Rancho Lewis’s Chicken Tortilla Soup

Charleston pitmaster John Lewis takes on a Tex-Mex classic

A bowl of chicken tortilla soup


Pitmaster John Lewis is best known for the Texas-style barbecue he introduced to South Carolina at his eponymous restaurant, but his roots also shine at his other Charleston eatery, Rancho Lewis. Besides enchiladas with red-and-green sauces, a popular offering at the Tex-Mex spot is the chicken tortilla soup, which Lewis says reminds him of his childhood in El Paso. “It’s both light and comforting, with tons of flavor and texture,” he says. “Our secret ingredients are Knorr granulated chicken bouillon, which gives it a great umami kick, and chopped Hatch green chiles, a staple ingredient in our kitchen.” Though the soup is relatively simple to assemble, Lewis recommends giving it plenty of time to simmer, further enhancing its depth of flavor. 

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  • Rancho Lewis’s Chicken Tortilla Soup (About 4 servings)

    • 2 quarts water

    • 2 tbsp. Knorr granulated chicken bouillon

    • 1 large chicken breast (about 10 oz.)

    • ¼ cup canola oil

    • 8 fresh corn tortillas, sliced into large strips

    • 3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

    • 2 medium plum tomatoes, 1-inch dice

    • 1 tsp. chipotle powder

    • 1 tbsp. paprika

    • 2 cans chopped Hatch green chile (8 oz. total)

    • 2 large tomatillos, 1-inch dice

    • 2 large limes, juiced (about 4 oz.of juice)

    • Salt to taste

    • 2 cups crispy fried tortilla strips

    • ¼ cup sliced green onions

    • ¼ cup chopped cilantro


  1. Combine water, chicken bouillon, and chicken breast in a tall, straight-sided sauce pot. Gently simmer until fork tender, about 90 minutes. Then allow chicken breast to rest in the stock for about an hour to cool. You should have around 5 cups of stock remaining. Bring amount to 5 cups with water if needed. 

  2. In a large sauté pan, heat canola oil over medium-high heat. Add sliced corn tortillas and fry until crisp and lightly browned around the edges. Turn heat down to medium, add garlic, and continue frying until gently toasted and lightly browned around the edges. Add chopped tomatoes and cook until broken down. Use a wooden spoon to mash while cooking for about 2 to 3 minutes.  Add chipotle powder and paprika and stir in. Do not burn the spices, just roast for about 5 to10 seconds until aromatic. Add hatch chiles. Cook for 5 minutes to combine and turn off the heat. 

  3. In a small pot, cook diced tomatillos with a splash of water over medium-low heat for 8 to 12 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to mash and break up while cooking. 

  4. Remove chicken breast from stock and shred with two forks. Continue shredding until the meat fibers are pulled down to individual strands. Combine shredded chicken breast and stewed tomatillo and mix well. Adjust seasoning with a pinch of salt 

  5. Combine chicken stock and cooked-down tortilla strips. Cook until tortilla strips are completely softened. 

  6. Blend until homogenous. Adjust seasoning to taste with lime juice and salt. 

  7. To serve: Portion the shredded chicken into pre-warmed soup bowls. Pour over hot soup. Garnish with chopped cilantro, sliced green onion, and a small handful of crispy tortilla strips.