What would make this chicken soup tastier?
December 18, 2016 10:00 PM   Subscribe

I like this soup recipe well enough, but the only seasoning is salt and pepper so the end result is a little bland. What spices should I add to liven it up?

Bonus points if it doesn't involve much work beyond "add a tablespoon of X" because I am the world's laziest cook.
posted by great_radio to Food & Drink (52 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My go-to spice-ups:

One or more of:
1 tsp (or more) sriracha
1 tsp (+) ketchup
1 shake Cumin
1 small spoonblop minced garlic
1 big shake red pepper flakes
1 tsp+ chicken, beef. or mushroom Better Than Bouillon
1 big shake soy, mushroom soy, or dark soy sauce
.5-1 shallot, sliced
posted by Lyn Never at 10:04 PM on December 18, 2016

My greatest discovery for fixing bland dishes is adding something tart or sour to brighten the flavor: balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, or cider vinegar used judiciously at the end is amazingly effective. I also like adding smoke flavor with chipotle, smoked paprika or liquid smoke.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:08 PM on December 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

I wouldn't change the spices (though you could up the salt and pepper if you wanted). I would use a tablespoon of olive oil to sautee all the veggies first, then, when they're smelling lovely, add the chicken and go from there on the recipe. You might end up with soggier vegetables at the end, though, which is why most chicken soup recipes have you make the broth with sauteed vegetables, then discard those, then add new vegetables near the end.
posted by lazuli at 10:10 PM on December 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think that recipe desperately needs some acidity. Try adding about a 1/4 cup of lemon juice.
posted by saeculorum at 10:14 PM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might also make sure you're using a good chicken broth. The simpler the recipe, the more important the quality of each ingredient.
posted by lazuli at 10:14 PM on December 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

I always put a tsp or so of thyme in my chicken soup. You can also add a pinch of rosemary and as much garlic as you like.
posted by ananci at 10:14 PM on December 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

A tablespoon of miso is great for this. And a tub of it keeps forever in the fridge.
posted by something something at 10:20 PM on December 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

Herbs rather than spices would be my preference for a chicken soup, rosemary and parsley in particular. Garlic also.
posted by deadwax at 10:21 PM on December 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

Thyme and lemon juice would be my choice.
posted by cecic at 10:25 PM on December 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I always put parsley in my simple chicken soups. You can just do a bundle and take it out when you take out the chicken, the flavor will be there without any chopping. I think also some garlic would be quite welcome, you don't have to peel it, just get it down to the last papery layer of skin and cut in half. Do a few cloves. If you're worried about fishing them out, tie them and your other whole herbs up into a piece of cheesecloth and drop that in. I also like to put white wine into chicken soup, it adds lots of complexity and some much needed acid, you can just use about a glass's worth of whatever you have lying around the house when you put in the broth.
posted by Mizu at 10:26 PM on December 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have a habit of adding hot sauce and a healthy squeeze of lemon juice to nearly every chicken coup I encounter. But that is after-the-cooking adding, not during. For the making process, I would saute some of the chicken bits as well as the onions etc. until brown, to create a fond, and add herbs and some spices (thyme, smoked paprika).
posted by rtha at 10:29 PM on December 18, 2016

Last time I made that recipe, I chopped up some parsley and sprinkled it on top. It really brightened it up and gave some nice contract to it.
posted by asphericalcow at 10:35 PM on December 18, 2016

DEFINITELY saute all your vegetables first in some olive oil or butter, if you don't do that you're really missing out. Just plain ol' boiling your vegetables doesn't give you half the flavour. As they're sauteing you can add your spices, I like a little thyme, garlic, paprika, and bit of cumin.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 10:51 PM on December 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Have you tried a 1/2 tsp or so of MSG?

"Well enough" is really damning with faint praise -- I might just look for a different recipe. I find her stuff to be very bland and unexciting overall. Sort of "good simple home cooking," which I think is the point, but also stuff which never quite rises to the level of "amazing." However, +1 on various vinegars/acidity. Wait...

