How to Make Quick Chicken Soup from Scratch: A Cheater's Guide

Fresh garlic makes a great addition to your cheater's chicken soup.
Fresh garlic makes a great addition to your cheater's chicken soup. | Source
You can use white, brown, or green onions in your soup. Cook them until soft with garlic and some olive oil.
You can use white, brown, or green onions in your soup. Cook them until soft with garlic and some olive oil.
I personally like to add a little sweet red pepper into my soup, chopped into slivers. This makes a nice colorful addition to your cheater's soup.
I personally like to add a little sweet red pepper into my soup, chopped into slivers. This makes a nice colorful addition to your cheater's soup.
One or two ribs of celery softened with your onions and carrots makes a tasty start to your soup and will enhance the flavor of store-bought stock. Photos copyright Carolyn Augustine 2008-2009.
One or two ribs of celery softened with your onions and carrots makes a tasty start to your soup and will enhance the flavor of store-bought stock. Photos copyright Carolyn Augustine 2008-2009.

Chicken soup is not only good for the soul, it is very easy on the pocketbook. With a little bit of practice you can feed even a large family for very little money. You may be surprised at how easy it is to prepare. This article explains how to make chicken soup from the leftovers in your refrigerator.

Ingredients List

  • A half-eaten rotisserie chicken (2 to 4 cups total)
  • 1 whole onion, chopped
  • 1 apple, cored and chopped into small pieces
  • 2 celery ribs
  • 1 bag of shredded carrots
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced fine
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • sea salt
  • 2 cans chicken broth or vegetable broth, or dried bouillon
  • leftover vegetables from your refrigerator
  • 2 cups of either small uncooked pasta, rice, corn, or two medium potatoes
  • spices for flavoring

Start with a Rotisserie Chicken

Making chicken soup from leftovers can be something of an art form. The goal, of course, is to take the offals from your refrigerator without making the result taste awful. Fortunately, chicken soup is quite easy to prepare from scratch, especially if you *happen* to have purchased and eaten half of a rotisserie chicken the night before.

Rotisserie chicken is the meal that keeps on giving. You can buy a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from many full-service grocers for about quarter of the cost of dinner at a fast food restaurant. Rotisserie chicken is our family's easy-prep meal since we have three children and the costs of eating out really start to add up if we do it too often.

If I buy a rotisserie chicken and get two meals out of it, I am reducing the cost of dinner to next to nothing, especially considering the fact that my family will eat a small amount of soup the first night and my husband will end up taking the rest of the chicken soup in his lunch for the next several days. And then there's the "she's so fabulous" factor, too. People who perpetually eat TV dinners are usually very impressed by my soups and this makes my husband the object of much envy and admiration at work.

Taking Stock of Your Situation

The absolute key to making a mouth-wateringly tasty chicken soup is to make your own stock. But let's be honest, would you be reading an article called "a cheater's guide" if you really want to do that? I'm guessing you don't. I recommend you invest in two cans of good-quality chicken or vegetable stock. You can even use a good quality dried bouillion. I try to buy the salt-free varieties of stock then add in my own salt to taste.

Chop up the Chicken

So here's what you need to do instead. Start with that rotisserie chicken and (be prepared to get your fingernails a bit dirty), you need to pull all of the meat off of the bone. You will probably be shocked how much meat you can glean from a "half-eaten" chicken. My family usually eats the drumsticks and about half to two-thirds of the breast, leaving meat from several areas of the chicken uneaten. Make sure you turn over your chicken and get the meat from the underside, and don't forget the thighs. If you are thorough, depending on the size of your chicken, you may be able to get 2-4 cups of meat. You will also get some skin.

Next take an onion and two ribs of celery, and if you like garlic, then two to three cloves of garlic, and an apple, just for fun.

