Bobby Flay's Tip For Easily Thickening Tortilla Soup

Celebrity chef Bobby Flay has been a huge part of the American food scene for decades. He might be the most visible chef of his generation, having been inspired by culinary icons like Jonathan Waxman, Wolfgang Puck, and Jeremiah Tower.

His Mesa Grill restaurants brought him to prominence and his Grillin' & Chillin' show brought his take on American Southwestern cuisine into our homes. He made his dishes approachable for home cooks in his more than a dozen cookbooks. As his restaurant empire grew and he became a Food Network staple with "Beat Bobby Flay" and as an "Iron Chef," his innovative takes on classic recipes became a highlight.

Chef Flay knows what's good and won't abandon dishes and techniques that he still believes in. For example, chicken tortilla soup was a mainstay at his first restaurant, Mesa Grill. Decades later, a version remains on that menu at his Las Vegas location. As the soup has become ubiquitous enough for Chick-fil-A to offer a rendition, it's doubtful his appreciation for this classic dish will waver.

Pureed chiles easily thicken tortilla soup

Bobby Flay's Instagram recently posted a recipe for tortilla soup with avocado relish, which includes one crucial step that makes a huge difference. His technique for adding a chile paste does double duty as a vehicle for big flavor, while also serving as a thickening agent. A dried ancho chile gets re-hydrated in hot water for 15 minutes, and once it's pliable, it's pureed in a food processor, with some of the soaking liquid, until a paste forms. Adding this to the broth brings all of that great heat and flavor, but as this simmers, it also helps thicken the broth.

While Flay uses a mild ancho chile that even beginners can tolerate, any dried chile would work. For the heat-inclined and curious, Spices Inc explains the bevy of dried chiles you could use to customize your tortilla soup. They recommend removing the seeds prior to using dried chiles as this will reduce the heat potency, while also eliminating the bitter flavor that the seeds bring. 

For an extra bit of thickening that won't bring more chile spice, you can puree some tortillas into the soup. The New York Times adds most of the tortillas to the broth, then blends it till smooth, before adding the chicken, and other garnishes. The result is "like a light bisque."

Tortilla soup is as simple as it is satisfying

Bobby Flay's admiration for tortilla soup is extremely sound. "It's a soup, but I really think of it as a light dinner, or as a light lunch," Flay said. "It's a whole meal." And he's right, it's a simple way to elevate what's really just "a really flavorful chicken soup."

As it stands, there's no shortage of chicken tortilla soup recipes, however, they all tend to follow the same basic outline. Sweat some aromatics, then add chicken broth, chiles, and other common additions, like tomatoes and chicken. Let all of that simmer for 30 minutes and voila. Flay's variation is another in a delicious long line, and you can even combine recipes, too.

From there, it's time to garnish and this is where tortilla soup really shines. Tortilla chips are a must. Flay's version uses cilantro sprigs, a melty cheese, like Monterey Jack, and a salty, hard cheese, like cotija. He also uses "avocado relish," which is just a clever name for guacamole, but he admits that diced avocado will suffice just fine. Red onion and sour cream are other common toppings.

Feel free to get creative, though. For instance, fresh corn helps bring pops of sweetness. You could even use your own custom chile blend, or add some dried Mexican oregano for a bump of herbal earthiness. Some cumin would be great, while skipping the chicken and using a vegetable broth creates a hearty vegetarian meal. Either way, it's delicious.