While thumbing through several of Ina Garten’s recipes on the Food Network, I came across this recipe and it really looked like it would hit the spot. I have some experience with some of Ina’s soup recipes with one of my all time favorite recipes being her Tomato Basil soup from the Barefoot Contessa cookbook. So despite the completely unappealing picture on the Food Network site I thought I would set out to make a great Mexican chicken soup. (Don’t you think my photo above looks good?)
After reading many of the comments on the recipe I decided to take a few of the suggestions and I will point those out as we go along. With the exception of the cilantro, this board shows what all goes into this soup. The shredded sharp cheddar, avocado, and sour cream are for garnish at the end. Black beans are one of the main ingredients I added to this recipe that she didn’t have.
Many of the comments suggested that there could be some bland flavors and so I was on guard for that. Her recipe called for 2-4 jalapeno peppers. The ones I have here are pretty good size. Some readers suggested two was not enough and some thought four was too many. I settled on using three jalapeno peppers and I wasn’t disappointed.
The two ground spices shown are a tsp of ground coriander and a tsp of ground cumin. The tortillas are six white corn tortillas.
Go ahead and preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit to get it ready to bake the chicken. The recipe calls for four split chicken breast. It’s important to get them with the bone still in and the skin still on. This will impart the most flavor into the chicken and help to keep it nice and moist. Many readers decided that spicing the chicken more than the recipe’s salt and pepper was advisable. I coated the bottom of a baking sheet with olive oil and then placed the chicken breasts on the sheet with the skin up and bone down. Drizzle a little olive oil over the skin and rub it around. Generously salt and pepper everything. Then I added a creole seasoning from our local spice shop in Boulder, CO, Savory Spice. It’s a combination of ground onion, garlic, cayenne pepper, thyme, oregano, and a few other ingredients. If you use a different creole seasoning please check the level of salt in it and adjust the salt you put on in addition appropriately.
When the oven is up to temperature place the sheet on the middle rack. The chicken will take between 35 and 40 minutest to cook, so get it going now.
I’m showing you the chopped or shredded version of the ingredients because I think it’s important to see what the size of the chop was. I erred on the side of a fine chop for a number of reasons. One of the reasons is that some readers were trying to add more ingredients in order to build up the body of the soup. If you chop things more finely you will increase the body. The main reason though is that I just felt like there were enough ingredients in this soup that I didn’t want to be eating through big chunks of a lot of things and if there was any question to how much flavor the soup had then chopping things more finely will give up the most possible flavor.
In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, add about 3 tbsp of olive oil to a low to medium hot pan. Add in the celery, carrots, and onions and begin to cook. Celery, carrots, and onions are called “The Trinity” in many kinds of cooking. The French call this “mirepoix” and cooking this combination in olive oil or butter is the base of many great soups. Don’t cook this too fast as you need to give time for the carrots and celery to cook and the onions to just start to carmelize.
After about 10 minutes add in the chopped garlic and stir that in and let it cook for about a minute. Then when the vegetables are soft, add the jalapeno peppers, ground cumin, and ground coriander.
Now it’s time to add most of the liquid and the remaining ingredients. Add the 28 oz can of crushed whole tomato, including the juice. Drop in the uncooked tortilla strips you cut from the six white corn tortillas. Add 2 1/2 qts (2.5 cartons) of your favorite chicken broth. I use the Pacific brand organic chicken broth. Ina calls for 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro. Many people don’t care for the taste of cilantro and I think the recipe was a little conservative on this important Mexican ingredient. I think the next time I do this recipe I might even do 3/4 of a cup of chopped cilantro as it cooks down and nearly disappears in this much liquid. I drained a can of organic black beans and then poured that into the soup. It gives it a bit more body and obviously some good additional protein as well. It certainly doesn’t show up a primary ingredient with this volume.
With 2.5 qts of broth and a 28 oz can of tomatoes there is a lot of soup when you’re done. Unless you have a big family or a large dinner party you will be able to enjoy the left overs.
Mix this all together and bring it up to a boil and then turn the heat down to keep it simmering. I ground in about a tsp of black pepper and then added maybe a 1/2 tbsp of kosher salt at this point. Depending on how salty your chicken broth is you will want to sample the soup often from here on to get it seasoned to your liking. Simmer the soup for 20-30 minutes to allow it to cook and the flavors to mingle.
