There is nothing wrong with your standard can of chicken noodle soup.
You know what you’re getting when you pour that stuff into your microwave-safe bowl. Broth. Salt. Chicken-ish bits. Noodles the texture of steamed wontons that nourish and satisfy, kinda. Post-snowman-building soup. Pre-NyQuil-drinking soup. It is what it is.
But – as anyone who’s made their own will tell you – chicken noodle soup can be so, so much better. And stupidly easy, too, once you get the hang of it.
First, make your stock (if you want, and you should)
Look. I’m not gonna tell you NOT to use store-bought chicken broth. But making and using your own stock pays dividends down the line, beyond the scope of this recipe; you’ll have plenty of leftover cooked chicken and stock ready for other dishes, and, well, homemade stock just tastes better – often, dramatically so. It’s usually richer (and, depending on how you like things, fattier.) It tastes less like old stewed vegetables and chicken elbows and more like an afternoon in your grandmother’s kitchen. And, except for the cooking time, it requires very little work. So if you don’t already have some of this stuff chilling in your fridge or freezer, proceed as follows:
- 1 4-pound(ish) chicken, cut into pieces (either buy a chicken and cut it up yourself or ask your butcher or grocery store’s meat department to cut it up for you)
- 1 biggish onion, cut into large slices
- 1 large carrot, chunked up
- 1 celery stalk, similarly chunked
- 4 garlic cloves, whole
- 2 bay leaves
- salt and pepper
1. Put all the ingredients into a big pot and add 16 cups of water. Lid that sucker up and bring it to a boil.
2. Once you’ve got a boil going, turn the heat down and remove the lid so you have a quiet, barely burbling simmer – I’d go down to your burner’s lowest setting, for as little as 30 minutes, or as long as 2 hours. Remember – the longer you go, the more of the connective tissue from the chicken will render into the stock, giving you even more velvety goodness.
3. Turn off the burner, and using a slotted spoon or tongs or whatever, pull the chicken and other stuff out and set aside to cool. Separate the chicken from the bones and vegetation, shred the chicken by hand, and save to use in whatever else you can think of (including the rest of this recipe.) Add salt and pepper to stock. Use, or store.
Additional, optional steps to take, if desired:
— pour stock through a fine-mesh sieve. You’ll remove some of the floaty bits and give your stock a cleaner, clearer look.
— cool your stock a bit and skim off some (but not all) of the fat from the top. You want to leave some of that tasty goodness in there, right?
Second: while the stock is going, cook up your noodles (or rice, or farro, or whatever)
What you decide to go with here is entirely up to you – though I’m suggesting you cook your noodles or grains for your soup separately, and not in the soup itself as some would suggest, reducing the cook time just enough to where your pasta or quinoa is just barely underdone. This gives you fully cooked but still firm and toothsome noodles once the soup is all put together – and, if you’re anything like me, provides extra noodles (tossed with a little oil and stored in the fridge) that you can add to another batch of soup that you’ll invariably make, now that you’ve got all that extra broth.
Third: assemble your goodies and MAKE YOUR SOUP.
This is the really fun part.
What else should be floating next to those noodles? Celery and carrots are always a good choice, and I ALWAYS add sliced shiitakes to my chicken soup – you get some deep, low notes in the broth. But really, just about anything goes. Add any, or all of the following, or whatever else works for you:
- a handful of whole garlic cloves
- minced ginger
- sliced jalapeños
- sliced fennel (for some funk and crunch)
- thinly sliced bok choy
- pear or apple slivers
- lemongrass and star anise (yes, lemongrass. IT’S REALLY EASY.)
- chopped broccolini
- pea pods
- cooked, diced potato
- cooked, diced parsnip
You probably have almost everything you need to make a delicious batch of chicken soup in your fridge and pantry right now. And what you don’t have is easily picked up on the way home from work.
And bringing this all together couldn’t be simpler:
- Bring 1.5 cups of broth for every serving to a near-boil in a large pot. Turn heat all the way down until you get a very low simmer going. Stir in whatever goodies you’ve decided on, and cook for about 15-30 minutes.
- Stir in however much of the shredded chicken you want (just eyeball it – about a cup for four servings is fine, I guess, but I’d use more) and the noodles/grains (again, eyeball it – a big handful will do) and heat through, about 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper and whatever other seasonings you’d like now. (If you don’t have any precooked chicken, add in some chopped-up raw stuff and extend heating time to 8-12 minutes.)
- Top with some fresh herbs and serve (if you’ve gone the Asian route with your goodies, you might quarter up a lime and serve it alongside.)
And what you get looks a hell of a lot better than anything that’s ever come out of a can.
Honestly, once you’ve got the stock and the chicken part down, you can just wing it. After a few tries, you’ll be improv-ing in the produce aisle and whipping up magical, chickeny, noodly elixirs like a FRICKING WIZARD.
Do right by yourself, and your family and friends this fall. Leave the red and white can on the shelf. And have some fun.