Most mothers claim to make the best chicken soup on earth, and to their families, they’re right! The best chicken soup recipe is the one you grew up with, the one that brings back the memories of a celebratory meal, the one that cures your ills or simply serves as pure comfort food. The beauty of chicken soup is that you can structure it to whatever taste you want. Herbs for chicken soup are plentiful. Spices bring the flavors up a notch. Just be sure you start with good-quality chicken, using both white and dark meat, and plenty of vegetables.
Making Traditional Chicken Soup
A basic chicken soup recipe starts with a whole chicken. Additions can be onions or leeks, with leeks imparting a gentle flavor as onions sometimes overwhelm a dish. Carrots, celery and a tomato, plus a good helping of salt, make your soup. Round out the flavors with the herbs of your choice.
- Parsley: Flat-leaf parsley gives a subtle flavor, while curly can be pungent. Chop it up and add toward the end of your soup preparation.
- Bay Leaf: Fresh is best, and if you are lucky enough to chance upon fresh bay leaves, use them sparingly and then toward the end of the cooking process. Instead of two, use one. Dried bay leaves, the newer the better, will also give off a subtle flavor that tastes like a cross between mint and a pine tree and need a longer soak in the broth. Add toward the beginning of your cooking. You won’t be able to pick out the flavor once it’s blended in, but your palate will know it’s there.
- Thyme: Another herb that’s best when added at the beginning of the cooking process, thyme is a Mediterranean herb that’s often coupled with oregano or marjoram. Don’t use too much as it can overwhelm a dish. And use the entire stem. There’s plenty of flavor in the stalks. Just be sure to remove them before serving.
If your garden is bursting with herbs, you can add them to your basic chicken soup to create your own version of herbal chicken soup. Just remember that “fresh from the garden” means they are more pungent than their dried cousins and should be used in small quantities.
- Oregano: Oregano in chicken soup is lovely if you are making a hearty soup thickened with whole-grain barley. The oregano gives off a strong flavor, so use sparingly.
- Marjoram: A substitute for oregano, the two can be interchangeable. Don’t use both in your chicken soup.
- Basil: Basil can overrun your garden! Basil in tomato soup is popular, and so is basil in chicken soup. Just chop up a large bunc h, add it to the soup toward the end of the cooking process, drop in some orzo, rice or vermicelli, and you’ve created a Mediterranean version of chicken soup.
- Rosemary: Three to four stalks of rosemary add a woody taste to your broth, complementing the vegetables. Since they are thick, add at the beginning so the fragrance penetrates the soup.
- Dill: Fresh dill has a strong flavor, so avoid topping your soup with the herb if you’ve added a multitude of other herbs. A cluster of dill and a squeeze of lemon give your soup a Mediterranean/Russian overtone.
- Saffron: While expensive, saffron adds a deep, golden color and fragrance to your soup. Grind up the threads and add some of the broth to create an emulsion. Add to your soup and watch it do its mystical magic.
Pick and choose the herbs you use in your soup recipe. Don’t use all of them as they’ll mask each other. Choose one or two, and let them be your soup’s identifying fragrance ‒ the soup that you or your family commits to memory as their own comfort food.