Make Chicken Noodle Soup with Whatever You Have

Chef Lili Dagan never lets a missing ingredient slow her down. Here’s how she makes classic noodle chicken soup with whatever she has on hand.

Chicken noodle soup
A bowl of pure comfort

I’m a recipe riffer. Most of the time, I have every intention of cooking a recipe as written, but then I find I’m missing parsley, or there’s a bunch of carrots in the fridge about to go bad, or the crushing existential dread has generally derailed my original plans. All of a sudden, I’m riffing. It just happens.

Last week, I ordered a farm box from a local CSA, and I impulsively tacked whole chicken on to my order. Who doesn’t need a whole chicken? Like many these days, I’ve been craving classic comfort foods. When I saw thunder in the forecast, I decided chicken soup was the move. Luckily, the Blue Apron cookbook has a recipe that I love. 

Problems arose right away. The first step of this particular recipe is to poach your chicken in five quarts of chicken stock along with some aromatics and herbs. When I went to collect my ingredients, I realized that I didn’t have the leeks that the recipe called for. I did, however, have some huge scallions. I also only had three quarts of stock, and vegetable stock at that. I decided I could stretch it with some water. That’s how riffing starts.

I poached my chicken in the vegetable stock, along with the few sprigs of yellowing parsley and chives that I had on hand. To make up for my lackluster aromatics,  I added a pinch of Blue Apron Italian seasoning. While that simmered away, I prepped my soup vegetables: some carrots from my farm box, some almost-past-its-prime celery, and a rutabaga. I found half an onion leftover from making tortilla española, and tossed that in as well. It’s like freestyle jazz. 

After an hour of low simmering, I pulled out the chicken, let it cool, and picked the meat off the bones. I strained the broth through a mesh sieve, and added it back in the pot with the prepped vegetables. That all simmers for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are a pleasing texture. There’s room for interpretation here too, I like my vegetables to still have a little bite to them. Some members of my family, judging by the soup they serve as Passover, prefer their vegetables very soft. Do what feels good for you. A few minutes before the vegetables are done, add the chicken meat back in. 

For this meal, I cooked the noodles separately. I wasn’t planning on serving the soup all at once, and cooking the noodles separately extends their shelf life. 

This, my friends, is where I am going to give you the trick for the most delightful chicken noodle soup. Place the cooked noodles in the bottom of your soup bowl. While they are still hot, use a vegetable peeler to layer them with thick strips of parmesan cheese. This guarantees ribbons of cheese will swim through your soup like salty comet tails. It’s positively delightful.

chicken noodle soup with cheese
A cheesy chef tip

Top your noodles with your hot soup, whatever herbs you have leftover, and more cheese (if you want). Some hot sauce? You do you! Eat with whatever spoon sparks the most joy. For me, it’s a dumpling spoon. But if you don’t have one, riff it.

Classic Chicken Noodle Soup

Chicken and Broth

  • 1 whole chicken (31⁄2 to 4 pounds)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 quarts chicken stock
  • 4 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 leeks, coarsely chopped and cleaned 
  • 3 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and halved 2 bay leaves
  • 1 small sprig rosemary
  • 6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 sprigs thyme

Soup

  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1⁄4-inch-thick rounds
  • 3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
  • 2 leeks, thinly sliced and cleaned 
  • 12 ounces dried egg noodles
  • 1⁄4 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped dill

1. Temper the chicken. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Season the inside and outside with salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

2. Make the broth. In a large saucepan or soup pot, heat the stock to a simmer on high. Add the carrots, leeks, celery, garlic, bay leaves, rosemary, parsley, and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, 6 to 7 minutes, until the vegetables are slightly softened. Add the chicken, breast side down, making sure that the chicken is mostly submerged in stock and resting on top of the vegetables. Heat until just simmering. Reduce the heat to medium. Cook for 55 to 65 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 180°F. Use tongs to carefully transfer the chicken to a large bowl to cool slightly.

3. Strain the broth and shred the chicken. Pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer into another large pot; discard the vegetables. Season the broth with salt. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones. Remove and discard the skin. Use two forks or your fingers to shred the meat or use a knife to cut into bite-size pieces.

4. Cook the vegetables and noodles. Add the carrots, celery, and leeks to the soup and season with salt and pepper. Cook on medium at a simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, until the carrots are tender. Add the noodles and cook according to the time on the package until tender. 

5. Finish and serve the soup. Add the shredded chicken and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes, until heated through and well combined. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley and dill. Divide the soup between bowls. Serve with the bread, if desired.

Finished chicken noodle soup
Enjoy