How to make chicken soup – recipe

I’m glad to say that soup season is upon us once again, and by that I mean proper soup, rather than the deliciously cooling liquid salads of summer – the sort that warms every cockle from the inside out. And you don’t get much more toasty than the classic chicken variety: simple, yet unfeasibly sustaining, and as clean and light as it is satisfying. No freezer should be without it.

  • Prep 10 min
  • Cook 2½ hr
  • Serves 6
  • 1kg chicken wings or drumsticks (or a mixture), plus a leftover chicken carcass, if you happen to have one
  • 2 sticks celery
  • 2 onions
  • 3 leeks
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 small bunch parsley, separated into stalks and leaves
  • 750ml chicken stock
  • 175g pearl barley
  • Salt and pepper

1. Drumsticks, wings or a whole bird?

Put the chicken in a large stock pot – I prefer wings and drumsticks, because they yield a lot of bang per buck flavourwise, but you could use a whole bird and add some of the meat to the broth at the end (save the rest of the cooked meat for another meal). This is also a good place to stick a roast chicken carcass, to give your soup a bit of extra oomph.

How to make chicken soup – recipe

2. Boil and skim

Add enough cold water to the pot to cover the chicken entirely, then bring slowly to a boil. Skim off any froth that rises to the top – this is important, because it will taint the flavour of the finished soup, so don’t be tempted to move on until you’ve removed and discarded as much as possible.

3. Wash and chop the stock veg

While the broth is simmering, wash and roughly chop the celery, onions, and two each of the leeks and carrots – there’s no need to peel the onions or carrots unless they’re dirty, or to be too precise with the chopping, because they’re all going to be strained out once they’ve given up their flavour, but do make sure there isn’t any mud lurking in the folds of the leek.

How to make chicken soup – recipe

4. Add the veg and simmer

Add the chopped veg to the skimmed pot with the parsley stalks and stock, then simmer for about two hours, stirring occasionally to make sure the aromatics are evenly distributed. Meanwhile, cook the barley in a pan of boiling water for 20-25 minutes, until tender, then drain. Peel the last carrot, and finely chop it and the remaining leek.

How to make chicken soup – recipe

5. Strain, shred the meat and simmer again

Strain the soup through a fine sieve and return the broth to the pot. Pick the meat off the chicken bones – bear in mind that if you’re using wings and drumsticks, it will be rather tough, but it should still be pretty tasty – and add that to the pot. Discard the bones and everything in the sieve. Bring the soup back to a simmer, then add the chopped carrot and leek.

6. Finishing touches

Cook for about 10 minutes more, until the vegetables are done to your liking, then stir in the cooked barley. While that’s heating through, season the broth to taste. Divide it between bowls, then roughly chop the parsley leaves and scatter these on top before serving.

How to make chicken soup – recipe

7. And if you’d rather have dumplings …

If you prefer dumplings to barley, instead of pre-cooking that in Step 4, mix 100g plain flour with a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of baking powder, 50g suet or grated butter and just enough cold water to make a dough. Roll into six dumplings, then add to the strained soup and cook for 15 minutes before adding the second batch of vegetables.

8. … or an Asian flavour …

To give the soup Asian notes, replace the parsley with coriander, and add a slit Thai chilli, a few slices of fresh ginger and a star anise when you put in the first batch of veg. Replace the barley with a block of rice noodles – just soften them in the hot strained soup – and top with chopped chilli, coriander and a wedge of lime.

9. … or a creamy classic

For traditional cream of chicken soup, whisk 100ml double cream and an egg yolk in a small bowl. Once the soup is ready, take it off the heat and quickly beat in the cream mix. Check the seasoning again – I like a grating of nutmeg. You can top the soup with a sprinkling of chopped chives or tarragon leaves (in which case, use the stalks in Step 4) rather than parsley.