Use a generous 2 tablespoons of olive oil, or if you must, vegetable oil, and heat it to a simmer BELOW the medium setting on your stove. Put in these veggies, and simmer softly until the onions start to look golden brown. Now your kitchen will begin to smell like home cookin'!

Once the onions are browned you are ready to add your vegetables and canned broth. I usually use two cans of broth and then add equal amounts of water. If that doesn't seem like enough I sometimes add more water, then use a small dash of Worcestershire sauce or even soy sauce.

Vary the Veggies

While you are rummaging through your cupboards trying to find the stock you've been saving from last Thanksgiving, take a look at the vegetables in your refrigerator. If you have some left overs from the night before, now is your chance to use them up.

Personally I've read several experts on frugality who suggest that you save your veggies in the freezer in a special soup container just for the occasion, but that really does sound awful to me. If like my family, you have a tendancy to let your fresh veggies go to waste, do try to use them here. You can also use frozen mixed vegetables from the freezer aisle of your grocery store for uber-convenience. Frozen veggies are well-known for being more nutritious than canned.

Here in Arizona, red, yellow, and green sweet peppers are in season, and I love using these in my soup. I'm also a lazy cook, so when I get a chance, I pick up the shredded carrots at the dollar store intended for slaws. They are cheap and don't require any preparation that way. If some well-intending soul donates squash from their garden to your cause, now is the chance to use it.

Do avoid using cabbage, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower in your soup. I find these veggies are tasty on their own but in chicken soup? Use these in very limited quantities because their flavoring can be quite overpowering!

Select Some Starch

Your chicken soup will need some kind of starch to round out the flavor and to make your soup a filling family-style meal. Soup is so flexible you can use just about anything. I like to use potatoes, rice, or small rotini pasta, but even macaroni or hominy will do. Choose one of these options because all of them at once is total overkill. I personally love corn, because my grandpa was an old German farmer from Indiana and he grew the sweetest yellow corn around. I sneak it in whenever I can. If you want to be a little exotic and healthy, you can also plan to add some grains such as cracked wheat or rye. Note that some whole grains take a long time to prepare. If you have never cooked with them, make sure to do a little research to determine the cooking time. 

Most starchy items need to be cooked last, but if you are cooking raw potatoes, make sure to give them enough time to cook through.

Savor with Seasonings

Your favorite seasonings will round out the flavor of your soup. You can be bold and creative or quite reserved here. The key to seasoning just about any soup though is to add the spices last. This is because spices don't retain their flavor if added too soon during your soup cooking.

If you are feeding a family with young children, don't spice too heavily, because children's taste buds are more sensitive than adults'. If you are cooking for adults go ahead and use your spices generously. I love to add freshly cracked pepper using a pepper mill, and usually add a generous pinch of oregano and basil. Sometimes I add a pinch of turmeric, paprika, or even chili powder if I'm in the mood.

Simmer then Serve it Up

Once you've mixed up all your ingredients, turn the heat down to low and simmer your soup for a while. The starchy items in your soup will add flavor and sometimes even thicken your broth a bit. If you are cooking with whole-grain add-ins, simmering can soften and cook the grains for tastier eating.

Soups are great served with fresh homemade bread, corn bread, or rolls from the bakery. 


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Comments 18 comments

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

This is a great advice and recipe. Thank you.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

It looks like a good recipe. If I make a soup it will probably be bouillon, noodles, and left over whatever we have.


The Rope profile image

The Rope 7 years ago from SE US

Great to see others are using leftovers, getting creative and know how to invent from unlikely store offerings! Great hub. BTW, I usually use egg noodles in mine for starch but you're right there is a myriad of options - just use what's in your cabinet!


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Hello, hello, thank you again for reading.

dahoglund, I bet it will taste great. I put garlic in almost everything I cook, and I usually buy it fresh at the dollar store so it is very cheap. My kids like noodles the best but I like rice and corn too.

