Free Range Nurse

Cooking therapy from a former travel nurse

Chicken Tortilla Soup February 8, 2010

Filed under: chicken,dinner,lunch,soup — freerangenurse @ 8:31 am
Tags: , , , ,

Okay folks, you asked for it and I delivered.  As my facebook friends know, I asked what Mexican food recipes you wanted to learn how to make and you answered….boy, did you answer!  Unfortunately, few of you answered with the same suggestion.  I decided to go with one I know like the back of my hand (although, truth be told, I don’t really spend much time getting to know the back of my hand).  Tortilla soup is one of Sydney’s favorite meals.  She asks for it all the time.  She doesn’t care if it’s 100 degrees outside, she wants her tortilla soup.   I usually don’t want soup until it gets cold outside.  Thankfully for Sydney, we have had a lot of cold days this winter.

This recipe is sort of a work in progress, as in, I change it almost every time I make it.  I don’t make big sweeping changes, but tweaks here and there depending on what I have in the house.  It reminds me of Mexican folk tales, stories passed down from one generation to the next that evolve over time.  In a way, I think it’s what cooking should be.  Not exact measurements, just putting things together and seeing (or tasting) what you get.  This philosophy is very different from my baking philosophy.  I feel baking is basically chemistry.  Follow the recipe or you are going to mess something up.  I have learned, in baking, what things can be changed and tweaked to some degree, but I usually don’t veer from the recipe in terms of base ingredients.  I’m not at that level, yet.

Here is the recipe and accompanying photos from last night’s version of Chicken Tortilla Soup.  It passed muster for both my mom and dad, who joined us for dinner last night.  Sydney also says it’s the best soup she’s ever had (but she’s 11 and hasn’t traveled as extensively as some).


  • One whole chicken including bones (rinsed, organs removed, cut into quarters)
  • two yellow onions
  • 1 bunch of celery, rinced
  • 1 bunch of carrots, rinsed but not peeled
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
  • water (enough to cover chicken – I used about 6 cups)
  • 2-3 jalapeños
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 serrano pepper
  • 1-14.5 oz can of fire roasted tomatoes (I used Muir Glenn)
  • 1 can of original Ro-Tel tomatoes with green chiles
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of cumin (or comino, if you want to be authentic)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of ancho chili powder
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of red chili powder
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • salt to taste
  • one chipotle pepper in adobo (one pepper, not one can of peppers – unless you want yours extra spicy)
  • 1 cup frozen or fresh yellow corn (don’t use canned corn)

Topping ingredients:

  • corn tortillas
  • 1-2 cups grape seed oil
  • kosher salt or sea salt
  • 2 avocados
  • chopped onion (optional)
  • shredded colby/jack cheese
  • Spanish rice (recipe to come, soon)

Just in case you were thinking to yourself, “I have never had tortilla soup with celery and carrots!” be patient.  Follow directions.  We’re going to start off making the chicken stock and cooking the chicken while we’re at it.  In a large, heavy saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium high heat.  Rough chop 5-6 carrots and 6-8 stalks of celery into 3 inch pieces.  Chop one onion into medium chunks.  Place onions, carrots and celery into pot stirring to sauté slightly for about a minute or two.

Add chicken to the top of the vegetable and add just enough water to cover the chicken.

You should already see the water turning slightly yellow and stock-like  in the pot.

Cover and simmer over low heat until the chicken is cooked throughout and the bones are loose in their sockets.  This took about an hour and a half for me.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove the chicken and pull the meat from the bone and cut into bite size pieces.  Discard bones and chicken skin.  Set chicken meat aside.  Place a colander over a large bowl and pour chicken stock through the strainer.

Discard all solids.  You should be left with a rich, yellow chicken stock.

Skim the fat off the stock by gently lowering a large spoon into the stock until just the fat flows in or you can cool the stock in the refrigerator  until all the fat solidifies and then easily remove it from the top of the liquid.  This process takes several hours, so if you want soup today, just do your best with a fat strainer or ladle. Taste the stock with a clean spoon and add salt to taste.

In you same stock pot (don’t even bother to clean it out), pour two tablespoons oil and heat it over medium-high heat.  Chop up onions and peppers into small pieces and mince garlic.  Saute onions and pepper until onions are soft and slightly browned, add garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds.  Add the chicken stock to the pan and de-glaze by scraping up all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.  Add the chicken, ro-tel and fire roasted tomatoes.

Next, add cumin, ancho and red chili powder, cilantro and chipotle pepper.  Stir and simmer for 30 minutes letting all the flavors come together.  Using another clean spoon, taste for seasoning and add more if needed.  Remove chipotle pepper and add corn simmering for another 10-15 minutes.

(Here is where I should have a picture of the soup in a bowl with rice, tortilla strips and avocado.  If I were a better blogger I would.  Or perhaps if the soup wasn’t so good, I would have thought to photograph it before eating it up.  Sorry folks.)

To serve, place about 1/4 cup of Spanish rice in the bottom of a soup bowl, ladle tortilla soup over the rice to desired amount (leaving a little room at the top).  Top with shredded cheese, fried tortilla strips (directions below) and cold, fresh avocado slices.  If you’re like my parents, you can also add some fresh chopped onion.  I personally don’t like raw onion, so I omit that part.  Heck, we’re lucky I’ve gotten to a point where I even use onions in my cooking!

How to make your own tortilla chips:

Heat 1-2 cups grape seed oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Meanwhile, using a knife or a pizza wheel, cut corn tortillas into 1/2 thick strips.

You can cut several at a time and it is best to use older tortillas that have dried out a little.  Carefully place a handful of tortilla strips into the oil.  Once browned, remove from oil to drain on paper towels, sprinkle with kosher salt.  Continue until all strips are fried.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s