Thursday, November 8, 2007

Chicken Barley Soup

Photo of my Chicken Barley Soup made this afternoon.
Click on the pic to see the "flavor buds" on top.

This is an extra long post because it contains many of my thoughts on the basics of chicken soup. I will refer back to this post in other chicken soup recipes so I don't repeat the same things.

While this first recipe includes barley, don't let that fool you. If you are not a fan of barley and prefer noodles, just don't add the barley! It's the fiber in the barley that makes this soup more diabetic friendly than ordinary white starch noodles. What's more, is that barley gives soup a sweetness. Using it in chicken soup, as opposed to in beef soup, is often neglected.

First, a word about the chicken - I use Amish chicken or Perdue brand. I'm sorry to say that I'm not a fan of Tyson chicken. Perdue chickens, are robust and healthy looking.

Cuts of Chicken for Homemade Soup

For smaller pots of chicken soup (3-4 qt), I like to use 3 chicken thighs or a large chicken leg with the thigh attached. You can really use any part of the chicken, or the whole bird for that matter. However, I never use split chicken breasts unless I plan to strain the soup, preferring to use the whole breast, uncut when I do use breast meat (usually along with other cuts). After the soup has been simmering and the meat gets fully cooked, it falls apart easy and the small bones in the back can get into the soup. This can happen with a whole chicken too which is why you have to carefully remove it so the back is intact.

You might ask about using boneless breast. I have tried it, and I can tell you that there isn't much flavor. However, I have added a boneless breast for the white meat which I break up later.

For maximum flavor, leave the skin on. Those oily circles floating on top - they are what my dad called, "the flavor buds". Fat can be skimmed and some fat is what is needed for taste, but if you break down how much fat there truly is per bowl, with the skin on, it is not that much. If you are sensitive to the fat, or want to make it lower fat, pull the skin off of all the thighs for example and trim what fat you see. My mother will leave the skin on one out of the three thighs for this 4 qt pot of soup.

Also, make sure you rinse the chicken with cool, running water (don't ask about what happens when it is packaged, just wash it!). Use proper sanitary techniques as with any poultry. Watch what you touch with "chicken hands" and wipe it down later. Don't reuse utensils from raw chicken or poultry for other things.

A Word about Soup Base

I have tried to avoid soup base many times, but just don't get the same taste as when I kick it up with just a little bit of Minors Chicken Soup Base - a quality paste that is lower in sodium and high in flavor in contrast to any powder or cubes you can find. Economically, it is more expensive than powder or cube, but the taste makes up for it.

In the metro-Detroit area, Gordon Food Service carries it, as does Vince & Joes, Nino Salvaggio and probably some other sources. However, make sure you buy it from the refigerated section. If you enter a store where it is stored on the shelf, that grocer is not following manufacturer instructions to keep refrigerated. We found this out the hard way when encountering a quality problem and calling them.

Notice that no salt is used in this recipe. That is because soup base has enough salt in it and packs in flavor with the salt. In Minors Chicken Soup Base, there is 560 mg of sodium for an 8 oz serving prepared (1 tsp to 8 oz water). There are 4 cups in a quart. So, if there are three teaspoons per tablespoon, we will have a maximum of 9 teaspoons or 560 x 9 = 5040. To figure out how much sodium there is per 8 oz serving, we just divide the 5040 by 16 cups, which is 315. Compare that to any soup made with powder or boullion cubes. In fact, just look at how much sodium is in the average canned soup, with 2.5 servings per can. It's around 700-1100 mg and that's not even for 8oz.

Minors is lower sodium, yet packed with flavor!

To use a lid or to not use a lid?
During winter, when added humidity is good for the respiratory tract, and the wood in the house, I leave the lid off, and keep adding water to keep my pot to it's original filling point. During the summer, I leave the lid on!


4 Qts of water
3 chicken thighs (or other substitute)
2-3 level Tbsp of Minor's Chicken Base
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large, or 2 small stalks of celery chopped finely
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1/4 tsp of fresh ground multi-color pepper or ordinary ground pepper (optional)
1 Tbsp of fresh chopped or dried parsley (optional)
2/3 cup of Quick Barley


Using a minimum 5.5 qt stockpot, add 4 qts of water and the prepared chicken. Initially, I set it to high until it gets boiling and I don't leave the room. Then, I drop it to simmer and go about business for about 30 minutes. Check back on it and you will see a foam developing on the surface. Use a large spoon to skim this off the surface and discard it into a bowl.

Add the onion, celery and pepper and let it all simmer for a couple hours until the meat is ready to fall off the bone. Remove the chicken to a small bowl to cool, then break up the chicken by hand and add it back into the soup.

Add the carrots and let simmer for 30 minutes.

When you are getting close to serving, turn up the soup so it is in a slow boil and add the barley and parsley. By waiting until the end to add the parsley, the flavor does not boil away. While the barley claims to cook in 10 minutes, it actually takes longer. It won't hurt to let it cook for about 20-30 minutes.


  • Strain the soup before you put the chicken back in if you prefer not to have chunks of onion and celery.
  • Rather than strain the soup, put the veggies whole and remove them. Just cut the ends of the onion bulb and drop it in.
  • Use thyme instead of parsley, especially when congested.
  • Add a whole potato or two in the final 30-40 minutes (peeled red potatoe won't fall apart like an Idaho will). You can cut it up after it is cooked. Do this when not using barley.
  • Add 1/4 cup of crushed tomato with onion and celery.
  • If you have a fever or flu, you will not want to use barley. The high fiber content will lay like led on your stomach. But, even the broth without noodles is great for sipping on when sick. And, the onions are helpful.

As I stated earlier, don't put barley in if you want to use noodles. However, don't take the easy way out and boil them in the soup. This makes the soup starchy, the noodles eventually mushy, and limits how long you can keep it (which should only be 2-3 days, but noodles continue to absorb moisture and expand). Boil them separate, using a little oil in the water so they don't stick. Rinse them in cool water to stop the cooking and after they drain, put them in a container. Add as desired for each bowl!

Reduced Fat Tip

To remove some of the grease, you can use a ladle and gently drop it evenly down to pull the oil off the top. This should take place after the soup has stopped cooking when oil fully floats to the top. In the end, little fat ends up in each serving if the soup is stirred adequately with each ladle-full.

If you really need to get the fat off of your soup without losing too much flavor, make your soup the day before or early, let it cool, refigerate, and after a couple hours, it will form a grease-crust which can be lifted off. Otherwise, use a fat-separator.

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