A few decades ago, when I first heard about tortilla soup, it was associated with Chef Dean Fearing. It was a signature dish served at The Mansion in Dallas, Texas, where he was head chef. In fact, in his cookbook, “The Texas Food Bible,” published in 2014, he claims that although the recipe was not originally his, it has always been so popular that it remains his “million-dollar baby!”
Indeed it is. Chef Fearing has his own restaurant now in Dallas called Fearing’s, located in the Ritz-Carlton, where tortilla soup remains on the menu. We’ve been lucky enough to dine there for both dinner and brunch, and the experiences were perfection.
Southwestern-inspired tortilla soup is a slightly spicy, tomato enriched soup. Tortillas are fried for garnish, as well as used in the soup for texture and flavor. But it’s the goodies that make this soup fabulous to me: smoked chicken, avocado, cheddar cheese, and some fun garnishes.
I’ve made many versions of this soup in my life, because many different versions are possible. It’s easy to add beans, roasted chile peppers and corn or hominy, for example, plus chipotle peppers or ancho chile paste for some depth. The possibilities are really endless.
Even though the purpose of this post was to present the actual Dean Fearing tortilla soup recipe, this soup will be another version yet again. I didn’t realize that the chicken is supposed to be smoked! I’d poached a whole chicken the day before in anticipation of making this soup!
I think my mistakes stemmed from a lengthy vacation away from my kitchen. Do you ever feel like you’ve forgotten how to cook after a couple weeks on holiday?!! I wasn’t in my cooking rhythm when I took on this soup!
Here is the original recipe, which Chef Fearing claims more represents the recipe’s Mexican roots, rather than his previous Southwestern version, with my five-cents worth in parentheses.
adapted from The Texas Food Bible
8 tablespoons olive oil
8 corn tortillas, cut into long strips and divided in half
8 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups onion purée
6 cups chicken stock
4 cups fresh tomato purée
5 roasted ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh epazote or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 large bay leaf
Fresh lemon juice
1 cup small-dice smoked chicken breast
1 cup cubed avocado
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup finely diced cabbage
1/4 cup finely julienned red radish
1 tablespoon seeded and minced jalapeño chile
Heat about 5 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add one-half of the tortilla strips and fry, turning occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until very crisp. Carefully transfer to a double layer of paper towels to drain. Reserve.
(If you’re wondering why my tortillas aren’t yellow, it’s because they’re made from a whole-grain wheat and corn mixture, and worked just as well.)
Heat the remaining olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
(I used the same pot to fry the tortilla strips and to make the soup.)
Add the garlic along with the remaining half of the tortilla strips and fry, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, or until the tortillas are crisp.
Add the onion purée and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
(I used chopped onions because the soup gets blended!)
Stir in the chicken stock and tomato purée along with the roasted anchos, jalapeños, epazote (or cilantro), cumin, coriander and bay leaf. Season with salt to taste, raise the heat, and bring to a boil.
(As you can see, the recipe lists “roasted ancho chiles.” I’m assuming Chef Fearing meant fresh chile peppers if they’re roasted, because you don’t roast dried chile peppers. But the fresh version of ancho chiles, shown below right in this Bon Appetit photo, are actually poblanos, a fresh chile pepper, shown below left. So I’m not sure what he meant. Without any poblanos, I went ahead and used 4 ancho chile peppers, which are dried poblanos. I know it’s confusing, but I would think the father of Southwestern cuisine would know his chile peppers.)
Lower the heat and cook at a gentle simmer for 40 minutes, skimming off any fat that rises to the surface.
Remove from the heat, transfer to a blender, and process to a smooth purée. If too thick, add chicken stock, a bit at a time, to reach a smooth soup consistency.
When ready to serve, place the soup in a large saucepan over low heat. Remove and discard the bay leaf (??? I thought it was puréed?) Season with lemon juice and cayenne and, if necessary, additional salt.
