Chicken noodle soup is the ultimate comfort food. Whether you reach for it when you have the sniffles or on a rainy day, it’s nourishing and always makes you feel better. Maybe it’s nostalgia or the aromatic broth with soft silky noodles, but chicken soup really is good for the soul.
Ideally, making chicken noodle soup with homemade chicken stock is the best way to create this classic dish. But sometimes, you are craving comfort and don’t have time to roast and boil bones for homemade stock. Instead, boxed chicken broth is your friend.
Since boxed chicken broth can be bland, home chefs need to have a few tricks up their sleeves to upgrade boxed broth to make the best chicken noodle soup. You can easily elevate boxed broth with a few simple additions that you probably already have in your kitchen. So stock up on boxed broth so that you can make this classic soup next time you are craving comfort but are short on time.
Home chefs know that the base for many dishes starts with a simple combination of celery, onions, and carrots. These three ingredients create an aromatic blend called mirepoix, a French cooking term that became popular in the 19th century (via Cook’s Info). This classic combination is used in savory sauces, stews, and casseroles. According to experts, the key to mirepoix is getting the ratio right: 50 percent onion and the remaining half consisting of equal parts celery and carrot. When the three parts are combined and slowly cooked in butter or olive oil, they release a sweet aroma. This simple concept with a fancy French name will elevate the most basic boxed broth.
While the French coined the term mirepoix, other regions have their versions. In Cajun cuisine, mirepoix is often referred to as the Holy Trinity and swaps out the carrots for green bell peppers (via MasterClass). In Spain, this blend is called sofrito and combines garlic, onions, and tomatoes, while a German version known as suppengrün uses carrots, leeks, and celeriac.
A great way to add extra nutrients and protein to your boxed broth is to whip in some eggs. Inspired by Chinese egg drop soup and Italian stracciatella, adding an egg to broth is nothing new. The technique is simple, but the key is to start with a room-temperature egg. First, whisk the egg before slowly pouring it into a simmering broth while stirring the pot. The eggs will separate, creating a texture similar to fine noodles. These stringy egg bits often referred to as threads, create a heartier soup. If you want to add color and crunch to your broth, top it with a handful of chopped green scallions to make your humble store-bought broth into an elegant soup.
Another way to add an egg to your chicken noodle soup is to add a boiled egg. According to Healthline, one egg has six grams of protein. Thus adding a couple of eggs to your soup can upgrade your light chicken noodle soup to a filling yet healthy meal.
Adding some chicken to your store-bought broth is a great way to enhance the flavor and give your broth more protein. However, you don’t want to throw in some raw chicken; instead, you need to sear it first to lock in flavor and give it a golden finish.
If you are new to searing, you might be surprised at how important this step is to creating a good broth, even a boxed one. Searing is a common cooking process for meat; however, the method also works for vegetables and seafood. When you sear a piece of chicken, you cook it at high temperature in fat like butter or oil, creating a caramelized or browned crust. This browned crust is a reaction to the amino acids and sugars commonly known as the Maillard reaction (via Exploratorium). Luckily, you don’t need to understand the exact science to know it’s delicious.
Searing, of course, only crisps up the outside of the chicken, and you still need to bathe the chicken in the boiling broth to finish cooking it. So if you want to upgrade your boxed broth with some extra chicken chunks, make sure not to skip searing. You will be surprised at how much flavor and texture this simple step can add to your chicken noodle soup.
An underrated root vegetable, turnip adds a distinct flavor to chicken broth. If you are unfamiliar with this autumn vegetable, it looks similar to beet or a large radish. In terms of how to use turnips, think of them like potatoes but with a more robust flavor. Turnips can be cooked in many different ways, from roasted to mashed to boiled, and this versatile vegetable can upgrade your broth, giving it a unique flavor.
When choosing turnips, look for smaller ones as the larger ones are slightly bitter with thick skins (via PopSugar). The smaller turnips have a more subtle flavor that pairs well with chicken noodle staples like carrots and onions. Turnips do double duty in the kitchen, so don’t throw out the greens. Not only can you use the bulb, but the greens are edible too. Turnip greens are similar to mustard greens or beet greens and are best sautéed in olive oil or butter to bring out their peppery flavor.
Tomato sauce added to your boxed chicken broth can take your chicken noodle soup into new territory. It’s a quick and easy way to upgrade boxed broth — simply open and add. You probably have canned tomato sauce in your cupboard right now. It’s a staple that every home cook should keep stocked because it can transform a dish.
Tomato-based chicken noodle soup is reminiscent of Italian minestrone. Minestrone has everything from vegetables to meats, pasta, and beans. While almost everyone has heard of minestrone, there are also countless variations because there is no set recipe (per Cook’s Info). If you want to make your own minestrone/chicken noodle soup hybrid with your boxed broth, combine the vegetables with tomato sauce. Add vegetables like carrots, green beans, spinach, zucchini, or whatever in-season vegetables you have on hand to make your version. It’s fun to let your creativity loose in the kitchen. Plus, the added veggies make an already healthy soup even better.
You have probably already been enjoying the taste of umami without even knowing it. Although umami is one of the five core tastes (sweet, salty, sour, and bitter), it is the most difficult to pinpoint. From a technical standpoint, umami is the flavor of glutamate, an amino acid that forms the foundations of protein. A Japanese word, umami is translated as “the essence of deliciousness,” and flavor-wise, it’s often described as earthy, savory, or meaty (via Ajinomoto Group). Umami can be found in meats, aged cheeses, seafood, as well as vegetables such as tomatoes. When used, umami can elevate a basic boxed broth to something out of this world.
