Chicken Tortilla Soup
We've been told over and over again that this is the BEST chicken tortilla soup ever. With a couple of easy tricks, you can maximize the flavor while keeping the prep time low. Make it in your crockpot or on your stovetop, either way it's a healthy and delicious Mexican recipe that's a true crowd pleaser.
Don't forget to enjoy a fizzy lime margarita while you're making dinner. And guacamole makes a great starter!
Table of contents
When your Latino bestie says that this is the best chicken tortilla soup he's ever eaten, you know that the recipe truly deserves to be called The Best.
We've always been huge fans of chicken tortilla soup around here. But it took some serious recipe testing before we nailed the recipe so that it is absolutely the best.
We have three simple and easy tricks to transform this chicken tortilla soup from good to freaking awesome. Want to know what they are?
If you love chicken soup, also try our chicken taco soup!
- Dried Mexican peppers – we use a combination of guajillo, pasilla, and ancho peppers as we love the flavor and they're not overly spicy. If you'd like a fiery soup, add a spicy chili such as a chili de arbol.
- Cooking oil – something neutral-flavored like avocado oil or canola works great.
- Onion + garlic + salt – flavor!
- Ground cumin – just a little for a flavor boost
- Skinless bone-in chicken thighs – bone-in is important as the bones will add so much flavor to the soup!
- Chicken stock – we always use our homemade chicken stock. If you don't have any, try to use store-bought bone broth.
- Diced tomatoes – we use a can for convenience.
- Black beans – we use canned here, too. Just make sure to drain and rinse them before adding them to the pot. You could go with a different kind of bean if you have something else on hand.
- Frozen corn – you could use drained canned corn instead if you wish. Or get a little fancy and cut the cobs off an ear of corn.
How to make chicken tortilla soup
Making chicken tortilla soup that tastes incredible is simple to do in a few steps.
- Start by soaking the dried peppers in hot tap water. This will soften them so they'll blend easily into the soup.
- Next, you'll cook the onions and garlic until they're golden and smell amazing.
- Now, pull the hard pepper stems off the peppers and throw them into your compost. Put the peppers and the water they soaked in into your blender. Add the onions and garlic and blend until it's smooth then pour it into your crockpot or large pot.
- Add the chicken thighs, chicken stock, tomatoes, and salt and give everything a good stir. If you're making this in a crockpot, set it to low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. If you're cooking this in a pot, bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer very gently for at least an hour.
- Once the chicken is unbelievably tender, take it out of the pot. Remove the bones then shred the meat using two forks. Add the shredded chicken, beans, and corn to the pot and let it reheat.
- Serve the soup with some sour cream and crispy tortilla strips and dig in!
The full recipe is in the recipe card below.
Tips for making the best chicken tortilla soup
1. Use bone-in chicken. ← This is a trick.
The thing that makes most soup recipes fail is store-bought broth. Sure, it's convenient, but it's a pretty sad replacement for deliciously rich homemade chicken stock.
To keep the convenience factor high and the workload low, we're boosting thin and watery store-bought stock with chicken bones. In other words, we're making our own chicken stock.
The difference this simple trick makes cannot be understated. By slowly simmering the bones for hours, the soup takes on an almost creamy feel and is absolutely bursting with flavor.
Keep this trick in your back pocket when making other soups, too!
2. Blend the onions and garlic. ← What a sneaky little trick.
That's right, friends, we're blending our two favorite flavor enhancers right into the soup.
First, saute them until the onions are golden and caramelized. Then, put them in the blender with the dried peppers that were soaked and a little water and blend them until they become a delicious liquid gold.
This means that every single sip of you take will have all sorts of flavor. It works like magic.
3. Use Dried peppers. ← This is also worthy of being classified a trick.
Most chicken tortilla soup recipes call for chili powder. The problem with that is most chili powder is not awesomely flavorful. If you want to add The Best title to this soup, pick up some dried peppers.
You can find a variety of dried, Mexican peppers in many supermarkets. Bonus points that they're also super inexpensive and will last (nearly) a lifetime in your pantry.