Place an equal portion of smoked chicken, avocado, cheese, cabbage, radish, minced jalapeño and reserved tortilla crisps in the center of each of four warm shallow soup bowls. Ladle 8 ounces of soup over the garnish and serve immediately.
(I actually only placed the chicken, avocado and cheese in the bowls before adding the hot soup base, then garnished with the remaining ingredients.)
(I don’t think Chef Fearing means equal portions, I think he meant 4 equal portions of each of the ingredients, since the soup serves four people.)
As I mentioned above, I’ll have to make the recipe again to see what it’s really supposed to taste like!
But I’m a little disappointed in the recipe. It’s not really written for home cooks, and a few things are unclear. There isn’t even a photo of the prepared soup!
Verdict: My husband said that he likes my tortilla soup better, and I’d have to agree, even though I’ve never made it the same way twice. I felt this soup was somewhat bland, in spite of the ancho chile peppers, fresh jalapenos, and the cayenne pepper. I guess I also enjoy black beans and corn, plus a little chipotle for texture and flavor. But to be fair, I didn’t exactly follow the recipe!
Maybe I need another vacation.
It looks delicious, Mimi, and I really like the garnishes. I’m not sure whether it helps but Thomasina Miers, who writes Mexican cookbooks over here, dry roasts her dried chillies before soaking them. Maybe that’s what Dean Fearing is referring to?
I do the same, but I would call that more of a quick toast? I really think he meant fresh chiles. But I have no idea. It’s the first recipe from this book I’ve used, and I’m definitely not impressed with the editing…..
No, you should talk to some of the people I know who test chef’s recipes (not his, f course) for cookbooks. I think sometimes they virtually re-write them! Unfortunately some publishers cut corners on the copy reading and recipe testing.
That’s really a shame.
Wonderful! I would have to make a pretty serious modification, which you would not approve of… 2 cups of onion puree would pretty much kill my poor husband, who has severe reactions to them. I would have to make an onion-less version… but if you forgive me that, I’m game! ;-)
Isn’t that excessive though? The whole soup is supposed to serve four! 1 cup of chicken and 2 cups of puréed onions! Yikes! The whole thing was a mess, but two weeks of being cooked for made me a little lazy I think!!!
Your version sounds delicious – it’s a soup I have not made yet! I hear you about recipes – I just had to do the same thing with some sourdough bread. I rewrote it so I could understand it!
I’ve rarely come across this problem, fortunately, but it is frustrating!
I think you did a stunning job of interpreting what (to me) sounds like a professional chef/writer’s shoddy piece of writing (or perhaps editing!). I am sure his restaurants work quite differently (you say you’ve had some great meals at one) but it’s so disappointing when their cookbooks are not practical and most probably no one has tested the written recipes.
I agree. Cookbooks are really written for home cooks – some more adventurous than others, but I think that needs to be respected.
It looks really good Chef!
Soooo, maybe we’ll just stick with YOUR recipe Mimi! You did such an excellent job photographing this soup! I recently posted a salad recipe, which had it’s own challenges, and I mentioned how difficult soup can be to photograph. Evidently – not for you!! ; o )
Well thank you! That’s why I put the garnishes on top – I figured it would look prettier that way!
Absolutely!! The garnishes really gave that photo a lot of pizzazz!! (Had to double-check how to spell ‘pizzazz’ – that’s a word I don’t spell very often.) ; o )
It still looks like a lovely soup, and I see you used some of your dehydrated jalapeños for the garnish, yay! I love using mine in all kinds of things. (And I do think the bay leaf should have been removed before adding to the blender. An obvious error by the editors, so not your fault!)
I actually deleted a bunch of my negative comments because it sounded like a big rant against the recipe – I got a little too picky, but it’s just not well-written!
Well I would be mad too if I ever came across a recipe written like that! But it is still yummy to look at. :)
Oh and yes! You spotted my little dried jalapenos!!!
