Many years ago, I was a line cook at Perry St, a restaurant in New York City’s West Village, where we had a seemingly simple chicken and vegetable soup on our menu. What set it apart from standard recipes of its kind was the hefty dash of salt and bright lime juice we finished the dish with, which always produced a mouth-puckering-yet-can’t-stop-spooning reaction from our guests.
Although I don’t miss the fussy vegetable prep (cutting baby veggies into jewel-like facets and then blanching them in tiny, color-coordinated batches) or the making and straining of restaurant-sized vats of dill-infused chicken broth, I did want to revisit that salty, savory, tongue-twisting flavor at home with a classic, comforting chicken and rice soup.
For this recipe, I managed to recreate the effect without dumping in buckets of salt by using both kosher salt and a high-quality MSG product, which contains two-thirds less sodium than regular salt. While a pinch of salt ties together the flavors of the chicken and vegetables during cooking, adding the MSG at the end with the fresh dill and lemon juice really has a synergistic effect, enhancing the herbaceous notes and highlighting the powerful pop of bright acid, and nailing that balance of savory and tart. But like many good things, you can overdo it. In this case, too much MSG (or too much salt, for that matter) starts to overtake the other big flavors. To make sure you get it right, start with half a teaspoon, which is where I found my perfect ratio. (The general rule of thumb when cooking with MSG: Use about two-thirds of the table salt you'd normally use, and then add one-third MSG back in.)
We've partnered with Ajinomoto Co. Inc. to bring you a series of recipes, stories, and videos that celebrate the fifth taste: umami. You can boost this rich, savory essence in almost any dish (like this soup recipe!) by adding a dash of MSG, a seasoning that's pure umami flavor. —Judy Haubert
6 to 8 (makes 10 cups)
ribs celery, finely chopped
large carrot, finely chopped
medium parsnip, cored and finely chopped
medium yellow onion, finely chopped
kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
dill, plus ½ cup finely chopped dill (and optional fronds for garnish)
3 to 4 sprigs
1 1/2 pounds
boneless, skinless chicken thighs and breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
Heat the oil in a 4-quart stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the celery, carrot, parsnip, and onion, and cook until slightly softened but not browned, about 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Using kitchen twine, tie the dill sprigs, thyme sprigs, and the bay leaf together into a little bundle and add to the pot, along with the chicken broth, 1 cup water, and chicken pieces.
Partly cover and bring to a simmer; cook, skimming occasionally, until broth is slightly reduced and chicken is tender, about 30 minutes. Remove and discard the herb bundle. Add the rice, stir, cover, and cook 15 minutes more.
Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the finely chopped dill, lemon juice, and MSG, adding more lemon and MSG to taste.