Caldo de pollo (Mexican Chicken Soup) tastes better than your favorite restaurant – or your favorite home kitchen!
Caldo de Pollo is a favorite Mexican Chicken Soup that is hearty, warm, comforting and tastes like its’ been simmering for hours but on your table in less than 60 minutes – most of that is hands off time! It is loaded with juicy, tender chicken, carrots, potatoes, celery, chayote, sweet corn, fire roasted tomatoes, tangy green chiles, aromatic onions and garlic infused with lime juice and cilantro. This Caldo de Pollo recipe stores and reheats beautifully, is freezer friendly and epically delicious. In short, it belongs on your table forever and ever.
What is a caldo de pollo?
Have you ever had the pleasure of devouring Caldo de Pollo or even heard of it? Caldo means “broth” while pollo means, “chicken,” so the literal translation is chicken broth.
Caldo de pollo, however, has come to mean a chicken broth-based soup loaded with chicken and vegetables often served over a bowl of rice. It is also commonly referred to as “sopa de caldo.” By whatever name, I couldn’t love it any more. Prepare to fall in love. And prepare to fall hard.
Caldo de Pollo Recipe
I didn’t know if I had room in my heart for more Mexican Soups. Between my Chicken Tortilla Soup, Mexican Chicken Corn Chowder, Chicken Fajita and Rice Soup, Cheesy Taco Soup, White Chicken Chili and Salsa Verde Chicken Tortilla Soup – I thought I had it covered. But I was SO wrong.
Caldo de Pollo occupies an entirely separate culinary arena than the aforementioned soups. It is distinguished from other Mexican Soups because it contains carrots, celery and potatoes that are thicker cut and a base of chicken broth instead of containing any cheese, cream, tomato sauce or enchilada sauce. The broth in this Caldo Soup looks red due to the juices in the diced tomatoes, but the liquid is all chicken broth.
The broth in authentic Caldo de Pollo is usually homemade and individual chicken pieces are often served whole in each serving bowl. But just like each region in Latin America has its own variation, Carlsbad Cravings has its own variation to make this recipe extra family friendly.
We are going to shortcut the broth and use store bought broth (you can certainly use homemade) and infuse it with layers of seasonings. We are going to shred the chicken (but you don’t have to) or you can shortcut further and use shredded rotisserie chicken. We are going to use corn kernels instead of half pieces of corn on the cob.
The resulting Mexican Chicken Soup is quick, and family friendly to eat. It tastes fresh due to the aromatic broth and veggies yet comforting due to the potatoes and chicken and just plain fabulous due to the layers of flavor. It seriously needs to become a staple in your home!
What Chicken for Caldo De Pollo?
Caldo de Pollo with Chicken Thighs
Authentic Caldo de Pollo recipes start with a whole chicken in order to make homemade chicken broth OR it uses chicken thighs and/or drumsticks.
I have stuck with traditional chicken thighs but don’t worry, we are using shortcut chicken broth so you don’t have to make your own – unless you want to, of course!
We are going to use bone-in chicken thighs because they produce the juiciest chicken you ever did taste and are hard to overcook and dry out. Bone-in chicken thighs also cook in the same amount of time as the vegetables, so they are super convenient. Just make sure you remove the skin from the chicken first otherwise your soup will be way too greasy.
Caldo de Pollo with Chicken Breasts
You may use chicken breasts in your Caldo de Pollo, but they are not as inherently juicy as chicken thighs, so just know that beforehand.
Sear the chicken breasts and simmer them with the vegetables just like you would the chicken thighs. Check the chicken breasts for doneness around 20 minutes.
Unlike chicken thighs, chicken breasts will become dry and tough if they are overcooked. The chicken breasts are done when they easily shred with a fork.
Caldo de Pollo with Rotisserie Chicken
The easiest shortcut in this recipe is to use shredded rotisserie chicken. You will need about 2 1/2 – 3 cups, depending on how “chunky” you like your soup. Add the already cooked chicken to the soup at the end of cooking with the cilantro and heat through.
What Ingredients for Caldo de Pollo?
There are many variations of Caldo de Pollo but chicken, carrots, potatoes and celery are a mainstay. Of course, this is YOUR Mexican Chicken Soup Recipe, so add whatever you want as long as you don’t skip the onions and garlic as those aromatics will be missed. The below is a combination of veggies I found highly satisfying and suggest:
- Onion: use a large yellow onion as other onions will be too sweet.
- Jalapeno: jalapeno adds a pop of flavor and a little kick but does not make this Mexican Chicken Soup overly spicy, in my opinion. I would omit the jalapeno if you want to make sure this soup is very kid friendly and then add cayenne or hot sauce to your individual servings. On the other hand, if you know you LOVE heat, then consider using 2 jalapeno peppers or even a serrano pepper. You can also omit the jalapeno pepper if you want one less item to chop and instead add cayenne pepper to taste.