Three peppers seem to be the magic number in this soup, but it's not super important which types of peppers you use.
The three peppers that we like best are guajillo, pasilla, and ancho. None of these peppers are spicy, but they are all very flavorful.
NOTE: Use the links above as a reference, but check your local store before buying them online. For us, the peppers are cheaper in-store.
WARNING: don't use three spicy chili peppers. These are all heat with very little flavor. If you'd like a spicier soup, add one chili pepper (chili de arbol) to your mix of peppers.
Take a peek at the picture below to see the peppers we like to use in chicken tortilla soup:
How long does chicken tortilla soup last?
This soup will keep for 3-4 days in your fridge. Store the crispy tortillas in a sealed container in your pantry for up to a week.
Does chicken tortilla soup freeze well?
Yes! chicken tortilla soup freezes very well. We like to use these large reusable Stasher freezer bags for freezing soup.
What to serve with chicken tortilla soup
Chicken tortilla soup is easily a complete meal in itself. But if you'd like to serve it as a part of a bigger meal, here are a few of our favorite Mexican sides:
- Lightened Up Mexican Corn Dip with Avocado and Jalapeño
- Bacon Guacamole with Roasted Garlic and Tomatoes
- Spicy Mexican Rice
And don't forget about enjoying a fizzy lime margarita!
If you and your family prefer chicken breast, opt for bone-in chicken breast, which is often called split chicken breast. This will give you the extra flavor from cooking the bone in the soup and you'll be able to enjoy your favorite cut of chicken.
Technically, yes you can. But you'll need to manage your expectations, especially if you don't use homemade chicken broth. The bones in the chicken add a ton of flavor to the soup and if you use leftover chicken you'll miss this wonderful flavor enhancer. If you have leftover chicken that you want to use, go for it. The soup will still be good, but do try to make it at least once with bone-in chicken.
Definitely don't skip the crispy tortilla strips! Other than that you may want a dollop of sour cream and some cheese like queso (or even a little cheddar which is totally not traditional but very tasty.) Chopped fresh cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime juice really finish off your bowl of soup!
Popular chicken soup recipes
- Chicken Vegetable Soup
- Lemon Chicken Soup (Instant Pot)
- Curried Chicken Cauliflower Rice Soup
- Chicken Taco Soup
- Chicken Orzo Soup
Chicken Tortilla Soup Recipe
If you love this recipe as much as we do, let us know with a 5-star rating!
- 3 dried Mexican peppers – guajillo, pasilla, and ancho, (see notes)
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil, we like avocado oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 8 skinless bone-in chicken thighs, see notes
- 8 cups chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 15 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 cups frozen corn
- Optional toppings: sour cream, queso, limes, cilantro
The Crispy Tortillas
- 1 teaspoon cooking oil
- 4 large tortillas cut into thin strips, use gluten-free, if needed
- Place the dried peppers in a bowl and cover them with about a cup of hot tap water.3 dried Mexican peppers – guajillo, pasilla, and ancho
- Heat the tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until it is well browned, about 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cumin and cook for 1 minute more.1 tablespoon cooking oil, 1 medium onion, 3 cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- Pull the stems off of the peppers. Add the peppers and the soaking water into your blender. Add the cooked onion and blend until smooth. If it is too thick to blend properly, add some of the stock. Pour this liquid into your crockpot or a large soup pot.
- Add the chicken thighs, chicken stock, sea salt, and tomatoes. Set the crockpot to high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours. If cooking in a pot, you want the pot to simmer very gently.8 skinless bone-in chicken thighs, 8 cups chicken stock, 1 tablespoon sea salt, 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
- Remove the chicken from the crockpot or pot. Separate the meat from the bones and discard the bones and shred the meat. Return the meat to the pot and add the black beans and corn and let them heat through.15 ounce can black beans, 2 cups frozen corn
- Serve the chicken tortilla soup with the tortillas on top and any or all of the optional toppings.Optional toppings: sour cream, queso, limes, cilantro
The crispy tortillas
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
- Put the tortilla strips on a baking sheet and toss them with the oil. Spread them out on the baking sheet then put them in your oven. Let them toast for about 10-15 minutes, gently mixing them up twice until they are lightly browned. Remove them from the oven. Note: they will continue to crisp as they cool.1 teaspoon cooking oil, 4 large tortillas cut into thin strips
For more inspiration, check out all of our soup recipes!
