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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Our Favorite Chicken Tortilla Soup

When I've been sick a few days nothing sounds better than a bowl of hot & spicy soup. And for us there really is nothing more comforting than a good chicken tortilla soup. After 4 days of a sore throat, stuffy head and deep cough it was time to bring on this comfort and make some soup.

We just returned from Chicago where we spent 4 days eating, eating and eating some more. 

Frontera Grill's Bar
And visiting Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill is almost always a Chicago must visit for us. If you've frequented our posts you might know G is somewhat of a Rick Bayless fan and a lot of  our meals are inspired by his flavors. 

We make chicken tortilla soup several times a year. And each time we take a trip to Mexico we try as many different restaurants' tortilla soup as we can to build our palate so we can attempt to bring those same authentic flavors home to the soup we make. 

We've made many different versions of tortilla soup but Rick's process of toasting dried chiles and then frying them to reconstitute the flavor has become one of our favorites. This time we decided to mostly wing our own version of the soup but to definitely include his process for building the flavor of the broth with the toasted chiles.

Most recipes you find will call for you to fry strips of corn tortilla. We've adapted a "fryless" method to avoid both the mess frying and the extra calories that we never really need. 
We use a pizza cutter to cut thin strips of corn tortillas. 

Then place them on a sheet pan and bake them in a 350 degree oven. Tossing them every 5-8 minutes until they are browned & crispy. They provide the same crunch and texture in the soup that fried tortillas do.

We first de-seeded some dried chiles and toasted them in a dry pan on the stove. And then saute them with onions, serrano chile and garlic in olive oil before adding them with a can of fire roasted tomatoes in the blender to create a puree. 

Then we saute the chicken and put it aside and add the puree back to the dutch oven and reduce it until it's thick and rich and finally add the chicken stock.

Then we create our own bowls of soup with the variety of toppings. As they do in Mexico we always start first with the first layer in our bowl being a cubed, fresh, slow melting Mexican cheese like Queso Fresco or Panella. Then of course followed by chicken either cubed or shredded. 

This time we actually added some cooked lentils to add some additional protein and texture. 

We then add broth, chopped avocado, cilantro, tortilla strips and a squeeze of lime. Sometimes we'll also add Mexican crema but not always.

The toasting of chiles followed by sauteing them and pureeing them with the fire roasted tomatoes really does help build a great depth of flavor. This time I added 1 serrano chile as well to increase the spice since I was all stuffed up.

The lentils probably aren't authentic at all, at least we've never had them in a tortilla soup in Mexico, but since we've been making this for almost 15 years we are at a point that we are trying to create our own favorite version. This one might go on our the top 3 list.


Chicken Tortilla Soup

Makes 8-10 servings depending on serving size

Soup Ingredients:
2 dried pasilla ancho chiles (or whatever dried Mexican chiles you prefer really), seeds removed and torn into small pieces
1 can of fire-roasted tomatoes 
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 minced serrano chile, seeds removed
8 cups chicken broth
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder (optional)
1 lb chicken breast, cut into small chunks
1 cup cooked lentils (optional)

fresh lime wedges
corn tortilla strips made from corn tortillas (see notes within the post)
1/2 cup cubed 
avocados (1-2), pit removed and diced
fresh cilantro leaves

Toast the chiles in a dry skillet over medium heat) until they are soft and fragrant. Set aside on a cutting board to cool.

Saute diced onion, garlic, serrano and toasted chiles in olive oil until soft and translucent 5-6 minutes. 

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked onion, chile and garlic to a blender with the can of fire roasted tomatoes and chiles. Puree all of the ingredients together until very smooth.

Cook chicken in dutch oven, season with salt, pepper and chipotle powder, when cooked through and set aside.

Return the soup pot to high heat. Once pot is very hot, add the pureed tomato chile mixture all at once--it should sizzle immediately. Continue to cook over high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens substantially--for about 5-6 minutes--once it is ready, it should resemble the thickness of a loose tomato paste.

Add the chicken broth to the pot and combine thoroughly using a spoon or whisk. Reduce the heat and allow the broth to simmer for 15-20 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper to taste.

Over low heat, add the lentils and chicken. Stir occasionally until chicken is just cooked through (this should only take 2-3 minutes). Finish the soup with lime juice.
Serve hot with toppings (or alternatively, place toppings in empty bowls and pour soup directly over them).


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