- Carrots: chop the carrots into 1/2-inch thick slices. I cut the small ends of my carrots even thicker because they are so narrow.
- Potatoes: I use Yukon gold potatoes chopped into 1-inch chunks. You can also use red potatoes or any other waxy potato but don’t use russet potatoes because they are more likely to fall apart.
- Celery: chop the celery into 1/2-inch thick slices.
- Garlic: I use 6 garlic cloves but you can use more or less depending on your garlic love.
- Green chiles: use one 4 oz. can mild diced green chiles. They are not spicy, just add tangy flavor, just take care you get the MILD vs HOT. I have mistakenly purchased the hot diced green chiles before and they will knock your socks off!
- Fire roasted diced tomatoes: we add the tomatoes and their juices which is why the Mexican Chicken Soup is reddish. The tomatoes add a tangy, slightly sweet and smoky flavor. Fire roasted tomatoes are very common and can be located with the other canned tomatoes at your grocery store. If you can’t find them, then you can substitute regular diced tomatoes or even chopped Roma tomatoes.
- Chayote: Chayote is also known as mirliton squash of Mexican origin AKA the most delicious squash you have never heard of – you will LOVE it! They are pear or avocado in shape with a green skin. When cooked, chayote taste like a baby squash with a hint of sweet corn. I was able to easily find chayote at my local Sprouts (specialty produce store), so if you don’t spot them right away, make sure you ask someone before you give up. When buying chayotes, choose firm, unblemished vegetables – the harder the better. If you can’t find chayote, you may substitute baby squash or any squash you can find.
- Corn: Authentic Caldo de Pollo uses fresh corn on the cob cut in half or thirds which are added directly to the soup. You are welcome to use this method and add the corn 10 minutes after the soup has been simmering. I chose to use fresh corn as well but sliced the corn off the cob for convenience when eating – or slurping. So, you have three options: 1) corn on the cob, 2) corn off the cob, or drained and rinsed canned sweet corn.
- Lime juice: lime juice gets stirred directly into the finished Mexican Chicken Soup but you can also add more to taste to your own individual servings.
- Cilantro: also gets stirred directly into the soup to add a pop of earthy, zesty, citrus flavor.
What Seasonings for Caldo de Pollo?
This Caldo de Pollo recipe is seasoned with chili powder, ground cumin, dried oregano, ground coriander, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. It creates a dynamic, satisfying broth you will want to slurp with a straw.
When I was researching this recipe, I must have looked at least 20 different versions and not ONE had any seasonings! So, maybe seasonings are blasphemously unauthentic, but they are dynamically delicious and a MUST in my Mexican Chicken Soup recipe!
I was conservative with the salt, so if you think your soup is missing something, it is probably salt, so salt to taste at the end of cooking – but be sure to taste first!
HOW to Make Caldo De Pollo
Caldo de Pollo is very easy to make. Essentially, you sear the chicken, sauté the veggies then cook them all together in chicken broth with seasonings. How easy was that? Here is a step by step breakdown:
Step 1: Sear Chicken
Searing the chicken is crucial because it renders the fat, seals in the juices and develops flavor due to the Maillard reaction.
Step 2: Sauté Veggies
First, you’ll cook the onions and jalapeno pepper and then add in the potatoes, celery, carrots and all seasonings – you can see the flavor!
Step 3: Simmer
Add the chicken back to the pot along with tomatoes, green chiles and chicken broth and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and tender.
Cooking chicken this way in which it is covered and gently simmered until cooked through is known as poaching. The moist heat gently cooks the chicken and prevents it from overcooking too quickly so you get succulent, tender chicken every time. You will know the chicken is done when it easily pulls away from the bone.
Step 4: Add the Rest
Remove chicken from the pot to a cutting board and add chayote and corn to the pot and gently simmerer an additional 10 minutes or until the chayote is tender. Make sure you don’t overcook the chayote because you don’t want it to get mushy. It is better for it to be crisp-tender than mushy.
Step 5: Shred Chicken
While the veggies simmer for 10 additional minutes, remove the chicken from the bones and shred to the desired size. Alternatively, you can serve chicken pieces whole as traditionally done.
Step 6: Final Touches
Once the chayote is tender, stir in shredded chicken, lime juice and chopped cilantro and heat through. The lime juice will not make the soup taste sour, just fresh. You can use more or less cilantro which adds another layer of YUM.
