Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup

January 7, 2015

Chicken Tortilla Soup is one of those dishes where I keep searching for a better recipe. I’ve cooked it many times and have always come away with something tasty. Nevertheless I’m always looking for something else.

In January 2012 I wrote about an incredibly easy recipe featuring a store bought rotisserie chicken and a jar of salsa; You only have to chop one or two things. In October 2013 I wrote about a recipe that uses fresh tomatoes, onion, garlic, and jalapeño peppers. It all gets whirled in a food processor and requires cooking a chicken. It is delicious (it is was my standard) I’ve made it several times) but processing the vegetables leaves the soup without any chunks of stuff other than the chicken. In November 2014 I made a recipe I found on The Pioneer Woman website. This also was a great recipe featuring the addition of a can of diced tomatoes and green chilies; back then I used Hatch brand but now I’d use Rotel. She also adds black beans – which is fine – I just don’t like it in my soup.

So, you can see, I’ve spent some time making this dish. I wanted something like my favorite from October 2013 but with more chunks; so being obsessed with the Serious Eats web site I took a look at what they had to say about the subject. Jennifer Olvera from their site makes a slow-cooker version that looked mouth wateringly (that’s a word, right?) delicious.

While still fairly simple there are 18 ingredients for the soup alone, not counting the condiments. If you want a flavorful soup, you’ve got to put some flavor in the pot. These spices bring  depth to soup.

Flavor stars of slow cooker chicken tortilla soup.
Flavor stars of slow cooker chicken tortilla soup.

Chop some stuff; measure some other stuff and you are ready to go!

Mis en place for slow cooker chicken tortilla soup
Mis en place for slow cooker chicken tortilla soup

The first step is to brown the chicken thighs; then remove them from the pot and sauté the onion and jalapenño; next add the chili powder, cumin, and cocoa powder for just 30 seconds. Finally deglaze the pan with a cup of lager beer; that brings up the beautiful and tasty faund from the bottom of the pot.

Once that is accomplished through everything into the slow cooker and cook on low for four hours.

Chicken thighs are better for this dish than chicken breasts. Chicken breasts have very little fat and no connective tissue because they don’t have to do much work in the life of a chicken. As a result when the breasts hit the heat the muscle tissue seizes up and wrings the liquid out. So even though you are serving a soup the chicken parts end up tasty dry.

Thighs on the other hand are made of a different kind of muscle (dark meat instead of white) and are filled with connective tissue and a bit more fat. That connective tissue is really tough to start but after cooking for a few hours start to melt away providing a pleasing tongue coating delight. It’s the same stuff that makes home made chicken stock so good.

You know I’m going to make the case here for using home made chicken stock. It’s just better. When you refrigerate home made stock it starts to look like gelatin; this provides a silkiness and richness that store bought can’t provide – it just feels better in your mouth. That gelatin is there because the stock is made with a lot of chicken; as they say: a chicken probably once walked through the factory where store bought stock is made.

Oh, I know, I know. You are busy; it’s okay, there are workarounds. Get a jar of Better Than Boullion Chicken Base – available in most grocery stores. You mix a little of this with boiling water and you have a perfectly serviceable stock. Still too much work? Swanson’s low sodium chicken broth will work.

Now you can clean up the kitchen then rest or do some other chores. With about an hour left put together your toppings: grate some cheese; dice some onion and avocado, cut up some lime wedges and stir up some sour cream.

Add ons for slow cooker chicken tortilla soup
Add ons for slow cooker chicken tortilla soup (plus sour cream)

I’m not a fan of frying tortilla strips in a bunch of oil – it makes a mess and if I don’t do it right (which I usually don’t) I get greasy strips. Instead I cut the tortilla in half than in strips; toss with a bit of vegetable oil and bake for about 14 minutes at 400° on a foil lined baking sheet. Toss the strips and rotate the pan about halfway through. Also keep a close eye on them at the end; they can go from golden brown to charred in the blink of an eye.

Once the chicken is tender, remove the thighs, shred with two forks and re-add to the pot. Check the seasoning and adjust as necessary.

To serve I put a few tortilla strips on the bottom, ladle on the soup and top with a few more strips and the rest of the toppings.

Dinner is served! Slow cooker chicken tortilla soup with all the fixings.
Dinner is served! Slow cooker chicken tortilla soup with all the fixings.

Rating: ★★★★★

This is delicious and rates a rare full 5 stars.

Take a look at the full write up on Serious Eats (link above); or check out my recipe here; it has all the details broken down step-by-step.

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