Adding umami to broth is as simple as adding a splash of soy, oyster, or fish sauce to a simmering pot of broth. Another way to get some umami in your broth is to add a Parmesan rind for some creamy umami. Dried mushrooms, miso paste, and seaweed are other fun ways to brighten your broth and up your umami game.
Many home chefs know that adding an acid to homemade broth helps break down the bones and connective tissues, transforming them into a collagen-rich broth. But many don’t know that adding acid to store-bought or bone-free broth amps up the taste and balances out the broth. Choose acids like lemon, white wine, or vinegar to add a nice zing to a boxed broth and create a richer chicken noodle soup.
Depending on the type of acid you add, timing is critical. White wine and vinegar can be added when heating up the boxed broth, but you will want to wait to add lemon juice until the broth is almost finished. Too much lemon too early can ruin a broth with a bitterness that no amount of salt can fix.
Since boxed broth usually comes with added salt, you will want to add your acid slowly to taste because extra acid can make an already salty dish taste saltier. According to the Washington Post, the best way to neutralize an overly salty acidic dish is to water it down. And, if the saltiness is just right, but the acid is overpowering, adding a pinch of baking soda should do the trick to balance your broth.
If you have never heard of gremolata, get ready to get your socks knocked off. Gremolata is a mix of Italian parsley, garlic, and lemon zest commonly associated with the Italian dish osso buco, a rich stew made from veal shank. But gremolata is so much more than a one-hit-wonder — it brightens stews, soups, fish, rice, pasta, salads, and other savory dishes.
You are probably familiar with pesto or chimichurri, which are cousins to the humble gremolata and used similarly. The best way to use gremolata to give your boxed broth an edge is to place a spoonful in your soup bowl and ladle the chicken noodle soup into each bowl, stir it and get ready for a burst of fresh flavor. Once you have tried gremolata in your chicken noodle soup, you won’t be able to eat it any other way.
After you master the classic gremolata, you will want to try some popular variations with pistachios or hazelnuts. Make a big batch to spoon it on eggs, spread it on bread, and savor it on seafood.
When sick, many folks turn to chicken noodle soup as the cure-all. It’s the perfect nostalgic comfort food when you have the sniffles. When under the weather and aren’t up to making a homemade chicken noodle soup, just reach for the boxed broth. Luckily, you can make your boxed chicken broth better by adding one simple ingredient, fresh ginger. Fresh ginger takes chicken noodle soup to the next level, with a tangy flavor that perks up the broth.
Not only does fresh ginger add flavor, but it also has health benefits to bring to the table. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, fresh ginger is high in antioxidants and protects cells from free radicals. In addition, it’s an anti-inflammatory that helps your body fight inflammation. And if you have tummy troubles associated with the flu, ginger also aids digestion.
Just make sure to peel it carefully before adding it. An easy trick to peel ginger is to use a spoon to scrape off the skin rather than a knife. Using a spoon is safer and more accessible than a sharp knife, a process that also doesn’t lose any of the precious spice.
The simplest way to upgrade your boxed chicken broth for chicken noodle soup is to spice it up with fresh or dried herbs. Toss a couple of dried bay leaves in your broth to give your soup a sweet earthy aroma. Or sprinkle in some rosemary and thyme. Both pair well with chicken dishes and are excellent additions to chicken noodle soup. Together they will make your soup taste homemade, and you will forget it came in a box.
Fresh garlic improves every dish, including boxed broth, adding a savory intensity. While garlic is technically a vegetable, not an herb, most cooks use this bulb as an herb (via Healthline). In addition to its flavor-enhancing properties, garlic is known for its health benefits.
While garlic is common in food now, historically, it had many medicinal uses due to its ability to aid the immune system in fighting illness (per Grey Duck Garlic). So add it to your boxed broth and maximize the healing powers of your chicken noodle soup. Just make sure to peel and crush it before adding it to your soup pot to maximize its health benefits. If you don’t have fresh garlic on hand, garlic salt can be a great substitute.
Do you love to feel the burn from chili peppers? Is it only a good meal if your face is on fire? If you answered yes, then bring on the chili peppers. You have a few options when adding some heat to your broth. You can chop up some fresh chilies, pour some hot sauce, or shake out some chili flakes. Whichever way you add some heat to your broth, you can be sure it will clear your sinuses and get you fired up.
If you are on the fence about eating spicy foods, you will be pleased to know that eating spicy hot foods can make you feel better. According to Healthline, eating hot foods has many positive health effects on your body, including boosted metabolism and weight loss.
Another plus of adding fiery spice to your broth is that when your mouth is on fire, your body releases endorphins and dopamine, which are feel-good hormones (via Health Digest). It’s the same feeling that runners have when they get the runner’s high. So add some heat to your boxed broth to get these positive side effects without lacing up your sneakers.
One easy hack to make boxed broth better requires no additional ingredients. Instead, some extra cooking time is all you need to intensify the broth’s flavor. Simply boil the boxed broth down. As excess moisture evaporates, you will be left with a more concentrated broth; no special cooking equipment is required.
This cooking technique is called reduction (via The Culinary Pro). The extra cooking time on slow heat changes the stock and its consistency. When reducing homemade broths, you will get a thicker broth due to the collagen from the cooked bones adding another dimension to the stock.
Surprisingly, reducing works for boxed broth too. Of course, a boxed broth has no roasted bones to thicken the sauce. But boiling it down can still create a more intense flavor. It’s a simple way to upgrade a boxed broth for your chicken noodle soup without taking a trip to the butcher.