After about 35 or 40 minutes the chicken breast should be a nice golden brown and the flesh is done. If you have an oven or food thermometer you can check for sure. Even though I pulled these and the internal temp was just over 180, they were still very moist after being allowed to rest and cool. You can certainly do this cooking ahead of time which would allow the meat to cool off making it easier to work with.
After the chicken breasts have cooled down enough to handle them, remove the skin and set it aside on the pan. I do all of this work in the same pan because when I’m done shredding the chicken I want to mop up all the pan flavors. So save yourself some great flavor that can transfer to the soup and do the shredding right on the baking sheet. After the skin is removed, begin pulling apart the breast meat into a size that appeals to you. The size shown here is pretty hearty and will definitely fill a fork, but it’s not so big as to need a knife, and is almost always able to be eaten in one bite or sit on a soup spoon. Plastic spoons would work.
Mop the shredded chicken through the pan drippings and transfer to the soup pot. Take the heat off the soup pot and cover.
The white corn tortillas that I bought came in a pack that must have had 50 tortillas in it. We used six chopped up for the soup, but now I have a big pack of tortillas that are going to sit in the fridge for a long time. Instead of using the broken up tortilla chips out of a supermarket bag of tortilla chips the recipe calls for, consider making your own homemade fried tortilla strips. It will give your soup that professional edge and you’ll feel better about not wasting the tortillas.
I pulled probably 10-12 more tortillas out of the pack and cut them in half and then into thin strips. In a medium size pot add about 1″ of corn oil and bring it up to temperature on a medium to medium high heat. If you have a thermometer you can measure the heat of the oil and if it’s 350 degrees that is a good temperature. If you don’t have a thermometer or you feel like a geek for using one, then just toss one tortilla strip in the oil when you think it might be close to hot enough. It should float and bubble. If it gets brown really quickly then your oil is probably too hot. Once you’re satisfied the oil is a good temperature, throw some of the strips into the pot. Don’t do too many at once as they won’t cook consistently and they could drop the oil temperature enough to make for a more soggy tortilla crisp. You want these things crisp when they come out and are dried.
For each batch, transfer it with a slotted spoon or wire spatula to a plate with paper towels on it. I did several batches and varied the level of done-ness for both color interest as well as flavor interest. The dark brown ones you see have just a little bit of burnt toast taste and are slightly tangy. The lighter ones are just as crispy, but taste more like crisp bread. It’s really up to you. I liked the mix.
Now you have your tortilla crisps ready to go. Slice the avocado in half and twist the two halves to separate one half from the seed. With the blade of your knife, sink the blade part way into the seed and give it a slow firm twist to pop the seed out of the other half. Before you remove the avocado from the skin, use your knife to make 6-8 slices long way through the meat of the avocado with the knife blade just reaching the skin. With a large soup spoon, carefully slip the spoon between the avocado flesh and the skin. Work the spoon around the avocado between the meat and the skin. Once you have the spoon between the skin you can begin to pull the avocado meat out onto a small plate and it will come out pre-sliced and ready to serve. Repeat for the other half of the avocado.
Into your favorite soup bowl, dish up some of the chicken soup. Sprinkle some grated sharp cheddar over the soup and it will begin to melt right away. Place a dab of sour cream right in the middle of the bowl on top of the soup. Carefully place two to three slices of avocado near the sour cream. Top with some crispy tortilla strips and sprinkle some more chopped cilantro over the whole bowl and get prepared to enjoy a really fine bowl of Mexican chicken soup.
Make plenty of extra tortilla crisps. They’re good by themselves, but they also will help keep fresh life in your leftovers too.
This would be a great soup for a small cup as an appetizer, but it’s plenty hearty for a main dish too. We found that the flavors were very well balanced with no one flavor overwhelming or shouting too loud. On the second and third helpings we added some lime juice and also a few dashes of Tabasco sauce. I think it would make good sense to have a bottle of Tobasco on the table for those folks who really want some pop. Although the lime and Tobasco definitely added some more Mexican flavors to the soup, it was really satisfying without it too. As with most soups, it’s not precision cooking and using your own taste is what makes it satisfying for you.