Soothing Chicken Soup is Worth the Time


By Tracie McMillan • Feb. 16, 2007

My first attempt at chicken soup ended in an explosion. I was nine, and making a Laura Ingalls-inspired effort to nurse my pneumonia-stricken father to health. In keeping with the pioneer theme, I had grabbed an old-fashioned ceramic pot out of my mother’s china cabinet. It shattered in about five minutes, having endured the highest heat setting possible on the electric stovetop.

This particular experience illustrates several rules to keep in mind before undertaking the creation of your very own chicken soup. Nostalgia may well work against you. Though the end product will be pretty, the process is not. And while the work stops short of being complicated, it nonetheless attains the label of “time-consuming.”

“If you go in and make a soup to eat an hour later, it’s not going to be any good,” says Mike Donegan, owner of Stroud’s, a Kansas City, Missouri restaurant that’s won national accolades for its chicken soup.

Heed his advice. Good soup takes time, and it pays to accept this rather than try to cheat the clock. It’s a meditative task, best suited to a Sunday afternoon of housecleaning, not a last-minute dinner for the kids. (When you need the latter, and often you will, there is no shame in grabbing the actual canned stuff. Or, better yet, defrost a vat of homemade broth you’ve frozen for just such an occasion.)

If you’ve got the time to make your own chicken soup, the bulk of the time will be spent manufacturing the most important ingredient: the broth.

Here, you want to aim for a time-honored trifecta: clear, flavorful and not too salty. While many cooks fret over frequent skimming of the scummy foam that inevitably rises to the top — a time-intensive process, but one which keeps the broth from clouding with fats and proteins — chef Tom Colicchio’s “Think Like a Chef” offers an easy way to avoid spending half the day hovering over the stove. Simply bring the chicken and water to a rolling boil, let it boil steadily for about 3 minutes, and dump the contents into a strainer. (Do not let it boil too hard or too long, however; the foam will disintegrate into the broth, clouding both its appearance and flavor.) Rinse the chicken and the pot, then cover the chicken with water and bring to a mild simmer, adding the vegetables and spices required by your recipe.


Begin with the basics

Among the simplest of American stalwarts, chicken noodle soup relies on a handful of traditional ingredients — chicken, celery, carrots, onion, semolina pasta, salt and pepper.

That doesn’t mean you can’t experiment beyond our borders; chicken soups can be found in most any cuisine, from rich Thai coconut chicken soup to light Latin American fare with cilantro and scallions. Still, since the American version draws on ingredients almost always found on hand, and offers a familiar refuge from winter, your best bet is to start off with the basics. “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it,” says Donagan.

You can pare down the soup’s cooking time by using commercially produced broth, but be mindful that it can pack a saline kick, and its flavor often falls flat.

“The only problem with canned chicken stock is it’s kind of salty so if you do it long time, it concentrates,” says Chris Gesualdi, an instructor at Manhattan’s Institute for Culinary Education and a former executive chef at New York’s famed Montrachet.

Gesualdi suggests diluting canned chicken stock with water at a 1:1 ratio; others make do with a low-sodium broth. It also pays off to take a cue from Julia Child and doctor your storebought shortcut with a little white wine, diced vegetables and fresh herbs.

From there, the going gets much, much easier — and the nostalgia can kick into high gear, now that the serious work is done. Throw your chicken into a pot with the stock and herbs.

It’s good to use chicken that is still on the bone, as the bones impart a great deal of flavor, and it’s best to use a whole chicken, which will include the neck. Just make sure to leave out the heart and liver, which can impart an unwelcome bitterness. Taste as you go, adjust seasonings accordingly, and keep the pot at a (excruciatingly) slow simmer.

“You want the chicken to cook slowly so it doesn’t lose its liquid, and doesn’t toughen up,” says Gesualdi.

Once the chicken is cooked, you add in vegetables and pasta, timing it to avoid turning either to mush. Easy to do — and if you do it right, you’ll end up with a hearty, humble bowl steaming chicken aromas through the house.

“Keep things simple,” says Gesualdi. “’Cause you can’t beat good, basic chicken soup.”


Perfect Chicken Noodle Soup

* 16 cups (4 quarts) chicken stock (recipe below)

* 1 whole chicken, including neck but excluding heart, liver and gizzards  OR 4 pounds chicken parts, with bones

* 3 large carrots, scrubbed and sliced into coins

* 2 ribs celery, coarsely sliced (optional, omit if you do not like celery)

* 1 onion, coarsely chopped

* 1 bouquet garni: one sprig fresh thyme (or ¼ t. dried), one bay leaf, 5 black peppercorns, 4 sprigs parsley. 2 unpeeled garlic cloves, tied into a ball in cheesecloth.

* ½ pound dried egg noodles



1. Place chicken in tall, narrow soup pot and add stock and bouquet garni.

2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, turn heat to low, so that liquid is at a low simmer, barely bubbling.

3. Let chicken cook until meat is falling from the bones, about one hour.

4. Remove chicken to a platter.

5. Turn heat up, so that broth is simmering strongly. Add vegetables to broth and cook for about 10-15 minutes. Taste broth and add seasoning to taste.

