Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup (Beans Optional)

This recipe is part of my 30 Day Grocery Budget Diary. To see all the posts of this series in reverse chron order, click HERE.

I wrote the other day about my decision to get myself a slow cooker after 25 years of cooking without one. This is the soup with which I christened my new kitchen gadget. :)

Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup sans beans
& pre-tortilla strips :)

Even though I haven't cooked with slow cookers much (or at all before this), I have eaten slow cooker prepared food and often cooked at very low and slow temps, so it's not hard to predict how ingredients behave at slow cooker temps. With so many pluses on the convenience side, if you're going to get nitpicky, as I am wont to do from time to time, one of the drawbacks of slow cooker cooking is the relative lack of depth and concentration of flavor that you get from the level of heat you can maintain on stovetop plus the reduction you can achieve with uncovered cooking.

And though you can saute and sear your components before putting them in the slow cooker, developing and releasing some of those natural sugars that contribute to depth of flavor, as a person who works at home and can cook stovetop pretty much anytime, the appeal of a slow cooker for me is largely in the ability to just cut and measure some shit up, dump it in the pot, and turn the switch.

How then, to gain some of that depth of flavor inherently missing from slow cooker cooking? One idea of many, and a proven one, is to give it some umami backup. There are lots of ways to achieve this, including using seasoning products that contain MSG, but one of my favorite ways is to use a tiny bit of fish sauce - maybe up to a teaspoon for a whole stew, braise or soup recipe. Just enough to add intensity to the broth or sauce, to deepen it and give it complexity, but not enough for any of the offputting fermented fishiness to come through. 

If you're afraid of fish sauce because it stinks, don't be. There are plenty of delicious uses for it that don't have to highlight so much of the funk if you're not into the funk. If you've bought a bottle of fish sauce and regretted it after you smelled it, give it another shot in very small quantities in your stews, soups, braises, and even your salad dressings. You just might be pleasantly surprised.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup (Beans Optional)
Makes 6 servings
Active time: 20 minutes

- 3 pounds bone-in, skin on chicken pieces (even if you don't like to eat chicken skin, I suggest including them for flavor and richness, and either fishing them out or scooping around them when serving)
- 6 cups water
- 1 small onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
- 2 medium carrots, cut into 1/2-inch thick pieces (I like to cut them big for slow cooking so they don't disintegrate and still retain some texture)
- 1 medium bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces (I happened to use the Hatch chilies I roasted the other day, but they're seasonal and sometimes hard to come by even when they're in season)
- 1 large stem celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained (optional - I don't always care for beans in this soup - but add a 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt to the recipe if you add the beans)
- 1/2 a 15 oz. can of corn (or 1 cup frozen or fresh corn kernels)
- 1/2 a 15 oz. can of tomatoes
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 to 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 to 3.5 teaspoons kosher salt to start
- 1 to 1.5 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional for the cilantro haters, of course)
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional, but recommended)

- fried tortilla chips or strips, chopped fresh chilies, onions, cilantro, avocado, and lime wedges to add as desired before eating

1) Dump all ingredients into your slow cooker and give it a few good stirs.

2) Cook on low for 7 to 9 hours, or high for 5 to 7, depending on how hot your slow cooker gets. 

It's always nice if you can give the soup a few gentle stirs throughout the cooking process, but if you can't manage that because you're out of the house, then you can give it a stir and adjust the seasoning as necessary as soon as you get home. This will give the soup some time to more evenly and thoroughly absorb flavor before you sit down to enjoy it.

We enjoyed it with a little steamed rice, some chopped onions and cilantro on top, a good extra squeeze of lime, and a few lashings of Tapatío. Avocados would have been wonderful, but we were too lazy to run out and make an unnecessary extra grocery run.

To slow and super easy cooking,




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