Punchinello’s Chronicles

September 30, 2008

The Secrets of Great Chicken-Noodle Soup

Filed under: Food & Recipes,Tips — Punchinello @ 8:58 pm
Tags: , , ,

Boil a cut-up frying chicken in two or three quarts of water, and waddya got? An unseasoned garage band, not yet ready to play in public. But add a sliced yellow onion to the pot, and you get a complex symphony of flavors fit for Carnegie Hall!

The problem with chicken noodle soup is that chicken basically is an edible plate. It has little flavor in the meat, but a lot of flavor in the fat and collagen. Salt is the magic ingredient to bring out flavor in all sorts of food, but it’s too easy to overwhelm the natural flavors with a lot of salt. All this talk about high blood pressure is fine, but salt is an important, necessary part of life…and cooking.

To make really excellent chicken noodle soup, the first thing is to buy a whole chicken. Cut it up yourself, separating the wings, the legs and thighs, the back, and the breast section. Separate the legs from the thighs, and break the back in half. If it’s included, you can use the neck, but not the liver and gizzards (those are bitter). But most importantly, de-bone the breast meat.

Remove the white meat from the breast bone and ribs, then set it aside, wrapped in plastic or tin foil and stored in the fridge. The reason is that chicken white meat cooks in about 3 minutes, and anything longer results in dry wood shavings. You’ll cube the white meat and toss it into the soup only at the very end.

Put all the other stuff into a pot and cover it with water (2-3 quarts should do it). Use a yellow onion, quarters or eighths, and put that in the water. Yellow onions have a complex chemistry, with a better taste for soups than a red onion (excellent for cooked onions to eat), sweet onions, or green onions. A medium sized yellow onion is perfect.

Simmer Boil everything for about an hour or two, then use a strainer and pour the liquid into some big bowl. Dump the meat, bones, and onion onto a platter. Pour the now-clean liquid back into your pot.

If you like dark meat, pick out some of the leg and thigh meat to put back into the soup. Even if you don’t like dark meat all that much, it’s still more tender and flavorful after boiling, but it’s up to you. Toss the bones, skin, junk, and stuff that’s left.

At this point, you’ve mostly got fat and water. Your main flavor is from the onion, but there’s a fantastic amount of hidden flavor just waiting to be brought out by the salt. Slowly add salt, tasting as you go. Although you’ll use what seems like a lot of salt (up in the tablespoon range), you’ll find that you can use a fraction of the amount of salt you would if you didn’t start with that onion! Add half a teaspoon at a time, then taste.

This also is the point at which you can put in some noodles if you’d like (stick with a third of a bag bag or less). I add in some diced carrots because they remind me of bein’ a kid. Another nifty little flavor enhancer is a dollop of white wine or some cooking sherry. The alcohol cooks off, so don’t worry about turning into an addict after a bowl of soup.

While the noodles are puffing up, get out your chicken breasts. There’ll be two of them you know, because that’s the way chickens are made. Cube up the meat, getting rid of any slivers of tendon. Make the pieces bite size so they’ll fit nicely in a soup spoon when you’re eating the soup. Still keep them aside.

When it’s all said and done, the noodles are nice and soft and the carrots are tender, turn off the heat. At that point, toss in the white chicken meat. Stir it around a few times, and in about 3-5 minutes, the meat will be cooked. It also will be tender, moist, and have some actual taste to it.



  1. I agree with you on the whole chicken thing. I know a lot of the time I will add store-bought chicken stock to some chicken and onion and stuff, but it simply is not the same. I also agree on the salt comment, especially as a little bit at the beginning is far more effective than a lot at the end.
    One thing that I would change slightly (and perhaps you meant it this way, I am not sure) is that simmering is far superior to boiling when making a chicken stock. Boiling cauterizes the meat, cartilage and joints, preventing the release of collagen, which is the main aspect of any good stock.
    Also, I like to put an inverted steam basket on top of the chicken to make sure all of it stays submerged.
    Just my two cents’ worth!

    Comment by Erik — September 30, 2008 @ 10:24 pm | Reply

  2. By Jove you’re right! I DID mean to say “simmer,” not boil. (Correcting as we speak!) 🙂

    Comment by Punchinello — September 30, 2008 @ 11:03 pm | Reply

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