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How-To

Tortilla Soup with Chicken and Avocado

A tangle of crunchy corn tortilla strips and a mildly spicy broth make this easy-to-assemble soup a surprise hit

Fine Cooking Issue 50
Photos: Scott Phillips
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I make this fun and satisfying soup with a quick and flavorful broth that’s not traditional but is extremely tasty. For many traditional Mexican soups, making the broth involves toasting, soaking, and puréeing dried chiles, which gives a fantastic depth of flavor but takes some time (and you have to shop for chiles). My broth is based on a paste of minced onion, tomato paste, and ordinary chili powder from the grocery store, along with canned chicken broth. The broth picks up a bit more intensity from the chicken thighs that are the main ingredient in the soup.

My method for cooking the thighs keeps the meat juicy and keeps more of the meaty flavor in the chicken itself rather than leaching it all out into the broth. I dredge the thighs in the chili paste, arrange them in the pan and then add just enough chicken broth to moisten the mixture. I then cover the pan and barely simmer the chicken until it’s extremely tender and falling off the bone. The chile paste seeps into the meat and makes it even more savory.

The striking thing about this soup, of course, is the tangle of crisp corn tortilla strips that fills the bowl. The strips add a musty-sweet corn taste and a great mix of textures: the sections that are under the broth become soaked and slightly chewy, almost like husky noodles, while those on the high ground stay very crunchy, like a good tortilla chip. And speaking of chips—we actually tested this soup using plain tortilla chips and it wasn’t half bad. So if you’re in a pinch and have all the ingredients except for fresh corn tortillas, go ahead!

Cook the crispy strips

Line a plate or tray with two layers of paper towels. In a small, high-sided saucepan, heat enough oil to come to about a 1-inch depth. Heat the oil over medium heat; when it reaches 375°F or when a strip of tortilla sizzles immediately when dipped in the oil, add six to-eight strips of tortilla. With tongs or a long fork, “scrunch” them for a second or two so they take on a wavy shape (below left). Fry until the strips aren’t bubbling much and have become pale brown (below right), about 1 min. Transfer to the paper towels. Repeat with the remaining strips.

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