"Place all ingredients but the pepper into a pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer."

nicolas léonard sadi carnot is bang on. Your mirepoix desperately wants a good sauté in butter. That's why I don't like her; she misses basics like that. (If you make it often, you can prep loads of the mirepoix -- sautéed -- and freeze it in the required quantity. If not a bit more. Don't throw out the celery leaves; mince them and use them as herbs or just keep them in the mirepoix. For some reason we like to throw those out and buy them dried, and it just doesn't work as well. Loads of celery goodness lies within.)
posted by kmennie at 10:58 PM on December 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Rosemary, rosemary, rosemary.

I'd also add some parsley and/or thyme and/or basil depending on what was in my spice rack and what I felt like, but that recipe CLEARLY needs rosemary, which is the #1 best spice for chicken soups in general. I would also add garlic but I like garlic a lot.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:06 PM on December 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

ginger. curry powder.
posted by not_on_display at 11:08 PM on December 18, 2016

Right off the top it's missing Garlic.

My secret for stuff like this is Dried Mushrooms to add depth of flavor - Shitaki or Porcini, or a mix of wild exotic Mushrooms are all good.

Saffron might be good. Parsley for sure. Some kind of hot sauce, Lemon, or even a dash of Red Wine Vinegar. Thyme!

If you make this with less broth and it's more stew-like, good (black Kalamata or Nicolas pitted) Olives would be BOMB. If you go this route, either Thyme, Rosemary, Garlic, Parsley, Oregano or even Saffron are the right herbs.

Oregano. Or Oregano + Cumin!

My husband would be all about Cardamom and/or Coriander seed. A dash of Curry Powder might be great.

A Ginger or Ginseng infused Chicken Broth is amazing, so you can experiment with this option down the road.
posted by jbenben at 11:31 PM on December 18, 2016

Garlic. Then more garlic. How does this 'recipe' not have garlic?
posted by pompomtom at 12:34 AM on December 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

Garlic, parsley, and lemon or wine.
A few peppercorns in the pot
1/2 the liquid.
Another level: Thyme, maybe rosemary. Leeks instead of onions.

I put dill in my chicken soup, but this looks like it's trying to be chicken in a pot, and that might not fit. If.you brown the chicken first, deglaze, add enough salt, put half as much water/stock in and cook it on low heat for 2+ hours, it ought to be flavorful even with no stock at all.
posted by sputzie at 1:03 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is what pistou was made for. It’s a sort of Provencal pesto which they add to soup. Blend up garlic, lots of fresh basil, parmesan and olive oil and spoon it on top of the soup when you serve it.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 1:05 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I do a lot of the above at different times, but my favorite is to add garlic and thyme while the soup is cooking, then chili flakes and lemon just before serving. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

BTW, I wouldn't use her recipe either, but that's because I don't like to eat mushy vegetables. I want to take them out, and because of that, I don't need to do all of that chopping, I'd put the whole vegetables, bayleaf, sprig of thyme, 4 whole peppercorns in the bottom of the pot, chicken on top and add water. Cook till the chicken is ready. Take it out, debone it, put the bones back in the pot and boil some more (I use a pressure cooker, there I'd just give it 10 mins). Strain the soup, put it back on the fire, add chili flakes and salt to taste, add the juice of half a lemon, or to taste. Put shredded or cubed chicken in the bowls before pouring over the soup, serve. The reason for putting the chicken in the bowls not the pot is that way there are more possibilities with the left-overs. You can just drink the broth instead of tea, and you can use chicken meat for sandwiches or for vol au vents, and you can do the same again of course. (If you know you want to use broth for something different, like vol au vents, take some apart before seasoning with chili and lemon)
In my experience, there is a lovely pure taste to the soup if you don't sauté the vegetables, which is enhanced by the lemon-chili finish. If I'm going for the richer taste you get from sautéing the vegetables, I brown the chicken as well. And for that, I'd buy legs only, easier to brown and with that dark meat taste.
posted by mumimor at 1:26 AM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a pretty simple palate and recently discovered adding maybe 1/4 cup of balsamic glaze (I get mine at Trader Joes) to any soup or ratatouille gives it a delicious depth of flavor.