The Rope, I think egg noodles are sooo yummy in chicken soup! I even tried to make them from scratch one time but decided that the store bought kind would be fine after making a big mess. I learned to cook at a very early age and perfected my soup making skills during my starving college student days. I survived my Sophomore year of college on Raman noodles and homemade soups. I think my grocery budget was 17 dollars every two weeks, and that was 15 years ago. Even so, I was able to feed about 15 people every weekend and still had plenty left for the rest of the week. I wish I could say I was as frugal as that now, but still I try to cook from scratch and save when I can.


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 7 years ago from Great Britain

Sounds delocious and so easy. We put garlic in everything (well almost everything)But I've never tried adding peppers . Thanks.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Red peppers are so plentiful in Arizona, they make a nice addition to many dishes. Thanks for reading and bon appetite!


Artemus Gordon profile image

Artemus Gordon 7 years ago

I have noticed that the chicken broth you use is your key to the overall flavor. For me Knorr produces the best taste. But for each person their tastes will vary.


dohn121 profile image

dohn121 7 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

You know, I never thought to add apples to chicken soup! That's certainly new to me. Daniel Carter uses artichokes in his lasagna which I found fascinating. I'll give this one a shot as curiosity usually makes me do just about anything. Thanks, wannabwestern! Bookmarked!


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Artemus, that sounds like a great suggestion. I've hear Knorr broth is very good. I'll have to give it a try. I do prefer to make soup stocks myself but don't always make the time for that.

Dohn, that is a trick I learned from Crescent Dragonwagon's book Dairy Hollow House Bread and Soup Cookbook. It is my very favorite recipe book after the 1940s copy of Joy of Cooking my grandmother gave to me. I'll have to look at Daniel Carter's artichoke lasagna recipe. That sounds good too.


Mitch King profile image

Mitch King 7 years ago from Wilsoville, OR, USA

Really chicken soup is not that hard to make so I hate to call it cheating. It just seems like it is something that is hard to do.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Mitch I agree with you. It is only cheating in the sense that it is much easier to do than people usually assume. Making soup stock isn't that difficult either, but it does require some planning and time slow cooking. This works well if you have a cooking day once a month or if you happen to have time to prepare a meal while you are doing something else. The real "cheating" in this recipe refers to using a store-bought stock, broth, or bouillon. Thanks!


creativeone59 profile image

creativeone59 7 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

Thank you for a quick chicken soup recipe. thank you for sharing it. Godspeed. creativeone59


RNMSN profile image

RNMSN 7 years ago from Tucson, Az

yummm!! I'm hungry now/I have the bread so can I come on up your way? :)


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thanks CreativeOne, I always appreciate the blessings.

RNMSN, Do come by and bring several friends. We'll have apple pie for dessert!


dick 6 years ago

Glad to see you use the trinity to start your soups. Whenever I make any soup, no matter what kind, I always start with celery, carrots and onion sweated very slowly. Once that is done then I am good to go with whatever kind of soup I am making.

I was lucky when I lived in Annapolis in that none of my friends had a clue about cooking. They would buy the stuff and I would cook it with the price being I had the meal as well. I spent almost nothing for food for a couple of years there and had the best meals. It ended up being kind of a contest with their trying to stump me and my looking at the cookbooks for more ideas. As long as they took note of my allergies (fish, seafood and mushrooms) the rest was fair game. I learned a lot and ate very well.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Dick, I never heard them referred as "the trinity" but it makes sense. You could truly cheat and buy these items prepped from the frozen food aisle.

You sound like the kind of friend we all enjoy spending time with! Sounds like you had a great time in Annapolis with your non-cooking friends and you ate well too. A true win-win.


Enlydia Listener profile image

Enlydia Listener 4 years ago from trailer in the country

Great soup idea...I love soups...all those flavors together are great.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 4 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thank you! I love a scrumptious, homemade chicken soup. Nothing quite like it for the soul, and it sure helps if you have a leftover rotisserie chicken hanging around.

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