How to Make the Perfect Chicken Soup, According to Chefs

It’s tough to imagine a more comforting and warming dish than a big bowl of chicken soup. This meal is a staple of both snow days and sick days for good reason: It’s nourishing, satisfying, and evokes any number of nostalgic memories and positive associations.

From a culinary perspective, chicken soup proves an ideal canvas for customization. Both professional and amateur chefs can draw inspiration from a plethora of international recipes and can add and subtract spices, herbs, and other flavor agents to suit their own flavor preferences. If you’re ready to give this comfort-food MVP a try in your own kitchen, consider the following chef-approved chicken soup advice.

Use chicken soup as a vehicle for leftovers.

After making a roast chicken dinner, you’ll likely find yourself with plenty of leftovers, including a full chicken carcass. Rather than dumping these bones in the trash, you can repurpose them in a chicken soup recipe, as explained by chef/co-owner Lisabet Summa of Big Time Restaurant Group in South Florida:

“Chicken soup is always a leftover meal for me. I make an organic roasted chicken for dinner then I take the bones and skin and make chicken stock. I pull off all the meat that’s left and that’s going to go in the soup at the very end. Then, in a very big pot on the stove, I cover all the bones and add the gelatin from the roasting pan–all that gets covered with three inches of water. To that I add all the vegetable peelings from the vegetables, carrots, onions, and celery that was roasted with the chicken and dice them all, using the peel from the carrot, onion and the bottom of the celery and stems of parsley — all that goes into the stock. It’s full utilization — we’re using all the scraps and trimmings. Bring it to a boil, turn it all the way day and simmer the stock for two hours. Add water if needed. Strain the stock and throw out the bones and vegetables.  Then, freeze the stock or continue on to make soup. The stock is like gold to me. I can always make dinner if I have organic chicken stock in the fridge.”

chicken soup stock vegetables pot
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Make your own stock from scratch

Culinary professionals typically agree with Summa that the stock used for chicken soup should always be made from scratch, if at all possible. “Since so much of the flavor and richness of chicken soup comes from the stock itself, don’t skimp on the stock and use store-bought,” cautions chef and cookbook author Amanda Frederickson. Like Summa, Frederickson prefers to use a leftover roast-chicken carcass for her homemade stock, and she specifically recommends recycling the bones of a rotisserie chicken for this purpose.

Chef Jeff Mattia of Pyre Provisions in Covington, LA likes to add a “secret weapon” to his chicken broth: chicken feet. “Using chicken feet in the broth adds some gelatin, creating a nice mouthfeel that [boosts] the broth’s richness,” Mattia tells us.

Have fun with fresh herbs and seeds

A homemade chicken soup owes its unique personality to its blend of seasonings and mix-in ingredients, and restaurant consultant Joey Elenterio of French Fries & Caviar Consulting urges home cooks to play around with fresh herbs: “At-home cooks tend to skimp on the usage of fresh herbs. Never underestimate the power of a fresh handful of parsley leaves in your chicken noodle soup or a fresh chop of cilantro in a chicken tortilla soup or chicken pho. Speaking of cilantro, don’t throw away all of you stems. They have a great flavor and give a really nice fresh texture when sliced thin and used as a garnish.”

If you want to add both a hint of flavor and a pleasant textural contrast to your soup, think about incorporating toasted seeds or nuts. “Seeds add a lot of complexity to a seemingly simple chicken soup. I love to add freshly toasted pine nuts to my chicken stews or freshly toasted pumpkin seeds to my chicken tortilla. I have also been known to use toasted flax seeds and sesame seeds [in my soups],” Elenterio advises.

Add a bit of acid to your soup right before you serve.

Especially if you’re using freshly made bone broth, chicken soup involves a richness that can easily overwhelm. For that reason, an ingredient that will bring some tang provides a valuable change of pace, and recipe developer Jessica Formicola of Savory Experiments has a clear plan for such scenarios: “One of my biggest tips for the perfect bowl of any soup, especially chicken noodle, is adding just a tablespoon of something acidic right before serving. This brightens any broth. Different types of vinegar like champagne vinegar, apple cider, or just plain white vinegar work, as well as citrus [elements]  like lemon or lime juice.”

Mix up your winter cooking repertoire with these savory chicken soup styles:

Chinese Mongolian “Hot Pot”

The northern Chinese and Mongolian specialty known as “hot pot” differs from a typical soup in that it’s a semi-DIY process for diners. This dish involves a pot of soup (often chicken broth) and an array of accouterments like meats, veggies, and noodles, all placed on a table. Then, those partaking of the hot pot can add ingredients and flavor agents to the soup until it suits their liking.

Owner Peter Yang of Mongolian Hot Pot in San Diego encourages chicken soup enthusiasts to give hot pot a whirl, telling us that “each hot pot is customizable with protein additions, such as thinly sliced chicken. When it comes to achieving a flavorful broth, timing is key. A tip for achieving a silky, thick broth is the boiling time; we allow it to boil for a minimum of 8 hours under a strong flame, using only chicken bones — the timing allows the broth to completely [embrace] the flavor of the chicken base.”

