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running hot and cold

Recipe: chicken tortilla soup

I’m more patient than I was in my youth, but it’s still not my strong suit. By November, we should be getting nice deliveries of snow piling up in the mountains. As it is, we have very little due to unseasonably warm weather. Well, that’s not such a terrible thing because the lack of snow meant I could spend the weekend resting my shoulder and spending time with my favorite guy instead of reinjuring myself on early season obstacles in the snow. Saturday was our 22-year smoochiversary, so we worked all day and then got out for a quick late day hike as the sun sat low in the sky.


22 wonderful years together

ice shards piled up against the shore

neat patterns

colorful sunset



We have arrived at that stage where I inform Jeremy at least once each day, but more like three or four times a day, “I want a puppy.” It’s hard for me to tell if what I’m saying is, “I want a new puppy” or “I miss my baby puppy.” I suppose in my heart, I mean both. Jeremy isn’t ready and we will wait until he is. It just feels a little empty without some fur ball wandering around the house distributing hair and putting nose prints on the glass doors. Patience for winter. Patience for a puppy. Like I said, not my strong suit.

Actually, we are due for some snow in the morning (Monday), which is a start. A late start. Some resorts have postponed their opening days because it’s been too warm to even make snow at night. In anticipation of cooler nights, I’ve been making soup – tortilla soup. Technically, any soup with tortilla strips in it is a tortilla soup. For years I made one with all manner of leftover vegetables, but decided it was high time I looked up a proper recipe. There are so many variations, but this one I settled on is a mega winner – especially if you make your own chicken broth/stock. Of course, if you’re short on time, there is nothing wrong with using store-bought broth and chicken, which makes the recipe super easy and quick.


for the chicken and broth: whole legs, olive oil, salt, and pepper

season the chicken

brown the chicken

cover with water and simmer (or pressure cook, as I did here)



Three pounds of chicken legs yielded slightly over a pound of chicken meat once the bones and skin were discarded. In the future, I’ll probably reduce the amount of chicken by half as I tend to prefer soupy soups and this one had a high chicken-to-other-stuff ratio. To quickly de-fat the chicken broth, refer to the ziploc bag trick as described here or in the recipe listed below. It’s quite handy and doesn’t require chilling the broth. Now you’re ready to make tortilla soup.

broth, zucchini, jalapeño, garlic, cumin, salt, onion, lime, olive oil, oregano, tomato paste, chicken, pepper, diced tomatoes, cilantro, corn tortillas

slice the tortillas into strips

diced, minced, chopped, or juiced



The majority of your effort will be in prepping the ingredients, and then it’s relatively hands-off while the soup simmers. The original recipe called for dried oregano, but I just used fresh because I had a bunch that had no destination. And I added a jalapeño for a little extra heat and color. They’re quite mild though. Jalapeños these days are about as potent as green bell peppers.

start by sautéing the onions, jalapeño, garlic, oregano, and cumin

the onions should be soft

add the tomato paste, cilantro, chicken, lime juice

and the diced tomatoes

and finally the chicken broth



The soup needs 30 minutes to simmer, which is plenty of time for you to fry the tortilla strips. Now if you have a terrible fear of frying, you can take the short cut and buy tortilla chips to add to your soup. But freshly fried tortilla strips are a different texture and flavor – a better texture and flavor – than tortilla chips from a bag. It’s worth the trouble, which isn’t too much trouble at all. Frying corn tortilla strips is far tamer than most other kinds of frying. I let mine fry for 4 minutes until they began to get golden. You want them to be crisp, not chewy.

frying tortilla strips

remove with tongs or a slotted spoon

some of the strips may curl, that’s totally okay

the soup is ready

add-ins: tortilla strips, avocado, cotija cheese



You can make this soup as complicated or as simple as you like. I do feel that homemade chicken broth and shredded chicken will be superior in flavor, but even with all the shortcuts, this soup is completely satisfying and delicious. It reheats well and works as a meal all on its own. We love it. The only thing that would make it better would be to precede it with a day of skiing.

