I like my food as colourful as possible, that way I can dress mostly in black all the time and seem like I’m just doing it to not detract from the beauty of my food (instead of for the real reason, which is ADULTING). This soup says everything that my outfit never will, and if the pops of colour weren’t enough to sell you on it, the texture variety is nothing short of a speed dating round in your mouth (but one where everyone is very good-looking and thinks you’re the most interesting person in the room…so not like the real kind at all). Really, this soup can do no wrong. My favourite part is how half of the tortilla strips start to meld into the broth, taking on all that juiciness, while the rest of them look haughtily down from their crispy golden perch. Combine that with the rich buttery texture of avocado, the spicy crunch of radish, and the soft salty crumble of queso fresco…..ugh, me and this soup need a room, please excuse us.
Chicken Tortilla Soup
Serves 4 very generously, or 6 more civilly
2 lb raw chicken necks/carcasses/stewing chicken (really any viable chicken bones that still have scraps of meat clinging to them)
2 tbsp olive oil
4 celery stalks, snapped in half
½ of a yellow onion, unpeeled
3 cloves of garlic, unpeeled but lightly smashed
Small handful fresh oregano sprigs
6 whole black peppercorns
¼ tsp coriander seeds (optional)
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (2 whole breasts, each with a pair of breasts, is ideal)
3 juicy (heavy) limes, divided + more if you like a stronger punch of acidity
8 corn tortillas, cut into ½-inch strips
Canola oil, for frying
1 cup crumbled queso fresco (creamy feta would do in a pinch)
8 radishes, sliced thinly
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
Small handful cilantro leaves
Hot sauce, to serve (optional)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place the chicken bones/carcasses onto a large baking sheet in a single layer and drizzle with olive oil and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Roast the bones for 30 minutes, until browned and sizzling. Transfer to a large, deep stockpot along with remaining stock ingredients and a generous 4-finger pinch of salt. Cover with 10-12 cups of cold water (depending on your pot’s capacity) and bring to a rolling boil. Lower the heat to medium and let simmer for 90 minutes, skimming any scum or excess fat that rises to the surface. Watch the liquid levels and top up with water if the ingredients are no longer mostly submerged. Drain the soup through a colander and discard the boiled solids. Let the stock cool until warm and skim the congealed fat from the top of the stock as best you can (sometimes the fat will congeal into a single hideous “skin” that you can satisfyingly peel off in one go). Season to taste. If using right away, leave the stock on low heat to stay warm. If saving for future use, refrigerate, only covering once the soup has completely cooled. If refrigerating, scoop off any solidified fat prior to re-heating.
For the actual tortilla soup assembly, place the chicken breasts in a large pot and cover with water to just submerge. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, until no longer pink inside. You can also cook the chicken in the stock you just made, but then I find that you have to re-skim some fat, which is tedious. Drain the water and allow the chicken to cool slightly until you can handle it.
Once the chicken is cool enough to touch, peel off the skin and discard. Pull the chicken from the bones and shred the meat into small pieces. Discard the bones and any disgusting gristly bits. Lightly season the chicken with salt. Re-heat the chicken stock over low heat (if not doing so already) and transfer the chicken meat into the stock. Squeeze in the juice from 2 of the limes, stirring to blend. The stock will turn a bit milkier in colour as the lime juice incorporates. Taste the soup/meat and season with salt and pepper or more lime juice, if needed. Tortilla soup should have a bit of an acidic bite to the broth, so add more lime juice if that’s a flavour you’d like to embellish further. Leave the soup over very low heat while you prep the remaining ingredients.
Line a plate with a thick layer of paper towel and set extra paper towels alongside it to use as needed. Pour the canola oil into a medium saucepan until you have ~½-inch depth. Test the oil’s heat by dipping the end of a tortilla strip into it – there should immediately be a lot of sizzling going on. Once the oil has heated, fry the tortilla strips in batches (I find 3-4 batches is usually needed), tossing the strips with tongs as needed to ensure that they don’t stick together. Cook each batch for 1-2 minutes each, until the strips are lightly golden, as they will continue to darken as they cool. Transfer to the paper towel-lined plate and immediately season with a sprinkle of salt. Repeat with remaining batches of tortilla strips, adding layers of paper towels between batches to soak up excess oil. Set aside until ready to use.
Just prior to serving the soup, pit and thinly slice the avocadoes. Ladle the soup into large shallow bowls, ensuring that you have scooped plenty of chicken for each portion and mounding the meat in the middle of the bowl as best you can. Top each serving with a handful of tortilla strips, letting some of the strips sink into the broth. Add a layer of avocado slices on top of the tortilla and sprinkle with crumbles of queso fresco. Scatter slices of radish and jalapeño over the soup and crown with cilantro leaves. Garnish with hot sauce, if using. Seriously, how happy are you right now??