Cream of Chicken Soup Recipe
Cream of chicken soup is my absolute favorite, and this recipe was inspired by the cream of chicken and rice soup from the erstwhile Longfellow’s Restaurant in Torrance, California. Its not exactly low calorie fare, and its not the quickest soup in my arsenal, but its delicious, well worth the extra time, and my family (my “guinea pigs” as they call themselves) loves it. For that matter, the family pets rarely do so much collective begging as they do when this soup is served up – it smells lovely, too. I provide you with several different methods for preparing the mirepoix, so you can choose the one that you prefer, several different ways you can make the soup more nutritious and slip vegetables past finicky children, options to reduce the calories, and instructions to prepare the soup plain, with rice, or even wild rice, whichever you prefer.
WARNING:: This soup contains both onions and garlic, both members of the allium family, which cause damage to the red blood cells of cats and dogs. If you want to share your soup with your pets, you’ll need to omit the onions and garlic entirely from the recipe, or alternatively, make the soup without them, plate up the pets’ share, then add them in at the end for yourselves (and in the latter case, no sharing leftovers with the furballs).
When I was a kid, we were allowed to pick a local restaurant for our birthday dinner. For a number of years, my choice was a restaurant called Longfellow’s in Torrance, California. They had a very basic prix fixe family menu, steak, fried chicken, and the like, but the reason I wanted to eat there was their cream of chicken and rice soup. It was lovely, full of a richness and complexity of flavor you just couldn’t and wouldn’t get from Campbell’s soups, and I looked forward to it every year. Unfortunately, my suspicion at thirteen that their method of determining the price of each person’s meal, namely, having everyone step on a scale, was a fatal business flaw, was correct. They were gone by the time I reached high school. Imagine my joy a few years later when my mother told me that the L.A. Times had printed their recipe and she was sending it to me. I kept that recipe clipping pasted on to the front page of the only cookbook I owned in college, and even made it a few times (quite amazing considering it called for chicken gizzards to make the stock and since I didn’t own a car, all the ingredients had to be lugged home on foot). Then I moved, and the unthinkable happened: the paperback cookbook was knocked into several pieces, and I’ve never been able to find the front part since. I must still have it, somewhere, but darned if I can find it.
This tribute to Longfellow’s cream of chicken and rice soup is based on my fuzzy recollection of their recipe and methods, with adaptations for the pressure cooker and the home cook (a restaurant that serves fried chicken is going to have access to a lot more chicken gizzards and carcasses for stock than we are, some folks are put off by gizzards, plus where I live it can be difficult to find them). The only other thing I remember about that recipe is that it was based upon a mirepoix, carrots, onion and celery finely diced, cooked, and then pureed. The pureed vegetables provide not only flavor and color for the soup, but also serve as a thickening agent. I also assume for the purposes of this recipe that you are using commercially produced broth, and include several methods of enriching the chicken flavor. But if you do have homemade stock, this is one of the recipes you might want to consider using it for: a rich, meaty chicken stock really takes the soup up another notch. (While making stocks in pressure cookers is remarkably easy and fairly quick, we just can’t eat enough chicken pieces to provide a sufficient volume of bones and scraps to make stock for every batch of soup we eat.)
Chicken (or Turkey) for the Soup. Many of my recipes call for pre-cooked chicken, but this is not one of them. The addition of the cooking juices from the meat to the broth (as well as other ingredients) really improve the depth of flavor. Ideally, I would recommend bone-in dark meat (thighs and drumsticks) with the skin removed (you can save the skin in the freezer for rendering chicken fat, instructions for which I will be posting at a later date). Cooking bone-in meats provides more flavor. Dark meat provides more flavor, as well as more fat, so if you want to shave off some calories, switch to chicken breast. You can also use turkey legs – the pressure cooker cooks them very quickly compared to conventional methods, and cooking under pressure really tenderizes both chicken and turkey leg meat and makes it really easy to pick it off the bones. Even though it’s the leanest poultry choice, I don’t recommend using turkey breasts: they have the least amount of fat, but also by far the least amount of flavor, and they just don’t do as well in the pressure cooker as chicken parts (or turkey thighs and drumsticks) do. If you want to and you can find chicken gizzards, you can certainly cook them in the broth to add flavor. Some people simmer chicken gizzards to soften them before chicken frying them, so cook them in the broth in the pressure cooker instead – the pressure cooker does a wonderful job of tenderizing tough cuts of meat in a fraction of the time!