garnish with cilantro and a lime wedge

soup is great food



Chicken Tortilla Soup
[print recipe]
based on this recipe

2 tbsps olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, cored, seeded, and minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano (or 1 tbsp fresh, chopped)
6-10 cups chicken stock*
2 tbsps tomato paste
28 oz. crushed (or diced) tomatoes
1 medium zucchini, diced
1/2 – 1 lb. cooked chicken, shredded*
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 lime, juice of (about 3 tbsps)
vegetable oil for frying
4 corn tortillas (preferably stale), cut into 1/4-inch strips
1 cup Cotija cheese (or Monterey Jack), crumbled or shredded
1 ripe avocado, diced

*To make your own chicken stock and shredded chicken: Pat dry 3 pounds of chicken legs (I used whole legs) or drums and thighs. Season both sides of each piece with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a stock pot or pressure cooker over medium high heat and brown the pieces for about 3-4 minutes a side. Add 8-12 cups of water (depending on how much broth you want, it will yield somewhere between 6 and 10 cups). If using a conventional stock pot, bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover the pot, leaving a little space for steam to escape, and simmer for a couple of hours until the meat is falling off the bone. If using a pressure cooker (mine is a Fagor DUO 8-quart), close the lid on the chicken and set to high. When pressure is reached, let cook for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the pressure cooker release naturally (i.e. let it decompress on its own – about 20 or 30 minutes).

Take the chicken out of the liquid and remove the bones and skin. Shred the chicken. To defat the stock, let it cool a little and pour it into a gallon-size ziploc bag. Seal the bag and hold it so the bottom corner points down. The fat should separate to the top. While holding the bag over a large vessel (to catch the stock), use a knife to slice a slit in the bottom corner (above the solids if any settle to the bottom). Let the stock drain and when the fat layer approaches the outlet, pinch it shut and discard the bag and the fat.

Make the soup: Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, jalapeño pepper, cumin, and oregano. Sauté until the onions are soft (about 5 minutes). Add 6 cups of chicken stock for a thicker soup, or up to 10 cups for a thinner soup. Stir in the tomato paste, tomatoes, zucchini, shredded chicken, cilantro, and lime juice. Bring the soup to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Fry the tortilla strips: Heat 2 inches of oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. When the temperature reaches about 350°F, add the corn tortilla strips in batches. If you don’t want to bother with a thermometer, toss in a test particle (a small piece of corn tortilla) – if it actively bubbles (fries) then it’s ready. If it doesn’t, give it more time to heat up and test it again. Fry the tortilla strips until they turn just golden (about 4 minutes for me). Remove them with a slotted spoon or tongs and drain on paper towels.

Serve the soup: Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with tortilla strips, cheese, and avocado. Serves 4-6.


more goodness from the use real butter archives

albóndigas (mexican meatball) soup brunswick stew thirteen bean soup black bean soup

18 nibbles at “running hot and cold”

  1. Shirley says:

    Happy Anniversary to you both! Hoping Jeremy will come around soon to saying he is ready for another puppy. You guys make great puppy parents! Love the way you pamper your parents.

  2. Kristin says:

    Happy anniversary! Good luck with your puppy discernment. I suspect that you want both. And hey…if you want a cat instead, I can send you one who knocked over a chair before racing across our heads at 3:30 am this morning! And he’s gorgeous & the most loving cat I’ve ever had, just a little light in the brains department. I have been looking at tortilla soup recipes for a couple of months, but hadn’t found one I really wanted to try, so I am thrilled to see this. If it meets the approval of the URB household, I know it’s going to be good!

  3. jill says:

    You two are the picture of love. Happy 22nd. I’m looking for a good soup for my next hosting of book club. This could be it.

