Because the canned stuff is for the birds.
Chicken soup, homemade from scratch, makes both a perfect meal, and a nourishing, mandatory staple for sick days. This is the my favorite homemade chicken soup recipe ever, honed from my grandmother’s recipe.
Homemade chicken soup tastes entirely different from the shelf-stable canned variety. Canned chicken soup tastes mostly like sadness and yellow salt water mixed with some gummy little shapes that were once pasta and vegetables. This homemade chicken soup, however, tastes fresh and nourishing. Because it is.
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Homemade Chicken Soup: Recipe Notes
To make this truly fabulous, make the homemade stock first. Use a whole roasting chicken, and let the stock simmer for at least a few hours on low. If you can simmer it for longer, great. This takes a lot of time, of course, but the stock essentially cooks itself, so you are free to do something else. (While I do not officially advocate leaving the house with the stove on, I may or may not regularly do this when I make chicken stock.)
Once the stock is strained, it gets returned to the pot, and new vegetables are cooked with the chicken to make the finished soup. This second phase takes only about 20 to 30 minutes.
This recipe yields a nice, big pot of soup, full of chunky vegetables and chicken, the broth golden and softly fragrant from herbs like thyme and bay. Enjoy it as a meal on its own, or with a sandwich or salad.
And make sure to freeze some for later: Chicken soup really does help fight illness, and no one who comes down with a cold or flu wants to suddenly start chopping carrots and yanking giblets from a raw chicken cavity. Better to just hit “defrost” and hit the couch under under a blanket.
Do you like homemade chicken soup when you’re sick? What’s your remedy?
The Ultimate Homemade Chicken Soup
For the Chicken Stock
- 1 5-pound roasting chicken, giblets and innards removed from cavity
- 4 large carrots, peeled and ends trimmed off
- 1 medium onion, halved and root end trimmed off
- 4 stalks celery, ends trimmed off
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 sprigs fresh, flat-leaf Italian parsley
For the Finished Soup
- 4 large carrots, peeled and diced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 4 stalks celery, diced
- 1 cup frozen chopped spinach, or 3 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped (optional)
- 1 tablespoon Kosher salt, or to taste
- 12 turns fresh-cracked black pepper
- Meat from the whole chicken used in the stock
- 8 ounces small pasta, such as ditalini, pastina, or orzo, or cooked rice
- Chopped parsley and dill, to garnish
For the Chicken Stock
- Place the whole chicken, whole peeled carrots, celery stalks, onion halves, thyme, parsley, and bay leaves in a large stock pot. PRO TIP: Leave on the onion skin. It will make the stock a darker golden color.
- Add enough cold water to just barely cover the chicken, but make sure there is still an inch of space between the water and the rim of the pot. If part of the chicken is still not covered, that's ok. In my pot, this is about 2 1/2 quarts of water.
- Bring the pot to a boil, then immediately lower to a very gentle simmer. Let simmer, covered, for three to four hours, and maybe a little longer. Do not stir during this time, and make sure that the broth is not boiling. There should only be small, steady bubbles. (This is a nice window to chop and prep your vegetables for the finished soup.)PRO TIP: Boiling the stock will make the broth cloudy and muddied with impurities. Allowing it to cook at a gentle simmer allows the small bits to settle during cooking. This will make the finished stock clear.
- Turn the soup off. Using a large slotted spoon, hand-held strainer, or whatever makes sense to you (I use a 7-inch spider like this), gently lift the whole chicken from the pot and place it in a large bowl. Set aside to cool a bit. Gently remove the carrots, celery, and herbs. Discard.PRO TIP: Why can't you incorporate those vegetables into the finished soup? Because the cooking process has exhausted all of the flavor and nutrients, and the texture of the celery and onions is now far too soft to be appetizing.
- Gently ladle -- do not pour -- the stock, one ladle at a time, through a fine mesh strainer into a large, clean bowl or pot. When you get to the bottom of the pot, you will notice a lot of sediment. Tilt the pot on an angle to ladle as much stock as you can while avoiding the sediment, but you will have to discard the stock at the very bottom.
For the Finished Soup
- Rinse out the original stock pot and return the strained stock to the pot. Add the fresh carrots, celery, and onion and bring to a boil. Lower to a steady simmer and cook, partially covered, for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened.
- While the vegetables are cooking, and when cool enough to handle, use your fingers to pull the meat off of the chicken and break it as necessary into big, bite-sized chunks. Be sure to get the leg meat, thighs, breasts, and wings. There is also meat on the back of the chicken. You should end up with a nice mound of meat. Discard the carcass.
- Stir the salt, pepper, spinach leaves, and chicken into the soup. Taste for seasoning.
- Gently simmer for five to 10 minutes, until the soup comes together. If it looks like the soup is a little too chunky, feel free to add some water. Taste again for seasoning.
- Serve with small pasta, and garnish with fresh herbs like parsley and dill.
Kristen M says
Perfect. We ate the whole pot!!
Labor of love; well worth it.
Rissa B. says
This is absolutely fabulous. It takes a while because you have to make your stock first with the whole chicken, but I have to say it was worth it. And not hard. Just time. Every bowl was filled with chunky chicken and vegetable. I.had never put spinach in chicken soup before but it added a lot of color and we liked the taste, too.
Home made chicken soup is the bomb! I add escarole at the end and top with freshly grated pecorino Romano .
Yum to escarole and pecorino-Romano…an Italian variation! You are speaking my language. Sounds delicious.
I made this Monday. morning, putting it on around 6:00 am.,allowing it to simmer until around 4:00 pm the same day. It made the best chicken stock ever!
I finished the actual soup for Monday night dinner.
Before serving I added a squeeze of fresh lemon,the spinach leaves,but also rough chop flat leaf parsley.
I’ll be making it again today –
Thanks for another great recipe!
My mother has always insisted that using a capon rather than a fryer or regular roasting chicken is the key ingredient. I have had great success with several of your recipes and just curious if you ever tried a capon? Thank you!
I have not, actually! But I am sure that would be great and deeply flavorful. This seems like a French-style choice, like how true coq au vin uses rooster instead of chicken. Thanks for sharing this–what an interesting note 🙂 I am going to look into this more now.
How does 2 1/2qts. of water (in your pot) yield 5 quarts as recipe indicates? If I do have a very large pot should I use more chicken and water or still just add water to cover? I always thought it’s best to vent the cover during cooking but you stipulate covering the entire time. Is that what I should do? Thank you!
Hi, Andi! Thanks for writing and my apologies for the delayed response! So, what happens is that by the time you add all of the chicken, vegetables, and so on, you end up with more volume than the liquid quantity alone. I leave the lid fully on to concentrate the flavor and intensify the cooking process, almost like a pressure cooker or slow cooker. The induction effect circulates the flavorful, fragrant steam back into the soup. The final quantity will vary slightly, but in general, I find that I get around 5 quarts total, maybe slightly less.