Back in college, several years before we got married, there were a couple of brief periods where Jill and I stopped dating and took “breaks.” During one of these breaks, I started spending more time with one of Jill’s roommates, who swore to me that her mother made the best chicken tortilla soup in the world. Though I am not an overly competitive person, I do like a good culinary challenge here and there. So, I decided to create the best chicken tortilla soup recipe. Ever.
I researched recipes, experimented with flavor combinations, and tasted every bowl of chicken tortilla soup I could find. I ordered chicken tortilla soup from McAlister’s Deli, Panera, Atlanta Bread Company, and anywhere else I could find it. I bought every brand of canned chicken tortilla soup I could find.
Ultimately, I came up with this recipe. I will occasionally make slight variations, such as using fresh corn versus frozen corn or using lemon juice instead of lime juice, but I always follow this general recipe.
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 cup chopped celery and carrots
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1/2 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 2 cans Ro-tel tomatoes
- 1 can cream of chicken soup
- 1 can ranch style beans
- 1-2 cans tomato sauce (depending upon desired thickness)
- 1 can tomato paste
- 7 cups chicken stock
- 1 can hominy
- 1 small bag frozen corn
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
- 1 lime, juiced
- sour cream
- tortilla chips
- shredded cheddar cheese
- fresh cilantro, chopped
- avocado, diced
In a large stock pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add chicken and cook until fork tender and fully cooked, about 15 minutes. Remove chicken and shred chicken using two forks. You could also roughly chop the chicken using a knife, if you preferred.
While the chicken is cooking, in another large stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, celery, red bell pepper, and carrots and saute until tender. Add chili powder and cumin. Stir the spices and vegetables until fragrant. Add the Ro-tel tomatoes, cream of chicken soup, ranch style beans, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. Stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.
Add the chicken stock, hominy, cooked chicken, and frozen corn. Add salt, pepper, and tabasco sauce, to taste.
Stir in the lime juice and mix well. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Once the soup reaches a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer at least one hour.
To serve, crush tortilla chips in the bottom of a bowl, pour the soup over the chips, and serve topped with shredded cheese, sour cream, and cilantro. You could also top with avocado, if it is in season.
The sour cream is very important. During our break, I made chicken tortilla soup with Jill’s roommate and sent some back for Jill too (I must have known we would get back together). Jill’s roommate gave the soup to her, but didn’t tell her to add the sour cream. Maybe it was an accident or maybe it was intentional (we’ll never know), but the spiciness was definitely overwhelming.
Jill’s roommate would never admit that my soup was better, but I could tell she thought so. After she learned to add sour cream and cheese to the soup, this recipe quickly became one of Jill’s favorites also. The hominy is actually our favorite part of the soup. Over time this has become my signature dish, requested often by friends and family.