Mirepoix. Mirepoix is a French term referring to the classic foundation of many French soups and stews: carrots, onion and celery. I have changed the usual proportions here because I’m not the biggest fan of celery so I’ve reduced it to half a cup, but you can increase it if you wish, and carrot has been increased to be the primary mirepoix vegetable. You need at least a cup of diced carrot, sometimes I use two, for the best flavor. Carrot is the key vegetable here. And you need to puree the vegetables. I’ve tried making the soup with a very fine dice, grated vegetables or mashing the vegetables by hand, and the soup is not only thinner, the color isn’t as nice, and it just doesn’t taste as good. Pureeing the vegetables is essential. (If there are any other vegetables you’d like to sneak past your kids, like mushrooms, cook and puree them along with the mirepoix, and they’ll likely never know they are there.) If you have a stainless steel pressure cooker pot and don’t care about scratches, you can use a stick blender. If you have a non-stick pot like I do, a stick blender could easily damage the nonstick finish on the pot, so use a blender or a food processor instead. I always use the food processor, doing the broth and vegetables in several small batches, because I find that’s the best way to get a completely pureed, smooth finish.
Preparing the Mirepoix. I’m including three different methods for preparing the mirepoix because there are advantages to each, and you might prefer one over the others. Method 1: The classic preparation method would be to finely dice the vegetables (1/4″ dice), sauté them in a few tablespoons of butter, a little salt and a pinch of sugar until the onions soften and turn clear and the vegetables brown a bit, but this is the most labor intensive method, and some people don’t want to spend the time chopping vegetables into little pieces. Method 2: The second method is to chop the vegetables into large chunks, put them in a pan, drizzle or mist some olive oil on them, season them, and roast them at 350 ° F / 175 ° C (300 ° F / 150 ° C for those with convection ovens) for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the vegetables from the oven, toss them, then put the back in the oven for an additional 15 minutes. This is the most time consuming method, but it involves little active labor (the oven does almost all the work). Method 3: Chop the vegetables into ½ inch chunks. Melt a few tablespoons of butter in the pressure cooker pot, then add the vegetables, ½ teaspoon of coarse kosher salt, and ¼ teaspoon of baking soda, and stir everything really well to distribute and coat. (You must add both the salt and the baking soda for this method to work.) Cook at HIGH PRESSURE for 20 minutes, using quick pressure release. This method actually caramelizes the vegetables, not only on the surface, but all the way through, and gives them a sweeter taste. Some people prefer a more savory taste, and don’t like the additional sweetness in their soups — if you are one of those people, choose either Method 1 or 2.
Gluten Free Cream of Chicken Soup. My research tells me that carrots, onion, celery, garlic, etc. are gluten free. Vermouth, which is made from grapes, is for the most part gluten free, however, I have read that some vintners store the wine in barrels that have been caulked with a flour paste solution, so if you haven’t already tried it, or you’re particularly sensitive to small amounts of gluten, best to ask the bottler before buying. Most rices, white and brown rice for example, are gluten free, but some blends of wild rice may contain barley, which contains the problematic kind of gluten (there are Gluten Free Wild Rice blends available, however). The other potential problem for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities would be the chicken broth and chicken base. Here are the lists of Campbell’s / Swanson’s broths sold in the United States and Canada that are gluten free: Campbells / Swansons Gluten Free Broths (sold in the USA) and Campbells / Swansons Gluten Free Broths (sold in Canada). If you can’t find gluten free broth or base in your local supermarket, there are Gluten Free Chicken Broth and Gluten Free Chicken Base products sold online.
CHICKEN BASE SHOPPING TIPS: Your local supermarket may stock chicken base (don’t use bouillon, its way, way too salty), but in case they don’t, you have a couple of options. If you’d like to use the brand of chicken base I use and just want one jar, Chicken Base, Amazon and Vitacost have about the same prices when you factor in shipping. If you want more than one jar, however, and you’re willing to buy multiple jars at once (they have a shelf life of two years unopened), since the latter offers free shipping on orders over $49, that significantly reduces the price per jar in their favor. Even better, if you’re a new customer who’s never purchased from Vitacost before, and you use the referral link above to sign up with them, they’ll send you a coupon where you can save $10 off a $30 purchase. So if you go through the link, create an account, and use your coupon, you’ll get an even better deal! (Even as an existing customer, I just bought a whole bunch of jars – chicken, beef, turkey, mushroom, ham and clam – on sale for a price so good that they beat the price in the grocery store by quite a bit, and I received free next day shipping, too.)
