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Mexican Chicken Tortilla Soup

Mexican Chicken Tortilla Soup -

4 split (2 whole) chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
Good olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped onions (2 onions)
1 cup chopped celery (2 stalks)
2 cups chopped carrots (4 carrots)
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 1/2 quarts chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes in puree, crushed
1 tbs. canned roasted hot chile peppers
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, optional
6 (6-inch) fresh white corn tortillas

For serving: sliced avocado, sour cream, grated Cheddar cheese, and tortilla chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the chicken breasts skin in a 5 qt. slow cooker, cover with water, add a bay leaf and about a tablespoon of whole black peppercorns and set the machine to high for 4 hours. Remove the chicken from the crock, discard the skin and bones, and shred the meat. Cover and set aside. Strain the liquid from the slow cooker and use for the soup.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the onions, celery, and carrots and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions start to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock, tomatoes with their puree, chile peppers, cumin, 1 teaspoon pepper, and the cilantro. Cut the tortillas in 1/2, then cut them crosswise into 1/2-inch strips and add to the soup. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Puree with a stick blender for a smoother consistency.  Add the shredded chicken and season to taste. Serve the soup hot topped with sliced avocado, a dollop of sour cream, grated Cheddar cheese, and broken tortilla chips.

Note: It may help to puree the stock with a stick blender to make the soup “smoother.”