But for chicken soup, I also toss in thyme, rosemary, parsley, GARLIC, and a wee bit of dill.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:09 AM on December 19, 2016

Seconding dried porcini or shiitake mushrooms, as well as whole, unpeeled onion, for both flavor and color. Reanimate the mushrooms in hot water, strain for any sandy bits, then add the mushroom broth as a 1:1 replacement for other broth/water, and the mushrooms themselves if desired.
posted by cocoagirl at 2:19 AM on December 19, 2016

Change the stock. Low-sodium stock doesn't provide enough for soups, in my opinion.

Add garlic, at least 2 tbsp.

Agree with the other posters who've suggested sauteeing the vegetables beforehand. Put them in the pot first with a glug of olive oil or butter (AND THE GARLIC) and stir until the onions are transluscent.
posted by chronic sublime at 2:28 AM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing garlic, lemon juice, sautéing the vegetables first, or switching up the broth to something more flavorful. Better than Bouillon is good.

Bouquet garni herb blends are also great for making soup taste richer and less like a sad drowned chicken in a rain barrel. You could also experiment with different blends of individual dried herbs, or tie some fresh herbs together to make an actual bouquet garni, but blends are great if you just don't want to bother with all that.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:51 AM on December 19, 2016

All of the responses are spot on, this is the most basic chicken soup recipe and calls for tweaking.

If you brown the vegetables and chicken parts first, you will have a more caramel flavor and adding thyme or rosemary goes very well (If you deglaze the pan with white wine before adding the stoc, you get even fancier). Thicken it up with a roux and use potatoes instead of noodles and you have a stew.

When i'm craving basic homemade chicken soup, I use a similar recipe, and at the very end I throw in a bunch of course chopped parsely. Adds a wonderful fresh taste.

To make a more mexican flavored soup, hot sauce, a squeeze of lime, and course chopped cilantro works wonders. Maybe a small amount of diced onion tossed in just before eating.

You wanna go thai, add some lemongrass stalk, kaffir lime leaf, thai chili, a splash of fish sauce and then a dollop of coconut milk at the end, with chopped thai basil (I would probably tweak the veggies by adding mushrooms, removing parsnips).
posted by newpotato at 3:58 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Are you sure you've added enough salt? Sometimes you just need to add a bit more to make the soup come alive.
posted by peacheater at 4:03 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

The thing about chicken soup is that the simpler the spicing is, the better the flavor. Over spicing chicken soup tends to lead it off into "not quite chicken soup" territory.

That said...
Thyme is a great herbal pairing for chicken soup.

Also, my go-to for adding a little something extra to the background of chicken soup is ground cumin. It seems to work as an amplifier to that essential chicken-fat-ish flavor/mouth-feel of chicken soup. Not a lot, though.

Beyond that, flavoring is best left to the aromatics...carrots, parsnips, celery, leeks, garlic, etc.

Simplicity is key for chicken soup, imho.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:27 AM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

You've already gotten a ton of answers so I don't know if you're even reading this far down...

I always add 2-3 plum tomatoes into my chicken soup for some acidity. If you like spicy, you can throw in a can of fire-roasted tomatoes instead.

If it's not pungent enough, my other trick is to toss a sweet potato in. It's magical.

For true Jewish penicillin, add a marrow bone or two, a small piece of flanken, and some fresh dill.
posted by Mchelly at 4:43 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I really like my chicken soup with a hint of tarragon. Be aware that a little goes a long way but it is delicious.
posted by kariebookish at 4:50 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I often add sage to any poultry recipe. It's possible to add too much, and then it starts tasting medicinal, but a little is good.