    There is something about a dog or cat in the house that makes it feel complete. I just love animals in the house. I hope Jeremy comes around soon…

    xo, j

  4. lilly says:

    mmm….I would like to know why the preference of stale corn tortillas?

  5. Cindi says:

    Oh this looks delicious! Happy belated Anniversary! Fingers crossed that there is a puppy in your near future! I just can’t imagine you two without a little fur-buddy.

  6. Susie says:

    This is great tortilla soup!
    Here in the south, we like a little extra kick, so after frying the tortillas, I sprinkled them with some Emeril’s original essence. Delicious!
    Thanks

  7. Jessi says:

    Happy Anniversary! New reader here. So impressed by your blog. And this soup looks so legit. I am going to have to try it soon!

  8. Thalia @ butter and brioche says:

    This chicken tortilla sup looks so incredibly delicious, definitely think I need to make the recipe. Thanks for sharing it and great pics too!

  9. Jasline @ Foodie Baker says:

    Happy Anniversary! Love the idea of making tortilla chips from scratch, will try it in the future. I love soupy soups more too!

  10. Becky says:

    Happy anniversary, Jen! 22 years is something to celebrate! My honey and I have been together for 3 years. Your tip for separating out the fat in a ziploc is something I’ve never tried. I will definitely do that next time I don’t have time to chill it in the fridge. I always enjoy stopping by to read your latest posts. Your next fur ball will be so loved. We adopted ours, she is a 2 year old siberian husky and we’ve had her 6 months. She requires lots and lots of exercise which keeps us active. She is my fur baby and I treasure the gift she is in my life every day. She would really be in heaven to play in the Colorado mountains.

  11. Pey-Lih says:

    Happy Anny, Jen, if it’s not too late to say so! Twenty two years together is like a doing an Ironman! Kudos to you both, and thank you for the soup recipe. I love chicken tortilla soup, but I don’t have a recipe until now.

  12. debbie says:

    Happy Anniversary to both of you! My sweet little chihuahua passed away in April this year. Very hard. My husband brought home a little shih tzu puppy a month later and it helped heal my heart. I wanted a dog very badly both because I missed my Selena and because I missed having a dog around. This little bundle of energy is definitely wearing me out. I love him dearly but would definitely adopt an older dog if I had to do it again!!!!

  13. Trang says:

    I love chicken tortilla soup, but I’m always too lazy to shred the chicken. Yours look so good, I will make it this way next time!

  14. farmerpam says:

    Nice picture of you guys, you both don’t look old enough to be married 22 years! :)

  15. Anna says:

    Happy Anniversary to you both! I’d love to try the soup but I’m on a restricted diet right now ~ no spice/acidic food ~ but the pictures look soo yummy!

  16. Creamy Chicken Orzo Soup - Give Recipe says:

    […] Chicken Tortilla Soup on Use Real Butter […]

  17. jenyu says:

    Shirley – thanks. It will have to be when we have a set amount of time to dedicate to training and not traveling. And of course, finding a puppy.

    Kristin – I wish. I love cats, but I am horribly allergic to them. Otherwise we would have one of each! :)

    jill – he will, we just have a lot of other logistical things going on too.

    lilly – I think it’s because they are more dried out (less moisture in the tortillas). That makes it better for frying.

    Cindi – :)

    Sushie – I have never heard of Emeril’s essence!

    Jessi – thank you! Hope you like the soup – it’s awesome on a cold day!

    Thalia – thank you :)

    Jasline – they’re really good homemade.

    Becky – awwww, I think ANY active dog would consider Colorado dog-heaven. And thank you xoxo

    Pey-Lih – thanks.

    debbie – I’m so sorry about your baby puppy. Glad you have another to share your love with :)

    Trang – ha ha!

    farmerpam – we’re only married 17 (almost 18) years! Our smoochiversary is our first date anniversary :)

    Anna – I hope you can try it some day!

  18. Kristin says:

    Made this, and it was super tasty & satisfying! And it was gorgeous as well.

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