How to Make Chicken Noodle Soup Without a Recipe

February 17, 2014

Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: Our former head of distribution and partnerships, Maddy Martin, beats back flu season with the purest, simplest form of chicken noodle soup.

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My husband, Dana, normally has an iron stomach. But when he catches something at the office (often around this time of year) and comes back home with a cold, the go-to remedy is always a simple chicken noodle soup. The trick to making a good one, in my mind, is to create a quick, rich broth. This sets you up for a soup that's mild and throat-coating for your cold-stricken companion, but still flavorful enough to enjoy a bowl yourself (with your taste buds still in full working order). 

Note that the method here calls for using only half of the pulled chicken you extract from the whole bird. If it suits you better to use all of that chicken for another recipe, this soup can certainly be plumped up with other add-ins, like turkey meatballs, shrimp dumplings, or matzo balls. And of course if you have bits of other vegetables lying around waiting to be called to action -- fennel tops, half a cauliflower, green garlic shoots -- feel free to add them to the simmering stock. The more the merrier.

How to Make Chicken Noodle Soup Without a Recipe

1. Take giblets et al. out of the whole chicken and put the bird in a large pot. Add water to fully submerge the chicken, along with 2 large whole carrots (scrubbed, not peeled), 3 stalks of celery (just washed), 1 quartered onion, about 5 sprigs each of fresh parsley and thyme, a bay leaf, and a teaspoon of cracked black peppercorns. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the chicken is fall-apart tender and the stock is flavorful, about 1 hour.

Note: You can put the fresh herbs in the sachet, but I don't. Perhaps letting them float around adds more flavor? I think so.

More: Take a deeper dive into the makings of homemade chicken stock.


2. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside for a moment while you strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer (a colander lined with a clean kitchen towel works in a pinch) into a clean large bowl. Discard remaining stock solids, rinse the large pot, pour all but about two cups of stock back into the pot, and return it to the stove (not over any heat).


3. Pick all the chicken from the bones and place it into that large bowl you left with 2 cups of stock. The stock keeps the picked chicken moist while you get all the meat off the bones and prepare the soup.

Note: At this time you can separate dark and light meat into two bowls of broth, since you will be using only about half of the picked meat and can be choosy with what goes in the soup. I do this so I can get mostly dark meat in the soup (and use the white meat for chicken salad later), but it's up to you. I find the dark meat takes more kindly to reheating later on.


4. Add peeled and chopped carrots and chopped celery (both cut 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick) to the strained stock in the pot along with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper, and bring to a boil. Don't salt to taste here; just add a little to season the vegetables, as some broth will evaporate.


5. When the stock comes to a boil, taste a carrot. If it's still pretty crunchy, let the vegetables cook for another minute before adding the egg noodles. If the carrot is tender, I go in with the egg noodles right away after the stock comes to a boil. For the amount of egg noodles, I estimate 1/4 to 1/3 the volume of the stock in the pot, depending on how chock-full of noodles you like your soup.

When the noodles are al dente, add half of the picked chicken (reserving the rest for chicken salad, or whatever you like) along with the stock it steeped in, and warm through for a minute.


6. Add a handful of minced fresh parsley, lots of freshly ground black pepper, and salt to taste. Serve.

We're looking for contributors! Email [email protected] and tell us the dish you could make in your sleep, without a recipe.

Photos by James Ransom

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Written by: CookLikeMad

I've been a baker, math tutor, webmaster, camp counselor, social media manager, research analyst, editor, and recipe tester -- not necessarily in that order. But if you find me without a book on food or cooking, then you've got the wrong gal.


btglenn October 13, 2016
If you can find parsley root with the greens attached, they add wonderful flavor to the broth. Sometimes I add thin slices of daikon radish to cook along with the carrots and celery. It's something I learned from Chinese cookbook author Fuchsia Dunlop, to add a little more sharpness to the flavors.
kendra December 2, 2014
I really like to add a tbl of cider vinegar or squeeze of fresh lemon to the finished soup, it gives it a wonderful acidity that gives the soup life!
Cheryl P. March 30, 2014
My mom always added fresh dill along with parsnips and turnips to the basic celery, carrots and onion with parsley. I sometimes add cilantro.

Niki March 30, 2014
Nice casual approach and what sounds like a forgiving soup. My Dad called the best veggies to use as a base for any stock The Holy Trinity: carrots, celery, and onion. I think this sounds lovely and will try it soon I'm sure.
JudithM March 13, 2014
Two vegetables that I like in Chicken Soup are Parsnips and Fennel...not in the same batch necessarily, but added to the basic Chicken Soup after the stock is made.
delicia.sampson.7 March 12, 2014
Fighting a cold - just made a big pot of stock from trimmings i keep in the freezer and made a pot of chicken soup from Sunday's roast chicken left overs. I think it was just what I needed!Thanks for the suggestion!
Keyscook March 2, 2014
I like your "not a recipe" style. I think it's relaxing, and probably takes the fear away from a new or inexperienced soup maker. Thanks.
Jazzymom March 2, 2014
Never cook the noodles in the up needed broth and does not keep well.
Cook the noodles separately and add to each serving when serving the soup.
Some fresh dill is wonderful as well.
JudithM February 19, 2014
I liked reading about your process in making chicken was a comfort in itself!
I refrigerate the broth overnight so that the fat (sometimes a substantial amount), solidifies and I can skim it off, then proceed with adding the ingredients for the soup. I too like to cook the noodles separately to keep the stock beautifully clear.
CookLikeMad February 19, 2014
Thanks, Judith!
Roseanne S. February 18, 2014
I agree with KS. This narrative is a recipe whether you call it that or not. It is what I do to make chicken broth and chicken soup, with one difference that matters a lot to me. I do not cook the noodles (or rice or fusilli or orzo) in the broth. I cook it separately and add it to the broth when I serve the soup. Then if all the soup is not eaten in one meal what leftover soup remains is not sullied by the disgusting look and taste of engorged, soggy, flabby noodles. Yuck, and thanks.
KS February 17, 2014
How is this not a recipe? Maybe you are confused about what constitutes a recipe. Just because it is long paragraphs instead of easy to read bullet points doesn't change what it is.