Chicken Tortilla Soup

One of Mexico’s signature soups, chicken tortilla soup utilizes a chicken broth fortified with tomatoes, peppers, and spices. Mix-ins include cooked chicken and the dish’s namesake ingredient, corn tortillas, cut into strips and stirred into the soup. “Mexican chicken soup is a classic dish during the winter. The trick to making the perfect soup, though, is homemade chicken broth and large chunks of fresh vegetables. Everything goes into the pot — Mexican squash, jalapeño, lime juice, even whole pieces of corn. So satisfying and so comforting,” says chef and blogger Maggie Unzueta of Mama Maggie’s Kitchen.

tortilla soup chicken
Inti St. Clair/Getty Images

Knoephla

Knoephla is essentially a German version of chicken and dumplings, and it’s a soup that evokes pleasant childhood memories for chef and blogger Ben Myhre of Ramshackle Pantry, who says that “my all-time favorite is a German dish called Knoephla. It is creamy and buttery with a chicken stock base and delicious dumplings to go along with it. This is a dish I made with my grandmother and [that I] regularly serve now. It is a great comfort soup for winter days, [because it’s] full of all the tasty stuff.”

Chicken Tortellini en Brodo

In Italian, “en brodo” translates to “in broth,” and pasta aficionados will find plenty to love about a soup focused on plush, stuffed tortellini floating in a luxurious chicken broth. Executive chef Ethan McKee of Urbana in Washington, D.C. tells us that “one of my favorite chicken soups is chicken tortellini en brodo [with] smoked chicken. The tortellini are filled with chopped smoked chicken, Parmesan cheese, and egg. The tortellini are then cooked in a rich chicken broth made from the smoked chicken bones and the rinds of Parmesan. The soup is garnished with freshly grated Parmesan, chopped parsley, and chives. This soup is an American twist on a classic soup served in northern Italy for the holidays.”

Read on for two chicken soup recipes to try at home this season:

Pumpkin-Ginger Chicken Soup Recipe

Pumpkin Ginger Chicken Soup Recipe Savory Spin
Savory Spin

(Created by Shashi Charles, culinary blogger/recipe developer, Savory Spin)

Chicken soup gets a makeover with pumpkin and ginger, making this a delicious and healthy meal with some crusty bread (especially after a long, cold day),” Shashi Charles says of her flavorful, aromatic chicken soup variation.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 chicken breasts (1.14 lbs)
  • 2 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • 6 cups chicken bone broth 
  • 1 15-oz can pumpkin
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • .5 tsp cumin
  • .25 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 c coconut milk
  • 1 c frozen green peas
  • 1 c frozen spinach

Method:

  1. Remove skin from onions and chop them well. Also, smash, skin and chop garlic cloves.
  2. Add oil to pot over medium heat and add chopped onions and garlic to pot. Let sauté for about 10 minutes, stirring often.
  3. Cube chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces. Add chicken into sautéing onions and garlic and let cook for about 5 minutes. Stir chicken and sauté for another 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add ginger, pumpkin, bone broth, coriander, turmeric, chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper and cover pot. Lower heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.
  5. Defrost spinach and peas and add to pot until warmed through. Stir in coconut milk. Remove from heat and serve.

White Chicken Chili Recipe

White Chicken Chili Recipe Chef David Santos
David Santos

(Created by David Santos, chef, Um Segredo Supper Club, New York City)

While some purists don’t consider chilis and stews part of the soup category, they can GTFO. They’re eaten with a spoon, they have some broth, they’re beyond comforting — sounds like soup to us. Chef David Santos agrees with our viewpoint, asserting that “my preferred chicken soup for winter is something hearty and unexpected, like white chicken chili. This recipe is so flavorful, and you can top it in so many different ways. Plus, it’s full of wholesome, healthful ingredients that keep you going on those cold winter days!”

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1 gal water
  • 1 lb dry white beans
  • 1 oz chicken schmaltz or vegetable oil
  • 1 lb diced onions
  • 5 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 lb diced poblanos
  • 4 oz diced  jalapeños
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp ground oregano
  • 1 bunch chopped cilantro
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Method:

  1. The night before cooking, soak the beans in cold water at room temperature and leave out overnight.
  2. The following day, place the chicken and water in a pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 hour.
  3. Gently remove the chicken from the water and set it aside to cool in the fridge.
  4. Strain the stock and reserve.
  5. Strain the.soaked beans, then put them and the reserved chicken stock in a pot. Sprinkle with salt and cook the beans gently until tender.
  6. Once the beans are tender, remove half of them from the pot and reserve.
  7. With an immersion blender, puree the remaining beans with their liquid.
  8. In another pot, sauté the onions and garlic in chicken fat until tender, but not browned. 
  9. Add spices and peppers and sweat again for 3–5 minutes.
  10. Add in the pureed bean mix and bring to a gentle simmer.
  11. Add back the reserved beans and cook for 15–20 minutes.Taste for seasoning throughout and adjust accordingly.
  12. Pick the meat off of the bones of the cooked and cooled chicken.
  13. Add the pulled chicken meat and cilantro to the pot and stir to combine.
  14. Serve in bowls and garnish with sour cream, cheese, and/or tortilla chips.

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