This is the recipe I have been looking for! Used 4 ancho chilies and topped off with HEB tortillas strips. The blending of the chilies is the difference maker!
You need this soup in your life!! So flavorful and delicious!!
Thanks for sharing this recipe.
Thank you the dried chili’s and puree were a great tip
Amazing flavor! This is now one of my favorite go-to recipes.
10/10 insane flavor. I made the mistake of using over x2 the chiles and actually did up with something so spicy my eyes teared up but 1. that’s my bad 2. i have low spice tolerance. Thinking of just adding more broth to get less concentrated spice. On that note, if you’re afraid this doesn’t have enough flavor: it DEFINITELY does. Good stuff.
So deeply satisfying and comforting!
My family and myself love tortilla soup so I gave your rescue try did some modifications however because the original batch – it’s just too plain in flavor. I double the garlic, Browned the corn, fire roasted two whole, with seeds, jalapenos, used one full cup of cilantro stems, soaked the three peppers suggested and added all into the mixer. I use rotisserie chicken for full bodied flavir.
Delicious, thanks for the recipe.
Worth the special suggestions and just gets better the next day! We also
added one arbol to the three, and we always have homemade chicken stock
in the freezer.
The best chicken tortilla soup! A big hit with my family. The ingredients added layers of goodness. Flavors that comfort the soul! I used a whole roasted chicken instead of thighs. I will try the thighs next time. Thanks for sharing now a new family favorite.
I made this soup a few years ago and couldn’t find the recipe. This time I pinned it!! So glad I found it, it’s delicious!
This was a HUGE disappointment! I bought the dried peppers($20 for 3 bags) and followed recipe exactly. It was not spicy at all. It was flavorless,and not even edible. It made a huge amount and it all went down the garbage disposal and trash can.
I’m sorry it wasn’t a hit. If you were expecting it to be spicy, it’s not. The peppers I recommend are not spicy, they’re flavorful.
If you meant it wasn’t flavorful then I’m really curious if you followed the recipe. Did you add the salt? Use bone in chicken thighs? Blend the onions and garlic? I actually made this recipe again just yesterday and was once again amazed at how flavorful it is.
If you want it to be hot and spicy you can always add a jalapeño or chili de arbol to the mix.
Fixed this soup tonight and to speed things up I used a rotisserie chicken from the grocery. As I was fixing it, my thought was I would have plenty left over for my lunch this week, as my husband and daughter don’t usually like my chicken tortilla soup so much. Well needless to say this recipe is a keeper… one small bowl left for my lunch. They gobbled it right up and loved it.
I love it! It’s a great sign when all the food gets eaten!
How many servings? I wany to make for office crowd tomorrow.
At least 6 good-sized servings. 🙂
I’ve made quite a few versions of this soup in my life, but Since it’s my fave I’m usually looking at recipes for new variations. I’ve always made my own bone broth but I had not tried the blended onion/garlic/pepper trick – and I’m sold! I had some orange cherry tomatoes from my garden and blended them as well, plus added a zucchini. It was one of the best versions I’ve ever made for sure! Thanks!
That’s so wonderful to hear! Hooray!!
Loved this soup! I didn’t have bone in thighs so I used bone broth instead of chicken stock. also added an extra can of beans. I like beans.
I’m so happy to hear you liked the recipe!
This TRULY is a life-changing, make-for-your-guests soup-that-you-dream-about kind of soup. The flavour is so rich and turns a beautiful deep maroon, and the broth is dreamy. If you’re looking for watery, pale broth – look elsewhere! Thank you so much for this incredible recipe!
