Let's face it—too many bowls of chicken soup are insipid, one-note dishes where everything takes like bad supermarket chicken stock, including the noodles, the carrots and even the chicken itself. Based on our travels around the world, from Mexico to Georgia, however, we have found recipes for homemade chicken soup that are fabulous. Think recipes that are as varied as the cuisines that inspired them, from Ginger Chicken and Bok Choy Soup to Somali Chicken Soup.
The secret? Well, there are six of them. We’ve pulled out a handful of golden rules that form the building blocks for the best chicken soup you can make. Whatever direction you choose, follow our basic chicken soup blueprint and tell us if you don’t end up with the best bowl around.
Build broth from water, not store-bought stock. One of our favorite Milk Street Basics is using water, instead of store bought stock, to make broth. Whether you’re using broth to cook grains or form a soup, if you add enough herbs, aromatics, and, yes, chicken, you’ll end up with a broth that has infinitely more flavor than anything you buy in the store, and one that is cleaner and brighter. When it comes to making chicken soup, you’ve got all the ingredients right there.
Be sure to use bone-in, skin-on chicken over boneless, skinless breasts. Bones and skin are essential for contributing flavor to the broth
Add water in stages so that the meat cooks evenly. If you’re making soup with a whole bird, follow Nimco Mahamud-Hassan’s lead. In her maraq cad (Somali for clear soup), she cuts the chicken at the thighs and folds them under the breasts before adding water in two stages—first 2 cups, then another 6 after 10 minutes’ time. This allows the dark meat to cook longer than the white meat, which prevents it from overcooking and drying out.
Poach a whole head of garlic for a rich, sweet background. instead of crushing or mincing cloves, slice the top off a head of garlic and drop the whole thing, skin and all, into the pot. The garlic will cook slowly, adding a rich, sweet background to the soup, instead of the pungent bite that smashed cloves can impart. It’s another one of our favorite Milk Street Basics.
Season broth liberally with whole spices and herbs—especially the stems. Forget the days of a few sprigs of thyme or a delicately assembled bouquet garni. Here at Milk Street, we prefer to add fistfuls of herbs and whole spices to season our soup. Remember that the stems are a great way to add flavor while using up part of the herb that would otherwise go to waste.
Add garnishes—fresh herbs, strips of raw cabbage, fried shallots—at the end. Once the soup has cooked, the finishes touches make all the difference. Have your garnishes at the ready, and don't hold back.
With these cooking tips in mind, try your hand at one of our great chicken soup recipes: