Why It Works
- Roasting the chicken wings for the stock produces a more robust and intensely savory broth.
- Poaching chicken leg meat separately from the soup base ensures perfectly cooked meat and eliminates a lot of the guesswork involved with building the soup in one pot.
- Charring the onions and toasting the 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 gloopy; it also allows for customization.
I’m a sucker for Progresso’s Chicken Rice Soup (With Vegetables). Call me uncouth or uncultured, I don’t care—I grew up on the stuff. That tall blue can of way-more-than-my-daily-allowance of sodium and mono-textured ingredients was (and is) comforting. But sometime between childhood and making gallons of chicken consommé every other day in a restaurant, I learned there were other ways to be comforted in that way.
You would think making a proper chicken and rice soup is straightforward, but in practice it’s a little tricky. Rice absorbs liquid like a sponge, and if it’s left to sit in soup, it becomes mushy and blown out—less like rice in soup and more like mediocre risotto in starchy chicken water. So what’s the solution? Let’s look to another childhood favorite: Chinese pao fan, or soupy rice.
While it has many variations, the crux of the dish is simple: Take leftover rice, prepare a soup base, and combine the two toward the end of cooking—or even better, right at the table. Mixing the broth and rice at the end eliminates any chances of cloudy, starchy soup or blown-out grains. This gives you more control over the consistency and quality of the dish, and makes storage simple if you’re preparing it in advance. Easy peasy, right?
The foundation of this recipe pulls from classic chicken soup flavors; I’m not reinventing the wheel here, but rather focusing on careful execution. Taking a page from Sohla’s Ultimate Chicken Noodle Soup, I start by roasting chicken wings to build a robust base for chicken stock, then build the soup with aromatics like charred onion and a healthy amount of black pepper.
Poaching and shredding chicken leg quarters separately from the base of the soup ensures the meat won’t be overcooked and removes a lot of the guesswork. From there, the soup incorporates the usual suspects: carrots, celery, parsley, and, of course, frozen peas.
When it comes to the rice, I found that medium- or long-grain worked best here. To prevent the grains from clumping, I toast them in a mixture of oil and chicken fat rendered from the roasted chicken wings used in the stock. Instead of water, I cook the rice in a measured amount of reserved leg-poaching liquid—straight out of the Hainanese chicken rice playbook. The result? Chicken-flavored rice, which means even more chicken flavor in the finished soup. This is peak comfort food—warming for the soul. And it might just give that blue Progresso can a run for its money.