August 19, 2022

why it works

  • Roasting chicken wings for broth produces a more robust and intensely flavorful broth.
  • Poaching chicken thigh meat separately from the soup base ensures perfectly cooked meat and eliminates much of the guesswork that comes with building soup in one pot.
  • Grilling the onions and grilling the bell pepper creates a deeper, more complex flavor.
  • Cooking the rice separately and adding it at the very end means the rice will be perfectly cooked and the soup won’t be sticky; it also allows customization.

I’m a sucker for Progresso’s Chicken Rice Soup (with veggies). Call me rude or uneducated, I don’t care – I grew up with it. That big blue box with way more than my daily dose of sodium and uniquely textured ingredients was (and is) comforting. But between growing up and making gallons of chicken broth every other day at a restaurant, I learned there were other ways to be comforted that way.

You might think that making a good chicken and rice soup is simple, but in practice, it’s a bit tricky. The rice soaks up the liquid like a sponge, and if left in the soup it becomes mushy and puffy – less like rice in soup and more like mediocre risotto in starchy chicken water. So what is the solution ? Let’s look at another childhood favorite: the fan of Chinese pao, or rice soup.

While there are many variations, the heart of the dish is simple: take the leftover rice, make a soup base, and combine the two towards the end of cooking, or better yet, right at the table. Mixing the broth and rice at the end eliminates any chance of a cloudy, starchy soup or puffed grains. This gives you more control over the consistency and quality of the dish, and simplifies storage if you prepare it ahead of time. Easy, right?

The base of this recipe is inspired by the classic flavors of chicken soup; I’m not reinventing the wheel here, but rather focusing on careful execution. Take a page from Sohla Ultimate Chicken Noodle SoupI start by roasting chicken wings to create a solid base for the chicken broth, then I prepare the soup with aromatics like charred onion and a good amount of black pepper.

Poaching and shredding the chicken thigh quarters separately from the soup base ensures the meat won’t overcook and eliminates much of the guesswork. From there, the soup incorporates the usual suspects: carrots, celery, parsley and, of course, frozen peas.

Serious Eating / Tim Chin

When it comes to rice, I’ve found medium or long grain works best here. To prevent the grains from clumping together, I roast them in a mixture of oil and chicken fat from the roasted chicken wings used in the broth. Instead of water, I cook the rice in a measured amount of reserved thigh poaching liquid – straight out of the Hainanese chicken rice playbook. The result? Chicken rice, which means even more chicken flavor in the finished soup. These are the ultimate comfort foods that warm the soul. And that just might give this blue Progresso a run for its money.