One of my favorite soups. I miss not getting it here, used to buy it at Whole Foods.
When I visited Dallas for business some years ago I stayed at the Mansion at Turtle Creek and had the tortilla soup, it is the best tortilla soup I have ever tasted hands down. Nothing could compare. Your soup sounds delicious Mimi, I have never attempted to make it but maybe it’s time I tried.
I wish you had taken a picture of it so I know how it’s supposed to look! Actually I guess he made it more Mexican at his present restaurant, but how lucky for you. The Mansion is fabulous!!!
Well it was a little before taking photo’s of food was so popular but I can still see it. There were tortilla strips floating on top like yours it was thinner and a lighter color. What stood out was how well balanced it was, perfection really. I had it several times while I stayed there.
Isn’t that interesting! I assumed it was more broth-like, but I added the amount of tomato puree he listed. It was a bit too tomatoey for me.
His was not at all, it was more brothy, It was a light soup not at all thick or heavy.
Well mine was a total dud. I had to add a lot of spice to it, plus corn and black beans and cilantro!!! I’d love to try it at his restaurant. He actually sat down next to me and my daughter snapped a picture. Seems very nice.
Wow, he may have changed the recipe post turtle creek. How cool that you met him. His was not terribly spicy it was very balanced nicely spiced a thin broth without a lot of tomato, there was corn black beans of course also.
See, these are omitted in this recipe. I think they belong in the soup. How’s the puppy?
Yes they were in his soup that I had. Thanks for asking Percy is doing great he adapted well and is totally spoiled!❤️
Fabulous! It was probably a little adjustment, but you’re obviously a wonderful dog mom!!!
Whatever the taste of this soup is I can assure you that it is better than the crummy version I made in my new Vitamix blender.
Haha, your husband sounds like my husband when I make something from a cookbook! Excellent pics my friend! ♥
Thank you!!! But he was right in that the soup was bland. We like spice and certainly some depth of flavor – especially in a Mexican/Southwestern dish!!!
This looks amazing! I want to try using ancho chilies. I was tempted to buy some the last time I made my chili, but didn’t want to deviate from the recipe. I’ll have to give this recipe a try!
I always have ancho chile paste on hand, mostly cause it takes so long to make that I freeze it in jars, and it’s fabulous in chili. Gives the chili a much deeper flavor. But there’s also ground ancho chile pepper that you can buy, if you didn’t know. And chipotles are so good in chili too!!!
Yes, I almost bought the dried anchos to put in my chili, but chickened out…lol! I use chipotles in adobo sauce and actually add a little bit of coffee. Next time! :)
Top class Mimi. Really top class. My apologies for my absence from the comments of late. Life has got in the way. This one is a great post to return to commenting.
You know, blogging is a job! So I understand! Personally, I comment when I can, and expect other people do the same. These days, I have a lovely little crazy grand baby who gets in the way of my blogging life, and it’s wonderful!!!
Great to see you prioritize.
Looks delicious Chef Mimi!
Your soup looks delicious. I love your pictures.
Thank you so much!
Love this. We can’t get enough soup right now! Looks like a good recipe and as soon as we finish our current pot of soup I’m onto this one. Might try it with pork since we just did chicken. Great pic of the peppers.
Pork would definitely work! But add beans and corn, too – it’s just more fun that way!
I love a good tortilla soup, Mimi. We see it a lot here in Tucson, but I never thought of it as being from Texas as well. Southwest is Southwest, I guess. Also, I’ve never made it. It’s about time…
Southwestern cuisine originates from Mexico, but is all about what was created from it from California all the way to Texas. It’s much simpler than authentic Mexican, and it helps to love cilantro. I wasn’t happy with this soup, but I think, honestly, that southwestern-inspired dishes hardly need recipes at all.
Those pepper! Wow!
Wouldn’t this be fantastic on a rainy Thursday! Hmmm….