Noodle

Please Stop Putting Noodles in Your Noodle Soup

Hear me out.

February 18, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

A couple months ago, I was developing a recipe for two-ingredient chicken noodle soup. This is just the sort of challenge that my weekly column, Big Little Recipes, loves—making chicken stock about the chicken, not the onion and celery (and carrot and bay leaves and peppercorns). And yet: What turned out to be the most thought-provoking wasn’t the chicken stock at all. It was the noodles.

When do I cook them? And where? And how?

The most logical approach is: To make noodle soup, add noodles to soup. In other words, cook the noodles in the broth itself, then ladle the whole shebang into a bowl and serve. Not only does this sidestep another dirty pot, but it infuses the noodles with flavor. Win-win, right?

I wasn’t so sure. First, what happens to the leftovers? The good news is, broth is more than happy to hang out in the fridge or freezer. The bad news is, the noodles are not happy to hang out in the broth in the fridge or the freezer. Even by tomorrow morning, they’ll be swollen, soggy, and mushy. (Just think about when you cook noodles for even a few minutes too long.)

And what about the seasoning? If you’re cooking egg noodles in chicken broth, they’ll take on a subtle chicken-iness. But I’m more concerned about the salt. Whenever I cook pasta, I estimate a heaping tablespoon kosher salt per quart of water. It goes without saying: This would be waaaaaay too salty for a broth. So, if you cook the noodles in the broth, either the broth needs to be oversalted, or the noodles will be bland.

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Top Comment:
“I then ladled the broth of the noodles (spinach and scallions) and stir each bowl to combine. Everyone who has eaten my soup just loves it!”
— Robin F.
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By cooking noodles in a separate pot, you’re giving them the best chance to become the best version of themselves—well salted and well cooked. After boiling the noodles, I like to drain them, add a portion to each bowl, and ladle broth (and whatever is in the broth) on top. Then, the broth and noodles can be stored in the fridge separately—and still-perfect noodle soup can be repeated for days to come.

Now that’s a win-win.

How do you make noodle soup? Tell us in the comments!
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Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.

32 Comments

Caligurl424 December 5, 2019
Try lightly tossing your pasta in oil. It won't absorb the liquid.
 
Sarah C. October 17, 2019
But.. I -like- mushy soup noodles
 
Merrill S. February 26, 2019
Sing it, sister!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. February 27, 2019
Thanks, Merrill! :)
 
Ann February 23, 2019
Why didn’t I think of this! Duh! This is how Tamen noodle soups serve their noodle soups-cook the broth and noodles separate. Makes so much sense. Then the noodles don’t soak up all the broth!
 
Allie February 25, 2019
Yes I got takeout pho recently and everything was packaged separately and I was given STRICT instructions about how long the noodles should be in the broth etc. It was awesome. And my old favorite noodle shop now delivers in the neighborhood. (It's good they didn't when I lived nearby. I would never have left my apartment.) It was like one of those pricey meal kits but cheaper - and so much better!
 
Susan W. February 22, 2019
With the exception of one experiment, I, too have cooked the noodles separately. However, I generally dislike the taste of salt, so I never salt the pasta cooking water. Ditto rice. Even a little salt is too much for me.
 
Bonnie T. February 22, 2019
Cook pasta separate to your favorite tenderness. I like Al Dante.Then rinse thoroughly with cold water to stop continuous cooking, or they turn to mush! If not eating up the whole recipe at once, you can keep the noodles in a ziploc in the fridge to add as you reheat a bowl. I pat the noodles with paper towels to remove excess moisture before storing!
 
Robin F. February 21, 2019
I felt a so of validation after reading this article. I have always cooked my pasta separately for all three reasons stated in the article. I make sure that when I serve the soup that my broth, chicken,carrots and celery are piping hot. I add a handful of cooked pasta to the soup bowl (I also will add raw spinach and chopped scallions to the bow). I then ladled the broth of the noodles (spinach and scallions) and stir each bowl to combine. Everyone who has eaten my soup just loves it!
 
Nancy O. February 21, 2019
great idea, but we rarely have leftovers, and when we do, it is easy to remove the extra noodles, (good on their own with no broth) and have only the broth left over. When noodles are home made, they don't need to cook in salted water for extra flavor.
 
ellemmdee February 21, 2019
Always cook noodles separately to 1. Allow safekeeping for leftovers and 2. Keep the soup from getting cloudy with starch. Just made delicious soup with the carcass and leftover flesh of (horrors!) a rotisserie chicken cooked with aromatics for hours. Used spoonfuls of leftover rice in today’s lunch. Who knows what I might add to the rest?
 
Marion G. February 20, 2019
How is no one remarking on NOT browning the meat? what a lost opportunity for flavor!
 
Kevin K. February 21, 2019
Because this is an article about noodles in soup - or not; it's neither a recipe for chicken soup nor an article about flavor.
 
Mish A. February 20, 2019
I've always cooked my patina separate. It's how my Nan would do it. She would make a big pot using chicken, plum tomatoes, celery, onion, sliced carrots. Once cooked break up chicken. Keep the sliced carrots remove onion, plum tomatoes & celery. She would then store it and freeze it. Making pastina only when serving the soup. I might have to make some now lol.
 
Beth H. February 19, 2019
First I boil drain cool then place the noodles in a sealed container. I then use the same pot for the soup itself. When soup is hot I just add the desired amount of noodles to a bowl and a the soup.
 
Cathryn Z. February 19, 2019
Have always cooked the noodles separately. I actually prefer a no-noodle homemade chicken soup. But for times when noodles are requested...I serve soup on top of noodles.
 
Barb M. February 19, 2019
I am with The Separatists! I am 74, and my mother taught me to always cook the noodles separately for all the reasons my fellow cooks have listed.
 
Erica B. February 19, 2019
I never cook noodles or rice in the soup, but separately. Even if I make veg soup, I will also cook the starchy veggies separately for the reasons you list. Additionally though, if you are looking for the beautiful translucent soup stock like pictured, you cannot do that by boiling the soup and starch (or protein). This has be done separately or it will get cloudy and opaque.
 
Kristen February 19, 2019
I treat it like I do when making pasta the Italian way. Boil the noodles separately until almost done, then drain them and add a few scoops of broth to finish them in. This way they can absorb some of the broth flavor as well as not have the problem of sticking together if not used immediately.
 
Lori February 19, 2019
Great tip! 👍
 
Lori February 19, 2019
I never add my noodles or rice to any soup or broth. (40 years of cooking)-always prepared separately. Not sure about the extra time it would take… They can boil right along side of the soup on a separate burner.
I also find it makes the soup cloudy- and the swelling of the mushy pasta makes me gag the next day. I’m very leery when ordering any noodle soup at a restaurant for this reason! Thumbs up to the separate noodle preparersof the world👍
 
Terri L. February 18, 2019
The same is true of Matzo Balls. It makes me nuts, for all the same noodle reasons, to see people cooking them in the soup. My mother never did that!! Wrong!
 
Sharon R. February 18, 2019
In cooking for 60+ yrs; I have never cooked noodles separatly! You gals have too much time on your hands! You need that flavor!
 
joanna February 18, 2019
I never cook noodles in my soup. I cook them separately. It’s best, and ensures that my soup isn’t “cloudy.”