Chicken Orzo Soup

published Dec 20, 2021
Chicken Orzo Soup Recipe

Unlike most chicken soup recipes, this one is super quick- and doesn't require hours of cook time.

Serves6 to 8

Makes12 cups

Prep15 minutes

Cook25 minutes

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two bowls of chicken orzo soup
Credit: Meleyna Nomura

Chicken noodle soup is an all-time classic. And while I do have a soft spot for a rich broth and chewy homemade noodles, it requires some planning. And sometimes I want a chicken soup that doesn’t start with hours of simmering whole chickens or stockpiled bones. 

Rotisserie chicken is a great shortcut when looking for an easy way to get a pot of soup on the table. While it won’t necessarily save you a ton of cooking time compared to simmering boneless chicken pieces, it does save you the extra bit of effort from the prep and cleanup that comes with cooking raw chicken. And on a busy Tuesday night, every little bit helps.

The real bonus of a rotisserie chicken is the collected juice at the bottom of the plastic domed container — don’t throw them out! Those juices add huge flavor to a quick weeknight soup. Pour it into the pot to bump up the depth of flavor with little effort on your part. If you’ve refrigerated your rotisserie chicken, those juices may have solidified into gelatin. You can just use a butter knife to coax it out of the crevices of the container and into your soup.

What Goes in Chicken Orzo Soup?

Because this soup is made with boxed stock and rotisserie chicken, I wanted to make sure I had a good base of flavors to build off of. I swapped in fennel for the ubiquitous carrots, which provides a background flavor note without the whole pot screaming of licorice.

Orzo is such a perfect soup pasta. I find it can be tricky to chase wide egg noodles onto a spoon — they tend to slide right off back into the bowl. Orzo cozies right on up to diced chicken in my soup spoon.

Many orzo soups feature handfuls of baby spinach stirred in at the end, but I reach for escarole instead. For me, escarole is the perfect soup green. What looks sort of like a head of lettuce is actually a chicory (think: endive or radicchio, but overall less bitter). It holds up better than those baby leaves that wilt immediately, all while avoiding being too tough.

Credit: Meleyna Nomura

How Do I Make Chicken Soup Taste Richer?

Taking the time to make chicken stock from scratch can be a delicious decision, but an hours-long simmer isn’t required for a tasty bowl of soup.

  • Take time to build a flavor base. The onions, fennel, and garlic are sautéed in oil before adding the liquid ingredients to release the fat-soluble flavor compounds. It’s why we don’t just add all the ingredients to a pot of boiling stock — you’d miss out on a lot of flavor! 
  • Season as you go. Make sure to add salt to your vegetables at the beginning of cooking. This ensures your soup tastes well-seasoned. Adding a bunch of salt at the end of cooking just makes it taste salty.
  • Use low-sodium broth. Starting with low-sodium broth gives you the option to add salt to taste. You can’t take away salt once it’s there.
  • Don’t forget the chicken juices. Leaving behind those rotisserie chicken juices is literally throwing away a ton of free flavor.
  • Finish with acid. Adding a spoonful of lemon juice or vinegar at the end of cooking lifts and brightens the whole pot. 

Chicken Orzo Soup Recipe

Unlike most chicken soup recipes, this one is super quick- and doesn't require hours of cook time.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 25 minutes

Makes 12 cups

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1

    large yellow onion

  • 1 large or 2 small

    fennel bulbs

  • 2 cloves

    garlic

  • 2 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 (32-ounce) cartons

    low-sodium chicken broth (8 cups)

  • 3 cups

    cooked and diced chicken (from about 1 rotisserie chicken)

  • 3/4 cup

    dried orzo pasta

  • 1/2 head

    escarole

  • 1 tablespoon

    freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon), plus more as needed

Instructions

  1. Prepare the following, adding each to the same medium bowl as you complete it: Finely chop 1 large yellow onion. Cut off any stems and fronds from 1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs. Cut in half, remove any wilted or rubbery outer leaves, then finely chop. Mince 2 garlic cloves.

  2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium heat until shiimmering. Add the onion mixture, season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and the vegetables have reduced in volume by about a third, 6 to 8 minutes.

  3. Add 2 cartons low-sodium chicken broth. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, dice the meat from 1 rotisserie chicken to get 3 cups if needed.

  4. Add the chicken and any accumulated juices, and 3/4 cup dried orzo to the pot. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the orzo is tender, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, coarsely chop 1/2 head escarole (about 4 lightly packed cups).

  5. Add the escarole and 1 tablespoon lemon juice to the soup and stir to combine. Simmer until escarole is softened, about 2 minutes. Taste and season with more kosher salt and/or lemon juice as needed.

Recipe Notes

Substitutions: Greens such as swiss chard, kale, or spinach can be substituted for the escarole.

Storage: Refrigerate soup in airtight containers for up to 4 days. If you prefer, you can cook the orzo in a separate pot, adding the cooked pasta when serving to prevent it from soaking too much broth during storage.