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How to Improve Canned Chicken Noodle Soup

I've been sick the last few days. It's felt a bit as though some sort of demon virus was trapped in a little cage in my throat, tearing at my vocal chords in an effort to break free. Or something.

Accordingly, I've been eating/drinking a lot of chicken noodle soup. And, as Hungry Sam, I've put what little energy I've had into experimenting with improvements to an often bland, texture-less experience!

As my base, I've been using Epicurious' favorite canned chicken noodle soup, Progresso Traditional 99% Fat Free Chicken Noodle Soup:

Yeah, I know it's not the 99% fat free version.

Having eaten six cans in the last two days (truly I was sick, else I would have made some soup from scratch) and experimented with each one, here are my findings and suggestions (after the break). Also, apologies in advance for the totally unnecessary Star Wars references.

Experiment One: The Bland Menace
First, I tried using a little garlic powder to add a some zing (the technical term) -- after all, blandness is one of several curses from which canned soups often suffer.
Results: FAIL. The powder clumped and did far too little for the soup.

Experiment Two: Attack of the Oregano
With the same goal in mind, I used a little fresh oregano, which I toasted in olive oil at the bottom of the saucepan prior to adding the soup.
Results: Not bad -- a good leap-off point. The oregano added some depth of flavor, which was nice. Still not enough, though.

Experiment Three: Revenge of the Herbs
Still working on flavor improvements, I used oregano again, but also thyme, basil, and fresh ground pepper. Again, I sauteed the herbs briefly, but this time using butter.
Results: Great. I think I hit the optimal flavor point.

Experiment Four: A New Hope
I don't mess with success. Well, I often do, but I again used oregano, thyme, basil, and pepper in butter. The goal this time, however, was to do something about the textureless character of the soup -- when chicken, carrots, noodles and celery all add up to mush, something MUST be done. For this effort, I tried adding onions during the sauteing process.
Results: A good start, but I overdid the onions  -- I'm so used to caramelizing onions that I forgot to leave just a little crunch. Mush once more -- but tasty!

Experiment Five: The Shallots Strike Back
Same seasonings, and onions again -- but I added minced shallot this time too. This way, the shallots could caramelize and add sweetness and I could leave the onions with a little zest.
Results: GREAT. Very tasty; a good balance of sweet and herby, reminiscent of spring but hearty enough for winter. One problem -- what with my additions, the actual broth was becoming viscous and a tad gummy.

Experiment Six: Return of the Soup
Same herbs, same onion, same shallots, but with a few cubes of frozen chicken stock (that's right -- I freeze spare chicken stock in ice cube trays) to keep everything nice and brothy!
Results: This was pretty good soup. I'll take it.

Of course, by this point, I was pretty damn tired of soup.

Thoughts or suggestions? Do you do anything to improve a cupboard staple?

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Reader Comments (4)

Try adding some freshly squeezed lemon and chopped up parsley for a Greek style chicken soup!

December 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

GREAT idea! I also thought about trying to turn it into a Yucatecan Sopa de Lima, but sadly, no limes.

December 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSam Lehman

Not sophisticated, but here goes! One can of chicken noodle soup. Added two small leftover baked potatoes, removed from skin and cut into chunks. Added a little half and half and a few dried chives. To my delight, was a big improvement and quick.

November 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Would you mind posting your winning recipe? Thanks!

November 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNick Psaki

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