Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen (1996, now out of print). It’s a very good recipe, rather time-consuming; he finishes with shredded chard and omits the avocado. The recipe below is compiled from several sources and it’s fairly quick. It’s a little spicy but not superhot.

For chicken, you can cook your own or use a mix of white and dark meat from a supermarket roast chicken. (Supermarket roast chickens are very good quality now and can be cheaper than roasting your own. Buying a fresh organic roaster–say 3 to 4 pounds–can be quite expensive. But I’ll continue to roast my own because I have a fabulous recipe and that’s another article.)

Here’s my tortilla soup recipe. The soup itself is very good, but it’s all in the garnishes. The crispy texture of the tortilla crisps, the creamy flavors of the avocado and cheese blend with the smoky rich flavor of the soup and chicken. You can add a green salad and some French bread or warm flour or corn tortillas if you wish.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for pan-frying
1 medium white onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 T diced green chiles*
2 T diced chipotles in adobo sauce*
3 Roma tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 quart chicken broth
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 corn tortillas, cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips
1.5 cups shredded cooked chicken
1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and diced
8 ounces Jack cheese, cubed
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro, for garnish (optional)
1 lime, cut in wedges, for garnish (optional)

*You can mess around with the peppers. One recipe calls for one jalapeno, minced. I like the smokiness from the chipotles. You can also substitute dried pasilla peppers, roasted, soaked, minced and pureed. (Too much trouble? That’s what I thought.)

Place a stockpot over medium heat and coat with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring for 2 minutes to soften. Add the tomatoes and cook until they release their juices, about 2 minutes. Stir in the green chiles and diced chipotles and sauce. Pour in the broth, season with salt and pepper to taste, and simmer for 30 minutes. (You can make the soup to this point and refrigerate, then reheat and serve later. I like to do this with soups and stews if there’s time, because this allows the flavors to deepen.)

Meanwhile, heat 1 inch of oil in a skillet over a medium-high flame. When the oil begins to smoke, add the tortilla strips in batches and fry until they are crisp on all sides, about 1 minute. Remove to a paper-towel-lined platter and sprinkle with salt while they are still hot.

Put a pile of warm shredded chicken in the bottoms of four soup bowls. Ladle the hot soup over the meat. Top with the diced avocado, cheese and fried tortilla strips. Garnish with the cilantro and lime wedges.

All photos by Nancy Bishop.

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