If you want organic chicken base, again, for a single jar, the prices are about the same. If you are willing to buy two jars, the two pack at Amazon is the best deal: Better than Bouillon Organic Chicken Base. If you want gluten free chicken base, none of the Better Than Bouillon products is billed as gluten-free, however, it does look like they’ve made an effort to identify anything that might be problematic: I’ve compared the ingredient lists for their regular, kosher, organic and reduced salt products, and everything showed up on the Celiac Safe Foods List with the exception of cane juice solids (but cane sugar was on the list) and yeast extract (autolyzed yeast extract shows up on the safe list but I don’t know if the two are the same thing). Superior Touch, which makes the Better Than Bouillon products explicitly states that they do not test for gluten, so if you want tested products, RC Fine Foods Gluten Free Chicken Base DOES test for gluten and specifically markets it as both Kosher and gluten free.
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
Approx. 4 large carrots (1 – 2 cups when diced to ¼”)
1 medium or large onion (1 cup when diced to ¼”)
2 stalks of celery (½ cup when diced to ¼”)
½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
Pinch of sugar
¼ teaspoon of baking soda (for Method 3 only)
4 cups of chicken broth or stock (2 – 15 oz. cans)
2 tablespoons of dry vermouth or white wine
1 tablespoon of Chicken Base
1 teaspoon of roasted garlic
Chicken parts to make 2 – 3 cups of diced chicken
1 cup of uncooked white, brown or wild rice (optional)
2 cups of milk, half and half or cream
3 – 5 tablespoons of butter (optional)
3 tablespoons of flour (optional)
Electric Pressure Cooker
12″ Silicone Tipped Tongs
Food processor or blender
CREAM TIP: You can use either milk, half and half or cream for this recipe. Cream has the best taste and the most luxurious mouthfeel, but its also the most fattening, and the most expensive. Half and half is a nice economical compromise between milk and cream, sometimes I can even get it for less than the price of milk. If you want to use milk or half and half because that’s what you have in the fridge, but you want the taste of pure cream, add 1 tablespoon of butter for each cup of milk. You can’t whip it like proper whipping cream, but that will approximate the fat content of true cream and works just as well in cooking applications like this. Whichever you choose, do not pressure cook the cream or half and half – it will break under high temperature. Instead, wait until the end, when you’ve finished pressure cooking, and add the chicken to the pot first, so you’ve effectively cooled down the soup before you add the cream / half and half to it.
- If you are using Method 1 and will be hand sautéing the vegetables, peel and dice the carrots, onions and celery into ¼” pieces. I happened to use some red onion I had for this recipe, but it doesn’t make a difference, you can use any kind you like. If you are using Method 2, skip to Step 3. If you are using Method 3, skip to Step 5.
- Place the diced vegetables, 2 tablespoons of butter, ½ teaspoon of coarse kosher salt, and ½ teaspoon of coarsely ground pepper in the pressure cooker bowl. Turn your electric pressure cooker on and set it to “Sauté”. Sauté the vegetables, stirring frequently, until the onions have wilted and turned translucent, and the other vegetables have browned a bit. Proceed to Step 7.
- For Method 2, where you roast the vegetables in the oven, peel the carrots and cut the vegetables into ½” chunks. Place them in a shallow baking dish along with ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt, ½ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper and a pinch of salt. Toss to coat with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, and roast the vegetables at 350 ° F / 175 ° C (300 ° F / 150 ° C for those with convection ovens) for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, remove the pan of roasted vegetables from the oven, turn them over with tongs or a spatula, and return to the oven for another 15 minutes. Remove vegetables from the oven, remove any blackened bits (browned vegetables are great, blackened vegetables could give your soup a bitter taste, and should not be used). Add the roasted vegetables to the pressure cooker pot. Proceed to Step 7.
