The Ultimate Chicken Noodle Soup Recipe

The Ultimate Chicken Noodle Soup Recipe

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Why It Works

  • Roasting the chicken wings for the stock gives you a deeper, more richly flavored broth.
  • Cooking the chicken breast sous vide in its own fat yields tender and juicy meat, with all the full flavors of roasted chicken.
  • Adding charred onion to the stock adds notes of caramel and enhances the soup’s deep color.
  • Portioning the chicken and pasta into each bowl before adding broth prevents the pasta and chicken from overcooking, and allows the diners to adjust ratios to their personal tastes.

With a typical group of people, a game of “would you rather” will usually involve celebrities or fantasies, but the team here at Serious Eats is a bit unconventional. We prefer to challenge each other with tawdry questions such as, “banh mi or Italian combo?” and “burrata or stracciatella?” During one of our heated discussions, the following question was raised: “What soup would you rather eat for the rest of your life—pho, ramen, or chicken noodle?” Without any hesitation my answer was chicken noodle soup.*

*Editor’s note: Wrong answer!

I’m not sure what this says about me. A pho follower must certainly be a showman and adventurer—transforming raw meat tableside and risking dangerous sips between fiery jalapeño slices. I assume ramen eaters to be indulgent extroverts, loudly slurping up rich broth with each mouthful of tangled noodles. Next to these two I must seem pretty plain-jane, living a monotonous life in which thrill comes in a sleeve of saltines. But I don’t think chicken noodle soup needs to be boring; I believe it can be classy and subdued, filled with understated depth from a broth made from roasted bones, exuding a quiet confidence with its minimalism.

A great chicken noodle soup recipe is the “little black dress” of your cooking repertoire; it should provide a solid foundation, one that you can dress up or down for the occasion. This recipe is just that; however, it would be misguided to label this “simple” soup as also “quick and easy.” Although these phrases often pal around together, they do not mean the same thing. Yes, this is a simple soup with few components, but if you’re looking for comfort to arrive just a little bit more quickly, Daniel’s classic chicken soup recipe is the road to take.

At its most basic, chicken noodle soup is light and brothy—a wholesome and uncomplicated bowl of comfort. I’m looking for a soup that’s deeper and richer than the average, still capable of curing what ails you, while also flaunting a provocative side.

My path is a long one that requires some navigation and planning, but for a soup I’ve committed the rest of my life to, it’s worth it.

The Broth

What Can Brown Do For You?

Chicken and beef stocks can be either white or brown, meaning the bones are either simmered raw or after roasting. White stocks are more versatile due to their tempered flavor, making them ideal for reducing into unctuous pan sauces and adding subtle flavor to risotto and vegetables. The extra step of roasting bones for a stock adds an assertive flavor, which can be overwhelming in some instances, but is exactly what I want for the most chicken-y of chicken soups.

As meat and bones roast, they undergo our favorite flavor process: the Maillard reaction. Their amino acids and sugars recombine to create complex aromas and deep flavors. A stock made from browned bones will taste richer and meatier, without more fat or bones, all thanks to the power of brown. (You can also harness that power to make the most out of your leftover turkey carcass, as Daniel does in his recipe for brown turkey stock.)

A lot of chicken stock legwork was already done for me by Daniel in his post on how to make the best chicken stock. I used his research as my starting off point, sticking with chicken wings for their ideal flavor-to-cost ratio. I spread the chicken wings directly on an unlined rimmed baking sheet and roast them in a hot oven until they become golden brown.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

The wings will render out a good bit of chicken fat, and you’ll want to save every drop of this liquid gold. The browning imparts the chicken fat with the flavor and aromas of roast chicken. I first tried emulsifying this fat into my broth, but found it overwhelmingly rich (more on that below). Not wanting to lose it completely, I looked around for other parts of the recipe where it might be useful, and realized it was perfect for adding depth to the chicken breast, which I cook sous vide and add later. By roasting the wings directly on the sheet tray, I’m able to develop a crackly fond under each piece for maximum browned flavor. While the tray is still piping hot, I splash it with a little water to scrape up all the fond before tossing the wings and liquid into a pot and covering it all with more water.

Brown stocks typically also include browned mirepoix. The carrots, onion, and celery are usually roasted along with the bones in the oven. In addition to their bright and vegetal flavor, roasted mirepoix add sweetness and color. I opt out of the traditional addition of mirepoix and instead add charred onion to the pot for the last moments of cooking. I prefer the flavor of the stock without the distraction of celery and carrot. The onions add enough sweetness and color on their own, while letting the roast chicken remain the star of the show.

Chicken Soup Focus Groups

Many of my burning stock questions were already answered by my colleagues. Daniel discovered that hovering over a pot of stock obsessively skimming every bit of scum and fat didn’t necessarily lead to a clearer stock. Kenji proved that pressure cooker stock and stove top–simmered stock run a tight race, with the pressure cooker stock just edging out the traditional method in taste tests. Still, I conducted a few taste tests to see if opinion changes in the specific context of chicken noodle soup. Spoiler: The answer is yes.

For one taste test, I made two batches of brown chicken stock, each with two pounds of roasted bones and a final volume of one and a half quarts. The pressure cooker stock was cooked at full pressure for one hour while the traditional stock was gently simmered for three hours. The two stocks were then served with equal amounts of seasoning, sous vide chicken breast, boiled pasta, fresh dill, and a splash of lemon juice for brightness.

