Chicken Tortilla Soup
Chicken Tortilla Soup is one of the most flavorful and hearty soups of all time, and this recipe is loaded with corn, black beans, green chiles, and plenty of spicy smoky broth. It only takes 40 minutes to make, all in one pot, and you can finish with crunchy tortilla chips and toppings for an incredible meal!
Might Chicken Tortilla Soup be the best soup of all time? I’d certainly say it’s in the running.
I happen to love soup as a general food group, with Tomato Bisque, Butternut Squash Soup, and Lasagna Soup being some of my favorite recipes on this blog in any category. But I understand why some people don’t love it.
Sometimes soup can be a bit too watery and not hearty enough to be a main meal, but this is where Chicken Tortilla Soup is an exception to the rule. This delicious soup can certainly be a meal in and of itself!
The flavors here are wonderful, with a slightly spicy, smoky broth, and that general Tex-mex flavor theme. Add gooey cheese and crunchy chips to the mix, and it’s almost reminiscent of nachos, but in a little bit of a healthier form.
Leftovers also keep beautifully, so sometimes I’ll make a double batch and freeze some of it. All you need to jazz it up before serving is a few toppings like sliced avocado or guacamole, sour cream, cheese, and chips, and it’s ready to go.
Whenever I make a batch, I always look forward to having it again the next day, knowing it only gets better.
Tips for Best Results
Use good canned tomatoes – The quality of the ingredients you use here will have an impact on the end result. Spend an extra couple of dollars to get good quality canned tomatoes. My favorite canned tomato brands are Bianco DiNapoli, SMT or any true Italian San Marzano tomatoes, and Pomi.
Use good quality chicken stock or broth – Brands vary HUGELY in taste and quality here. First, decide if you like stock or broth better. Either can be used, it’s just your preference. Broths are typically made more with meat whereas stocks are made more with bones, giving a different type of mouthfeel. My favorite brands are Imagine and Swanson.
Decide on white or dark meat – I prefer white meat, and thus use chicken breasts for this recipe. However, if you prefer dark meat, just swap in boneless, skinless chicken thighs here. The preparation and cook time will be exactly the same.
Step by Step Overview:
In a large pot, sear a few boneless, skinless chicken breasts in oil over medium-high heat until golden on the outside, but not fully cooked through.
This develops flavor on the outside, but we don’t need to completely cook the chicken yet.
Prefer dark meat?
If you prefer dark meat over white, feel free to swap in boneless, skinless chicken thighs for the chicken breasts here. The cook time and preparation will be exactly the same.
Remove the breasts to a plate, then add onion (white onion, yellow onion, and red onion are all fine), and olive oil right to the pot:
There should be lots of remaining brown bits on the bottom of the pan from the chicken, and this is a good thing! We’ll incorporate those flavors into the onion.
Cook for about 5 minutes, until the onion softens, then add minced garlic:
Stir that around for 1 minute, until fragrant, then add dried oregano, ground coriander, ground cumin, and ground chipotle:
Stir that around for 1 minute to wake up the spices (it should smell fragrant), then add a can of black beans, corn, diced green chiles, tomato paste, and diced tomatoes:
I use canned black beans that I’ve drained and rinsed, and bagged corn kernels from the freezer. You could also use canned corn or fresh corn cut from the cob as alternatives.
For the diced tomatoes, you may use plain or fire-roasted tomatoes.
Then add chicken broth or stock, plus the reserved chicken breasts:
Simmer the soup gently for about 15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Make sure the broth is not boiling vigorously, otherwise you will not get tender chicken.
Remove the chicken to a board, then shred with two forks, letting the soup continue simmering in the meantime.
Then, put the shredded chicken back into the soup:
Stir the chicken into the soup to warm it, then turn off the heat.
How to Serve
Ladle the Chicken Tortilla Soup into bowls, and add avocado, tortilla chips, sour cream, shredded cheese, fresh cilantro, fresh lime juice (or lime wedges on the table), or whatever your favorite toppings are. This is the best part!
If I’m feeling up to it, I’ll fry my own homemade tortilla strips instead of using bagged chips, but it’s quite a bit more work. Hearty store-bought tortilla chips provide a great crunchy texture for the soup.
This is one of my favorite soups for varying up the ingredients, especially if you have ingredients to use up. Next time you make this, feel free to try the following variations.
Seasonings – If you’d like more spice to the broth, try adding 1 teaspoon of chili powder, taco seasoning, or cayenne pepper while sautéing the onion. You can also add hot sauce at the end.
Bell peppers – Chop or cut into strips and add up to 1 cup at the same time as the onion.
Canned chipotle peppers – For extra smokiness, you can add 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, finely minced, to the soup.
Recipe Tips and FAQ
Let the soup cool at room temperature for 20 minutes after removing from the stove, to let much of the heat dissipate. Then transfer to an airtight container and keep in the fridge for up to 7 days.
Definitely! Cool it in the fridge first, then freeze for up to 3 months. The liquid will expand as it freezes, so make sure to leave a little extra room in the container for this.
Both the microwave and the stovetop will work. Microwave in 30 second intervals until warmed through, or place in a saucepan over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until warmed through.
You can adapt this recipe by putting all the ingredients in a slow cooker, and cooking for 8 hours on low. The flavor is not as good as on the stove, because you don’t get the flavors from the sear and browning, but it’s still flavorful.
If you prefer, you can skip the searing and instead just add leftover shredded rotisserie chicken toward the end.
If you want to keep from adding starchy thickeners like flour or cornstarch, take an immersion blender and blend up part of the soup. This gives you a thicker soup more like a chowder, with a chunkier texture. Make sure not to blend everything.
Chicken Tortilla Soup
For the Soup:
- 2 tbsp olive oil* divided
- 1.25 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts **
- 1 small onion chopped (2 cups)
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground chipotle
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp ground coriander
- 2 cups corn kernels frozen is fine***
- 15 oz can black beans drained and rinsed
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
- 4 oz can diced green chiles
- 32 oz box chicken stock or broth
- black pepper
Ideas for serving (garnishes):
- tortilla chips
- sour cream
- shredded colby jack cheese
- guacamole or sliced avocado
- Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large soup pot set over medium high heat.
- Season the chicken breasts generously with salt and pepper, then sear in the pan for about 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden brown on both sides, but not cooked through.
- Remove the chicken to a plate, then add the chopped onion, 1/8 tsp salt, and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Turn the heat down to medium, and cook for about 5 minutes, until the onions have softened.
- Add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant.
- Add the cumin, chipotle, oregano, and coriander, and cook for another minute.
- Add the corn, beans, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, diced green chiles, chicken broth, and reserved chicken breasts. Bring the soup up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
- Cover the pot with a lid, turn the heat all the way down to low, and simmer gently for 15 minutes, until the chicken breast is cooked through to 165F.
- Remove the chicken breasts to a board, and shred with two forks. Return the shredded chicken to the soup.
- Taste the soup and make any necessary seasoning adjustments, then serve with desired toppings. Enjoy!
Nutrition is estimated using a food database and is only intended to be used as a guideline for informational purposes.
Post updated with new photos, writing, and tips in September 2018. Originally published September 2011.