I also endorse the previous suggestion of tarragon.
posted by Bruce H. at 5:10 AM on December 19, 2016

More salt.
posted by ftm at 5:13 AM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh, dip! If you are going to sauté the aromatics first, then you should add a huge glue of White Wine! That's your acid right there!

I would cook the wine down by half and add the chicken and stock on top. You could take the wine down to a glaze, but then your veg might be mush at the end.
posted by jbenben at 5:29 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

My go-to secret ingredient for soups and stews is a tsp or less of oyster sauce. Pure umami...
posted by jim in austin at 5:52 AM on December 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Just to throw my two pence in, but this isn't soup. This is just making more stock.

I would definitely chuck in a glass or two of wine at the start, because wine. Try taking the whole chicken out as soon as it is cooked, about 45 minutes in, stripping it, and then adding the carcass only back to the liquid. Leave the chicken meat covered on the side until later. When you take the chicken carcass out at the end, go ahead and take out those veggies too and throw the poor things away. They have given their all in the proceeding 2 hours of simmering and have nothing left to give. Let them rest in peace.

Saute up some more veggies of your choice along with some tinned or otherwise pre-prepared version of a pulse or bean of your choice (I'd probably go pearly barley) along with some fresh rosemary and thyme. Once they've started to colour, add all back to the liquid along with the shredded chicken and bring back to the heat. Taste. Adjust seasoning.
posted by fatfrank at 6:12 AM on December 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

Throw a chunk of Parmesan in while cooking. Also some lemon juice and red pepper flakes (preferably Aleppo pepper). To sweeten the soup a touch more, add a little bit of cabbage to the veggie mix.
posted by slateyness at 6:31 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is long-game, but worth it - chilli sherry is amazing for perking up soups. Stick a few fresh chillis in a bottle of sherry, leave for at least a month, shaking when you remember. Once the month has passed, you can add a decent dash to your soup in the bowl before eating and it's amazing. Apparently, a shot of it on its own is also good for clearing the tubes when you have a cold but I've never been brave enough to try!
posted by penguin pie at 6:44 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had not thought of oyster sauce, but I'm dedicating my next chicken soup to jim in austin, because that's just bloody genius.
posted by pompomtom at 6:57 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Brown everything before making the soup.

Throw a piece of bacon or some butter in the pan, throw all the vegetables in the pan, cook until stuff is golden brown. Remove the stuff from the pan, and set aside.

Throw another piece of bacon/butter in the pan and brown the skin of the chicken on all sides. Remove the chicken and set aside.

Add some chicken stock or water or whatever to the pan, and scrape all of the brown stuff on the bottom of the pan off into the liquid. Add vegetables and chicken back into the pan, if you used bacon chop it up into little pieces and add it too.

Add liquid, simmer.
posted by gregr at 7:23 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

fatfrank has it. This is a recipe for bland soup. The suggestions above are very good and directly answer your questions. MSG (Accent) would work too. Really, find another recipe along the lines of: roast the chicken, eat some, cover the carcass with water, simmer a few hours with a few veg, strain old veg and carcass out, add new veg to new broth, simmer until done, add chicken and cooked noodles. Salt to taste.
posted by RoadScholar at 7:24 AM on December 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh, Also, Better Than Bullion is way better than normal broth/bullion cubes.
posted by gregr at 7:25 AM on December 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

FRESH DILL. Chicken soup does not come alive without dill! Throw in a generous handful. I would also add a pinch of celery salt, and throw in a couple tablespoons of frozen green peas for just a few minutes before turning the heat down.
posted by RRgal at 7:44 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen turmeric mentioned yet, I always add a little for color and a touch of piquancy. I'd do a touch of cider vinegar over lemon juice.

Use homemade broth if at all possible for all soups, anyone can PM me for my easy/delicious method.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:58 AM on December 19, 2016

Nthing garlic some kind of acid. I actually like to add a squeeze to my bowl right before eating. I'll also add tomatoes, celery salt, sage, or fresh dill (lots and lots of dill).

