Ancho chili powder is mild, sweet and fruity. It’s absolutely perfect in this soup. We’ve been able to find it sold in international grocery stores for ages, but only recently have we noticed it in regular grocery stores. Take a walk down the spice aisle and pick one up — McCormick makes a perfectly acceptable one or save a little money and go to the nearest international market. There’s also a variety of homemade versions online, Alton Brown has one that is especially good.
2 teaspoons neutral flavored oil
1 pound skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 large jalapeño, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1 1/2 teaspoons ancho chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups corn, fresh or frozen
4 (6-inch) corn tortillas, roughly chopped
6 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock, see our homemade chicken stock recipe
1 pound tomatoes, cored and finely chopped or 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
Juice of half a lime
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
1 lime, cut into wedges
1 avocado, diced
Crumbled or shredded cheese (queso fresco, Monterey jack or cheddar)
Crispy tortilla strips, see notes
Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
Rub chicken on both sides with salt and ancho chili powder.
Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add chicken thighs, skin-side-down and cook until the skin is golden brown, about 12 minutes. Transfer the chicken, skin-side-up, to the prepared baking sheet and roast until the chicken is cooked through; about 20 minutes.
Once roasted, transfer to a plate and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Sometimes the chicken skin can be a bit stubborn when you are removing it from the pan. If some is left stuck to the bottom of the pan, don’t worry. Scrape up the larger pieces and place them on top of the chicken thighs. Leave the smaller bits in the pot, they will be used in the soup.
When you are able, remove the skin from the chicken and shred the meat. Either discard the skin or save it as a topping for the soup.
While the chicken roasts in the oven you can make the soup. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of the chicken fat left in the pot from browning the chicken thighs then add the onions, celery, jalapeño, garlic, chili powder and cumin. Cook until the onions are soft, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the bay leaf, corn, chopped tortillas and the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, season to taste with salt and pepper and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Stir in the shredded chicken and the lime juice.
Just before serving the soup, turn the broiler to high then broil the chicken skin (if using) until crisp, about 1 minute. Cut into strips.
Divide the soup between bowls and top with cilantro an extra squeeze of lime, avocado, cheese, crispy tortilla strips and the reserved crispy chicken skin.