It was unanimous: Everyone preferred chicken noodle soup made from the traditional method chicken stock. The pressure cooker stock did extract more flavor while remaining less cloudy, but the additional flavor took the form of a slightly bitter finish from the browned bones. The traditional method stock was full of roasted flavor without the over-extracted taste of the pressure cooker stock.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

The tasters also preferred the cloudier stove top stock in the context of the soup for the additional richness it provided, which led me to take a cue from ramen lovers and try emulsifying fat into the broth—I wanted to see if fat really equalled more flavor. I made three stocks, each with equal amounts of roasted chicken wings, all cooked on the stove top for the same amount of time, and I added water at the end to ensure that they all had equal final volumes. One stock was gently simmered the entire time, the other was rapidly boiled the entire time (much like you would for a ramen broth), and the third was boiled for the first 15 minutes and then simmered the remaining time.

The first simmered broth had good chicken flavor, but was too light to stand up to the juicy chicken cubes and chewy pasta. The second boiled broth was creamy and rich, but the extra fat muted the chicken flavor. Now the third broth, the one that was just briefly boiled, this broth was just right: It had all the deep, roasted chicken aromas I was seeking, with just enough richness and body to stand up to even the most flavorful additions.

Time to Accessorize: Preparing the Chicken, Pasta, and Garnishes

I am generally not a fan of chicken breast. I also usually don’t love the one-dimensional soft texture sous vide cooking creates in meats. But somehow, when cooked sous vide, I love chicken breasts, which reminds me that in cooking there are no absolutes. Not only is sous vide chicken tender and moist through precise temperature control, but by bagging the chicken breast with the fat rendered from the roasted wings, you also infuse it with all those heady brown aromas typically lost in poached meat.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

After seasoning the chicken breasts with salt, I bag them with some rendered chicken fat and cook them for two hours at 140°F (60°C). This yields the perfect texture for soup—no signs of stringiness or shredding, just melt-in-your mouth tender meat. When dry, shredded meat is added to a soup, it drinks up the broth, resulting in a soggy, wet texture rather than something plump and juicy. (If you want to know the full scoop on sous vide chicken, check out Kenji’s in-depth guide.)

For the pasta, I prefer bite-size orecchiette. They’re thick and sturdy, hold up well in the broth, and the cupped shape ensures a sip of broth with every bite, but any shape or form of doughy dumpling will do. Cooking the pasta separately is the only way to guarantee the best texture and flavor. If you boil the pasta in the soup, not only does it end up under-seasoned, but it’s also prone to overcooking in the broth.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

I keep the chicken and pasta separate, portioning them into bowls just before serving and ladling over hot broth to warm everything through. My preferred finishing touches are a few flecks of chopped dill and a squirt of lemon juice, but with a solid groundwork laid you can build up the bowl however you prefer.

A fling with the boisterous herbs in pho or succulent pork belly in ramen can be tempting, but I’ll always want to come home to chicken noodle soup. Especially when it’s a tricked-out version like this one.

January 2018

The Ultimate Chicken Noodle Soup Recipe

  • 2 pounds (900g; about 10) chicken wings

  • 1 large (8-ounce; 225g) yellow onion

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 pound; 450g)

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 1/2 cups (4 ounces; 115g) dried orecchiette pasta (or other shape of your choice)

  • 1/4 bunch (1/2 ounce; 15g) fresh dill sprigs, roughly chopped

  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

  1. Preheat the oven to 550°F (290°C) and adjust the rack to the center position. Evenly spread the chicken wings directly on an unlined rimmed baking sheet. Roast the wings until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

  2. Remove wings from the oven and drain any rendered chicken fat into a heatproof dish and reserve. Pour about 1/2 cup of water on to the baking sheet and scrape up any browned bits that may be stuck to the bottom. Transfer the wings along with the water and dissolved browned bits to a 3-quart sauce pot. Cover with 1 1/2 quarts of water.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  3. Bring to a boil over high heat, then let boil vigorously for 15 minutes. Reduce to a simmer, then cook gently for 2 hours, adding water as needed to maintain the 1 1/2-quart volume.

  4. Meanwhile, preheat a sous vide cooker to 140°F (60°C). Season chicken breasts generously with salt. Place chicken in zipper-lock bags or vacuum bags and add 2 tablespoons of the reserved chicken fat. Remove air from zipper-lock bags using the water displacement method, or use a vacuum sealer to seal the vacuum bags. Add chicken and cook for 2 hours. (See note for instructions on how to cook the chicken without using a sous vide setup.)

  5. Heat a 12-inch sauté pan over high heat. Peel the onion and cut crosswise into thick 1-inch slices. Char the onion slices in the hot pan until blackened on both sides. Add onions to stock and simmer an additional 1 hour.

  6. After chicken stock has simmered for a total of 3 hours, pass through a fine-mesh strainer. Discard chicken wings and onion and return stock to pot. Season with salt and pepper.

  7. In a pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and toss with the remaining reserved chicken fat.

  8. Dice the chicken breasts into 1/2-inch pieces and portion into the bottom of 4 serving bowls. Add the pasta and dill to each bowl. Top with hot chicken stock. Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, to taste. Serve right away.

Special Equipment

Rimmed baking sheet, 3-quart sauce pot, sous vide circulator, vacuum sealer (optional) , fine-mesh strainer


If you prefer not to cook the chicken breasts sous vide, they can be poached in the chicken stock: After simmering and straining the stock, add the breasts and heat gently, using an instant-read thermometer to keep the temperature of the stock around 150°F (65°C). Cook until the chicken breast reaches an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C).

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