My husband likes it when I use this liberally.

Sometimes I'll add julienned Belle peppers and cumin with the other veggies. Then throw in a handfull of shredded cheese (cheddar, "taco mix," Colby, whatever you like), hot sauce, and some pico as you serve it.

Do you ever roast your own chicken, or get rotisserie chickens? If you do, next time make your own stock. Cover leftover carcass(es) in water (I have a huge stock pot, so save them in the freezer until I have a few), toss in a carrot or two, some celery, an onion, and simmer (not boil) for a few hours. I just chop the root ends off the veggies and throw in whole, so very low effort as long as you can hang around the house for a while. Then fine strain, chill over night, remove solidified fat, and freeze (divide up into portions matching the size you'll use when you make soup). You'll then have homemade stock on hand whenever you need it, and I find it more satisfying than store bought. You may need to up the salt (which I suspect you need to do anyways).
posted by ghost phoneme at 8:04 AM on December 19, 2016

For Eastern European flavor: marjoram, tarragon, thyme, garlic powder. Parsley sprinkled on top.
posted by Ender's Friend at 10:21 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd agree with other regarding fiddling with acidity, the salt level, garlic and perhaps rosemary (thyme is also nice with chicken, if you need less punch. I'd also use two bay leaves at least.

And, I don't agree with the original recipe's timing of a bunch of things. Soo...
Cook the chicken as indicated, get the meat off the bones, set aside. Throw the bones back in and simmer on real low for at least 1 1/2 hours more. Add water if too much of it evaporates. Remove bones, add meat etc.; also add the vegetables either
-- at an appropriate moment later in the cooking process, or
-- roast them in a 50-50 mix of olive oil and butter on low in a separate vessel for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, and add them to the soup only after the bones have been removed and the meat was added, and about 30 minutes of simmer-time is left.
posted by Namlit at 11:10 AM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Teaspoon of tomato paste. You can't taste it as tomato...But it's umami.
posted by answergrape at 1:21 PM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

1/2 to 1 inch or so of peeled fresh ginger (depending on the size of the pot), grated through a microplane, does wonders.
posted by Caxton1476 at 2:45 PM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I did not realize chicken soup could be made without dill.
posted by kapers at 3:13 PM on December 19, 2016

Okay, that's NOT how I make chicken soup, and I think the recipe is flawed at its very base.

Things that will DRASTICALLY change this for the better:
--roasting the chicken and using the bones instead of whole chicken in the first stage
--cooking vegetables in oil and maybe even garlic and herbs first, and only adding them in at the end
--actually using salt through the early stages (unless your chicken was brined - in that case, don't add salt until the very end, and only after you've tasted it)
--using more herbs early on - I'd use more bay leaves, more thyme, and definitely garlic
--I HATE parsnips in broth-based soups, though I think they are nothing but delightful loveliness in other applications. I also don't use their peelings for anything - they have a really weird taste
--I actually use vegetables chopped SUPER fine in the stock stage, then discard with the bones

So my process is:
1. roasted chicken bones + super fine vegetables in water w/garlic/herbs. Boil for an hour or two. More if possible. You want it dark.
2. cook vegetables in oil and season. Put aside.
3. drain everything and add noodles or rice or whatever you want into the broth. When those are almost cooked, add in the cooked vegetables and chicken.
4. Profit?
posted by guster4lovers at 6:27 PM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yes, roast chicken. Yes add garlic. And my secret ingredients for chicken soup are cinnamon and allspice. Sounds weird but it adds an incredible amount of warmth.
posted by danapiper at 3:37 AM on December 20, 2016

That recipe site was tldr, but in my world, chicken soup gets lots of fresh parsley and dill in the last 20 minutes of cooking (it gets fished out, you don't eat slimy cooked parsley & dill) and Osem chicken bouillon powder instead of salt. YMMV.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:57 AM on December 20, 2016

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