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Chef John s Chicken Tortilla Soup



My chicken tortilla soup is not a fast recipe, but it is one of the greatest chicken soup experiences known to man. The smoky, spicy, slowly simmered tomato chicken broth is made from scratch, and the soup is topped with all your favorite garnishes: toasted tortilla strips, sour cream, avocado, cilantro, lime, and crumbled Mexican cheese.


    • 1 (4 1/2 pound) whole chicken
    • 3 white onions, halved, divided
    • 1 bunch cilantro, rinsed well
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
    • 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
    • 2 dried chili pepper pods, seeded (optional)
    • 3 quarts water
    • 12 corn tortillas
    • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • Charred Vegetable Salsa:
    • 3 large tomatoes
    • 1 sweet red pepper, halved and seeded
    • 1 large or 2 small jalapeno peppers, halved and seeded
    • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
    • 1 whole canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (optional)
    • To Finish:
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1 lime, juiced
    • sour cream
    • sliced avocado
    • chopped cilantro
    • shredded or crumbled Mexican cheese, such as cotija
    • lime wedges
    • sprinkle of cayenne pepper




  1. Meanwhile, make the tortilla strips: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper.
  2. Cut tortillas in half, and then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips. Transfer tortilla strips to the prepared baking sheet and drizzle with oil. Add salt and toss well to coat, then spread strips out as evenly as possible.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown and crispy, tossing once or twice during the cooking time, about 30 minutes. Set aside.
  4. Carefully remove chicken to a bowl. Reduce heat on broth to low.
  5. Let chicken rest until cool enough to pull off the meat. Shred chicken and refrigerate until needed.
  6. Add bones, skin, and all the scraps back to the pot of broth, and simmer on low heat for about 4 hours total. If broth reduces too much, just add a splash of water.
  7. Meanwhile, after about 2 hours, make the charred vegetable salsa: Preheat on the oven’s broiler for high heat and set a rack about 8 inches below the heating element. Line a baking sheet with foil and oil lightly; place remaining 2 onions, tomatoes, sweet red pepper, and jalapeno pepper on the prepared baking sheet.
  8. Broil vegetables until charred, 7 to 10 minutes. Add charred vegetables to the jar of a blender with garlic cloves, chipotle pepper, and 1 cup water, and blend until smooth.
  9. Pour pureed salsa into the pot, and raise heat to medium-low. Simmer broth for another 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Pass soup through a fine mesh strainer into a separate pot, squeezing the chicken to get all those nice juices; discard bones and skin in strainer. Season soup to taste with salt.
  10. Add cumin, shredded chicken, and juice from 1 lime. Simmer 15 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning, and serve with crispy tortilla strips. Garnish with sour cream, avocado, chopped cilantro, grated or crumbled Mexican cheese, additional lime juice, and a sprinkle of cayenne, if desired

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