Step 7: Serve
Ladle over bowls of rice (optional) and top with desired toppings. See below for a rundown of topping options that make this Caldo de Pollo exponentially more delicious – even when you didn’t think it was even possible.
TIPS FOR CALDO DE POLLO
- Prep Ahead. You can prep all your vegetables in advance and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for quick and easy dinner time. You will need to keep the potatoes submerged in water or else they will turn brown.
- Cook Time. The chicken cook time will depend on your pan, the size of your chicken and how good of sear you get. The vegetable cook time will depend on the actual size of your vegetables. If the chicken isn’t easy to pull of the bones, cook on. If the vegetables aren’t fork tender after you simmer with the chayote, cook on.
- Spice Level. One jalapeno, three teaspoons chili powder and ½ teaspoon pepper is slightly spicy. If you want it more kid friendly, omit the jalapeno, reduce the chili powder to 2 teaspoons and the pepper to ¼ teaspoon. You can taste at the end of cooking and either add additional chili powder, pepper or hot sauce to taste.
- Strain Fat: You can skim off any excess fat that rises to the top of the soup as it simmers.
- Make it less chunky. This Caldo de Pollo is definitely on the chunky side. For a less chunky soup, simply add additional chicken broth.
What Toppings for Caldo De Pollo?
Caldo de Pollo and all Mexican soups are just as much about the soup itself as the toppings! You can top your Mexican Chicken Soup with all or some of the following:
- Sour cream: adds a wonderful creaminess and compliments the robust, rich flavors. You can also use fat free sour cream or Greek yogurt.
- Cilantro: chopped cilantro adds a fresh, zesty flair.
- Radishes: a popular topping in some regions.
- Lime Juice: we already stir lime juice directly into the finished soup but you may want to garnish with more lime juice depending on how tangy you like you soup. It adds a fresh, tangy pop and enlivens the rest of the soup.
- Tortilla Strips or crushed tortilla chips: you can’t beat the texture of salty, crunchy chips!
- Avocado: avocados add a delightful earthy creaminess. I prefer chopped so I can get a bite of avocado in every spoonful. Guacamole is also fabulous.
- Pico de gallo: I love adding a spoonful of pico de gallo to all my Mexican soups. It adds a juicy fresh pop I love.
- Tomatoes: are the shortcut to pico de gallo and still add a juicy freshens.
- Hot Sauce: Add hot sauce to taste to add another layer of flavor.
- Cheese: while most Mexican Chicken Soups benefit from a healthy dose of cheese, I don’t feel like this Caldo de Pollo calls for any. If you want to add cheese, then I recommend queso fresco, or Monterrey as opposed to cheddar which I think won’t blend as well and may taste overpowering.
What Goes with Caldo De Pollo?
Caldo De Pollo is typically ladled over hot rice in a bowl and often served with tortillas. Rice adds another dimension of texture but is not a must. We also like to serve it with a big green salad, fruit salad, chips and salsa and churros!
Can I make Caldo De Pollo Ahead of TIme?
Caldo De Pollo tastes even better the next day so it is ideal for make ahead lunches or dinners! It doesn’t contain any pasta or rice, so you don’t have to worry about any of the ingredients becoming soggy or mushy.
When reheating, you may need to add additional water or broth as some of the liquid will be absorbed by the vegetables.
How long does caldo de pollo last in fridge?
Caldo de Pollo should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. When properly stored, it should last for 4-5 days in the refrigerator.
Can I freeze Caldo De Pollo?
Yes, you can freeze Caldo de Pollo but the texture of the potatoes may get a little grainy. To freeze:
- Cool. Cool Pollo de Caldo completely before freezing, this will help preserve the textural integrity of the ingredients.
- Package soup in a freezer safe container. You can use sandwich size plastic bags for individual soup portions, quart size bags or freezer bags. Take care to squeeze out any excess air to prevent against freezer burn.
- Label. Make sure to label your bags so it doesn’t’ become a freezer mystery. You also want to label so you can be sure to use your soup within 3 months.
- Freeze. Once the bag is solid you can lay it flat in a single layer so it’s stackable to save space.
- Defrost/Reheat. The easiest way to thaw your soup is in your refrigerator overnight then reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave.
Is Caldo De Pollo Healthy?
Caldo de Pollo is packed with chicken and nutritious vegetables which means it is full of protein, fiber, antioxidants, beta carotene, and potassium. It is dairy free, gluten free and grain free as well. For leaner Caldo de Pollo, use chicken breasts instead of chicken thighs. You may also customize the veggies with your favorites.
Looking for More Mexican Recipes?
- Cilantro Lime Shrimp Tacos
- Creamy Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas
- Tacos Al Pastor
- Mexican Rice
- Southwest Egg Rolls
- Slow Cooker Carnitas
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