Tortilla soup encompasses all the things I love best in Mexican cooking.
How to make the best chicken tortilla soup
The essential step that distinguishes tortilla soup from other Mexican soups is that you fry strips of corn tortillas in oil first, and then use the tortilla cooking oil to build the soup.
Tortillas chips aren’t merely a garnish for this soup. By using the tortilla frying oil as a base for the soup you infuse the whole soup with the warm flavor of toasted corn tortillas!
What kind of tortillas to use for tortilla soup
The best tortillas to use for tortilla soup are stale yellow corn tortillas. Yellow corn tortillas are sturdier than white corn tortillas and have a richer flavor when cooked. Homemade is best, of course, but store-bought tortillas will also work for this recipe.
The tortillas should be a little stale, or dry; they’ll fry up more easily that way. My guess is that tortilla soup was first invented as a way to use leftover tortillas.
Since I don’t usually have dry tortillas sitting around, I put my fresh-from-the-fridge corn tortillas in a 200°F oven for 10 to 15 minutes. That’s just enough heat to dry them sufficiently so they fry easily.
More Mexican soups to try
Recipe is adapted from one we found years ago on the website of Muir Glen, makers of organic canned tomatoes. Muir Glen makes a particularly good “fire-roasted” canned tomato, which is well suited to Mexican dishes.
Check out our Tortilla Soup video!
Chicken Tortilla Soup Recipe
- 6 (6-inch) corn tortillas, preferably a little old and dried out
- 1/4 cup corn oil, peanut oil, or extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium Anaheim, poblano or jalapeño chile, seeded, veins removed, chopped (Depending on the hotness and flavor desired. You can also mix chiles - 1 Anaheim and a half jalapeño.)
- 4 cups chicken broth or homemade chicken stock
- 1 can (14.5 oz) crushed tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted)
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher or sea salt)
- 1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken
- 1 ripe avocado
- 1/2 cup (2 oz) shredded Monterey Jack cheese (or mild cheddar)
- Chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
1 Fry tortilla strips: If you are starting with somewhat old, dried out tortillas, great. If not and you are starting with relatively fresh tortillas, put them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven at 200°F for 10 to 15 minutes to dry them out a bit. It is best to start with tortillas that don't have a lot of moisture in them.
Cut the tortillas in half, and then cut the halves into 1/4-inch wide strips.
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a 3-quart pot. Working in three batches, fry the tortilla strips in the oil, until lightly browned and crisp. Remove the tortilla strips from the pan and let drain on a paper-towel-lined plate.
2 Sauté onions, chile, garlic: Add the chopped onions to the pan, cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the chopped chile and cook for 2-3 minutes more, until the onions and chiles have softened. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more.
3 Add broth, tomatoes, salt, chicken: Add the broth, tomatoes, and salt. Increase the heat to high, heat until the soup begins to boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the shredded chicken and cook until heated through.
4 Serve with tortilla strips and garnishes: To serve, pit, peel, and cut the avocado into 1-inch pieces. Divide half of the tortilla strips among 4 individual serving bowls; ladle in soup. Top with avocado and cheese; garnish with remaining tortilla strips and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.
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