Chicken soup is one of the most universal comfort foods, with versions found in almost every culinary tradition worldwide. In America, chicken noodle soup is the gold standard, but not everyone has the time or skill to make it from scratch. This has created a market for condensed soups, which only require reheating. These are generally acceptable, but uninteresting in flavor. When convenience dictates opening a can, there are a few techniques the savvy home cook can use to improve the flavor of the soup.
Onions, Celery and Aromatics
Onions, celery and other aromatic vegetables like leeks or garlic are among the most universal ingredients for homemade chicken soup. It only makes sense, then, to add them to a canned soup to give it a flavor boost. Chop the aromatic vegetables finely, and sweat them in a saucepan in a small amount of oil or butter. Once they are translucent and release their aromas, add the canned soup and water. Simmer for at least 10 to 15 minutes, so the broth can incorporate the flavors.
Many fresh herbs complement chicken, and most can be added to canned soup to improve the flavor. Put a half-sprig of rosemary in a saucepan while the soup heats, and remove it before service. Use chopped chives or parsley to add color and a fresh, low-key flavor to the soup. Thyme, tarragon or fresh sage leaves have more potent flavors, and can be added sparingly with good results. As a rule, any one of these herbs complements chicken soup, either alone or in company with parsley.
If you have slightly more time at your disposal, finely chop some fresh vegetables to go into the soup. Carrots, snow peas, green beans and broccoli or cauliflower florets are all perfectly compatible with chicken soup. Pre-cook them separately in water, or strain off the broth from your canned soup and add that with the recommended amount of water. Once the vegetables are tender, add the noodles and chicken from the canned soup. This prevents the noodles from getting mushy while the vegetables cook.
Chicken and Chicken Broth
Of course, the best thing to add to chicken soup is more chicken. A fresh chicken breast or thigh, finely diced, cooks quickly as the soup reheats and adds greatly to the flavor. Homemade chicken broth is another excellent option, because it adds flavor and also dilutes the usually high level of sodium found in canned soups. One or more small containers of chicken broth, kept in the freezer for times of need, are an easy but important addition to any cook’s arsenal.