I’m thrilled that you love this recipe! Thank you for taking the time to come back and let us know!
Hands down the best tortilla soup receipe. I have been looking for a good chicken tortilla receipe and this is it. My search for the perfect soup has ended with this one. This receipe reminds me of the soup at Islands Restaurant. Cooking the chicken thigh bone in was well worth it. I cooked the chicken for 10 hours and made the soup the next day. Thanks for sharing this receipe!
I’m so happy to hear it was a hit! Hooray!!
I am about to make your recipe but purchased dried arbol chiles. I’ve know read they are super hot.
Also, do I grind the dried chiles with the sautéed garlic and onions or throw the pod in the pot and remove it later?
Yes, arbol chilis are quite spicy. That’s why I like to use a mix of chili peppers so it’s not too spicy but still very flavorful. And yes, you blend the chilis with the onions and garlic. 🙂
I am a little confused, this is calling for 4 cups of stock and 3 cups os water, however it appears you are making the stock using bone in chicken at the time of making the soup. Where are you getting the 4 cups of stock when the stock is made while the soup is made? Are you implying using remade home made stock and then again using bone in chicken which would be like doubling the stock in the soup?
Basically where do you get the 4 cups of stock if the stock is made while the soup is cooking?
When I make this recipe, I usually use a 1 liter (4 cup) carton of store-bought stock. If you don’t have any on hand, you can simply use water (7 cups total) instead as the bones add tons of flavor. Hope that makes sense!
Awesome recipe, followed nearly exactly. Wife prefers breast so mixed in both bone in breast and bone in thighs (she didn’t notice) only thing I will do different next time is use a few more dried chili’s. The fast was amazing, thinking a couple more for more depth. Thank you!
I’m so happy to hear it was a hit!
Oh, this was wonderful, just made it today!
I already had chicken breast “tenders” so I used those (8). I even put them in the crock pot frozen.
I used 2 Pasilla/Ancho peppers and 1 guajillo. The pasilla/ancho is how the bag was marked (I’m a little confused on that)
The only other change I made was that I used 1 cup of water only. I was concerned that 3 cups of water would water down the flavor. Perhaps it wouldn’t have, but I don’t regret just using 1 cup of water.
I also used an extra glove of garlic
I sliced a few chunks of fresh avocado and added to my bowl. Also used a blob of sour cream. But, it’s perfect without either of those additions! I didn’t even do the tortillas; this soup was good enough without them..
This soup is marvelous!!
I’m so happy to hear you loved the soup! It’s one of my all-time favorites. 🙂
Made it today, sans beans, using three anchos, and it absolutely rocks! I needed to add extra salt since I used low salt broth. Also used a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes. Next I’m gonna throw in a single chipotle in adobo. Bone-in thighs are the delicious. Thanks for sharing this!
I’m so happy to hear it was a hit!
Just wonderful and it has body. I used a store bought chicken and deboned it and used a pressure cooker to get a flavorful broth. Great. Thanks for this recipe for a cold winters day.
I’m so happy to hear the recipe was a hit!
I have not tried this yet but excited to do so. One thought….It seems like it would be really good if carrots and celery were added. If so what amount would you suggest?
They would be good additions! I would suggest 2 of each. 🙂
I did it a bit differently since I started late today! I insta-potted the chicken, stock, water, salt, and tomatoes… I blended all the rest together and I am planning on throwing it all in and changing the inst=a setting to slow cook for the rest! 🙂
That’s so good to know it can be done in an instant pot! I recently got one myself so will have to try it!
Very tasty. I did add one chicken breast with thighs, and more peppers, we like it spicy, oh, and a touch of chili powder, and sprinkled a little dried cilantro in. Excellent! Thank you for doing all the testing.
I’m so happy you like the recipe!!
Im going to make this recipe over the holidays for my family. It sounds so GOOOOOOD.
I’ve printed it out but it doesn’t say how many people it will serve?
Can you please let me know.
Thank you very much!
It will serve 4!