6. Add dried pasta, stirring well to make sure it is broken up.

7. Cook until pasta is al-dente and vegetables are soft, about 10-15 more minutes. Remove bouquet garni.

8. While pasta cooks, shred chicken off the bones. It is easiest to do this by tearing with the grain of the flesh.

9. When pasta is cooked, add chicken to broth.

10. Cook until chicken is reheated.

11. Serve in wide, shallow bowls, with crusty bread and/or oyster crackers and saltines.


Chris Gesualdi’s Chicken Noodle Soup

* 2 whole chickens

* 3 Tbsp salt

* 8 qts chicken stock

* 1 sachet d’epices: thyme, bay leaf, parsley, cilantro, tarragon and peppercorns,   tied in a piece of cheesecloth

* 4 cups carrots, small dice

* 4 cups peeled celery, small dice

* 1 Tbsp minced garlic

* 1 lb linguini, broken into fourths



1. Place chickens, salt, chicken stock and sachet into a large soup pot

2. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer

3. Simmer for 1 hour

4. Remove chickens, place on resting rack to cool

5. When chickens are cooled, remove skin and fat and pull all meat off the bones, set chicken meat aside

6. Add carrots, celery and garlic to liquid and bring to a boil

7. Break linguini in quarter lengths and add to liquid

8. Simmer broth until pasta is cooked

9. When pasta is fully cooked, add chicken meat back to broth to heat through

10. Season with salt and pepper

11. Garnish with 3 Tbsp chopped parsley. Serve .


Perfect Homemade Chicken Stock

Loosely based on recipes from “The Zuni Café Cookbook,” “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” and “The Joy of Cooking.”

* 1 whole, 5 lb, chicken, skin on, or 5 pounds chicken parts

* 32 cups (8 quarts) cold water (make sure it is cold)

* 1 medium carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped

* 1 medium onion, preferably yellow, coarsely chopped

* 1 celery rib, coarsely chopped

* 1 t. salt or to taste

* 1 bouquet garni: one sprig fresh thyme (or ¼ t. dried), one bay leaf, 5 black peppercorns, 4 sprigs parsley. 2 unpeeled garlic cloves, tied into a ball in cheesecloth.


1. Place chicken and half of the water only in a pot, and cook over high heat until pot comes to a soft boil. Foam and scum will to rise to the surface as the pot heats up. To keep the scum from dissolving, you must not let the pot boil vigorously. Once the pot is boiling, stir it once, to bring trapped scum to rise to surface, and let it boil for about 3 minutes.

2. Place a metal colander in the sink. Empty the pot into the colander. Rinse the chicken and rinse out the pot thoroughly.

3. Place chicken and remaining water, along with the rest of the ingredients, into the pot. Over medium-high heat, and without stirring, bring to a very soft simmer, and reduce heat to medium-low. Just a bubble or two should rise to the surface at a time.

4. Without stirring or covering, simmer stock for about 1 ½ – 2 hours. Taste occasionally; if the stock is too concentrated, add water, ½ cup at a time.

5. Remove the chicken from the pot and cool enough that you can handle the carcass. Remove all meat from the chicken and set aside for soup. Return bones to the pot.

6. Simmer stock, tasting often, until you are satisfied with the flavor. Skim off fat, using either a slotted spoon or by passing a papper towel lightly over the broth’s surface. Remove from heat.

7. Place a fine strainer over another large pot or bowl. Carefully pour stock through strainer.

8. Stock will keep in refrigerator for about 3 days. It is often a good idea to freeze stock for later use; it will keep for about 3 months before getting freezer burn. When freezing stock, it is good to do so in a mix of large containers—32 ounce yogurt containers are my preferred vessel-for use in soups, and in ice cube trays for deglazing meats and fortifying other dishes.


Variation: Roast Chicken Stock

Clear, dark brown in color and with the rich flavor of roasting, this stock gives extra heft to soups.


Using same ingredients as in regular chicken stock, toss chicken and diced vegetables in a few tablespoons olive oil and roast in the oven at 350 degrees for one hour. Remove from oven and pour one cup of water over it, mixing around in pan to soak up juices and cracklings. Transfer to tall soup pot and proceed with regular instructions for stock.


Embellished Storebought Stock

Yes, homemade is better, but if time is of the essence, here’s an easy way to spruce up the canned stuff. While this still takes a half-hour, it’s considerably less than the two hours often required for a completely fresh stock. Based on suggestions from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” by Julia Child.


For every 2 cups (16 ounces) chicken broth, preferably low-sodium:

* 3 T. coarsely chopped onion

* 3 T. coarsely chopped celenry

* 3 T. coarsely chopped carrot

* 1/2 c. dry white wine or 1/3 c. dry white vermouth

* 3 sprigs parsley

* 1/3 bay leaf

* 1 black peppercorn

* Pinch of thyme


Simmer ingredients over medium heat for 30 minutes. Season to taste, then strain.




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