I made this soup on the stove and followed all instructions but used a store bought rotisserie chicken I shredded and added towards the end of cooking. I’m an avid cook and this was EXCELLENT!! I froze some and it was just as good. So good that I’m having a soup party for the holidays and this is the soup I’m making. Thank you for sharing.
Great call on using rotisserie chicken!
If using rotisserie chicken, do you omit the bone in thighs?
Haven’t made this yet sounds delish! Have a question..Do you leave the chili seeds in or do you remove those with the stem?
I leave them in! But they will add extra heat so if you’re sensitive to heat you may want to remove them. 🙂
Excited to make this tomorrow. If I cook this in a regular pot on my stovetop: how long should it cook before removing the chicken bones?
I made this on the stovetop just the other day! I simmered the soup for an hour an a half and it was great. You could get away with as little as a half hour if you’re rushed for time. I like to let it simmer longer to get as much flavor from the chicken bones as possible. 🙂
I’m making this tomorrow for the first time but I will be using a pressure cooker. Wish me luck. 😉
I’d love to hear how it turned out in your pressure cooker!
I made this exactly as is and it was amazing. The best I’ve ever had. Blending the onions and peppers into the broth makes such a big differece. Thank you for the recipe!
It’s amazing the difference that makes, isn’t it? So happy you like the recipe!
This soup changed my life Kristen. I had some dried chilis in my cupboard from my last trip to the States, so we made this last week. I hate to admit I have always made mine with chili powder — never again! I will definitely be blending my onions and garlic more often also 🙂
Such a good trick, right? We often do the same with tomato sauce, too. Blending the onions totally changes it!
NEED to make this soup! Perfect for Cinco de Mayo.
Oh girl, you totally do! It’s my all-time favorite soup!
Love this receipe! My only wish is that the soup was a bit thicker. I use the combination of Pasilla, guajillo and ancho peppers and it has a nice kick to it without adding a dried chili pepper.
I’m happy to hear you liked the recipe! If you prefer a thicker soup, you could try adding a little cornstarch mixed in cold water at the end of cooking. Or make a roux (butter and flour) and add that to thicken it at the end. 🙂
Another option to thicken the soup would be to dice up about 5-10 corn tortillas. Through them right in the soup and cook them until they fall apart. This will thicken the soup
Tortilla soup is a go-to for me. I LOVE LOVE LOVE to order it at restaurants.
It’s really the best, isn’t it?!!
You say to use three dried chiles and a warning not to use three dried chiles. Can you please clarify?
I’m sorry that wasn’t more clear! What you want to use are dried peppers – but not hot dried chili peppers. The best ones to use are guajillo, pasilla, and/ or ancho. Those three are flavorful but only very mildly spicy. If you like it hot, add a hot chili pepper to the mix. I hope that makes more sense!
Agree. second time I made it I afpdded two chipotles in adobo to the blender. Might add a couple more next time. It added some heat, but nice flavour.
Spicy is always better!
This sounds delicious. I have my own chicken broth, skinless thighs and tenderloins. Can’t wait to make it.
Will probably freeze some for this winter.
If you have your own homemade chicken stock that’s ideal! It freezes very well and such a treat to reheat when you want something cozy and warm but don’t feel like cooking. 🙂
Coincidentally I just made my own version of this soup, which I adapted a few years ago from Sunset magazine (and other sources I don’t remember), and it has always been the best I’ve ever had. So when I saw the title of this recipe, I thought good luck convincing me! But then I saw the blending of dried peppers with the onions and garlic– that’s a great trick Rick Bayless uses in one of his enchilada sauce recipes that’s to die for– and also using bone-in chicken, particularly thighs. Our recipes are quite similar otherwise but I grudgingly had to admit that those two pointers could do nothing but make my version that much more deeply flavorful! I will definitely incorporate them next time. Thanks for the great ideas, Kristen.
P.S. Your beautiful photos sold it as well!
You literally made me laugh out loud! Now I’m off to check out some Rick Bayless recipes. By the sound of it, I like the way he cooks already!