- For Method 3, where you caramelize the vegetables in the pressure cooker, peel the carrots, then cut the vegetables into bite size chunks (approximately ½”). Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the pressure cooker bowl. Add the vegetable cubes, ½ teaspoon of coarse kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon of baking soda, and ½ teaspoon of coarsely ground pepper. Stir to distribute the butter, salt and baking soda. Pressure cook at HIGH PRESSURE (10 PSI) for 20 minutes using QUICK PRESSURE RELEASE.
- When pressure is released, remove the lid, holding it over the pot at an angle to allow hot water to drop back inside, turn the machine off, and give the vegetables a good stirring. (The vegetables will have softened quite a bit, changed color and released quite a bit of water during pressure cooking, this is normal. The vegetables will also be sweeter using this method) DO NOT discard the liquid, its flavorful, keep it in the soup.
- Remove the vegetables and any liquid from the pressure cooker (in small batches, if need be) and place in a food processor or blender. Pulse a few times, remove the lid, scrape down the sides of the food processor, then repeat. Repeat until you have a smooth orange puree without little bits of vegetable (it will look like carrot baby food, but trust me, its delicious).
- Carefully remove the food processor blade, using a spatula to scrape any puree off the blade and back into the food processor bowl. Move blade outside your work area. Use spatula to scrape puree out of bowl and return it back to the pressure cooker pot.
- Add 4 cups of chicken broth or stock, chicken parts, 2 tablespoons of dry vermouth or white wine, 1 tablespoon of chicken base and 1 teaspoon of roasted garlic to the pot. Pressure cook at HIGH PRESSURE (10 PSI) for 6 minutes using NATURAL PRESSURE RELEASE. Once pressure has been released, turn off the “keep warm” function, and remove the pressure cooker lid.
- Once pressure has released, remove the lid, holding it over the pressure cooker bowl for a minute at an angle to allow any hot juices to run back into the pot. Remove the cooked chicken pieces with the tongs, setting them aside until they are cool enough to handle. Once cooled, remove and discard the bones, and cut the chicken into small pieces. You will need 2 – 3 cups of diced chicken.
- If you don’t want rice in your soup, skip to Step 12. While the chicken is cooling, add 1 cup of rice (white rice, brown rice, or wild rice) and 1 tablespoon of butter or oil (the fat will help keep the rice from foaming, and help keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot) to the pressure cooker. You will cook it using HIGH PRESSURE (10 PSI) using QUICK PRESSURE RELEASE. For white rice, the cooking period is 4 minutes. For brown rice, the cooking period is 11 minutes. For wild rice, the cooking time is 22 minutes. For the healthiest option, choose either brown or wild rice. If you have picky kids, you can probably slip brown rice in here and they’ll never know the difference. Proceed to Step 13.
- For those who are adding rice to the soup, go back to Step 11 or forward to Step 13. If you are not using rice, you will need to thicken it with roux. Leaving the lid off, set the pressure cooker on “Sauté” or “Simmer” while you prepare the roux. In a skillet or saucepan over low to medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Stir in 3 tablespoons of flour to coat the flour grains with butter. You will have a light yellow roux that is bubbling slightly. Continue to cook the roux, stirring constantly, until the roux is a light caramel color (about the shade of tan pantyhose). If you brown it too far, and the roux becomes too dark or you smell a burnt smell, discard it and do not use – it would ruin your whole pot of soup. Once it has reached the desired color, immediately remove from the heat (it will darken slightly afterward). If you have gluten sensitivities or want to reduce the calories, you can either go back and add rice (see Step 11) or you can use cornstarch or Potato Starch instead. In those cases, you don’t use any butter, and you use much smaller amounts of either corn or potato starch, so I recommend you take a tablespoon of starch mixed in with an equal amount of cold water or broth, removing lumps, mix the slurry into the hot soup to distribute, and repeat as needed until the soup thickens to the desired consistency.
- Once you have thickened the soup either with rice or roux, add the cubed chicken first, stirring it in to cool the soup down a bit. Add 2 cups of milk, half and half, cream or a combination thereof to the soup, stirring thoroughly. Taste the soup and add salt and pepper as needed. Serve.
ROUX TIP: You should brown roux for a couple of reasons. It removes the “flour” taste from flour, and instead gives it a slightly nutty, more complex flavor. (That doesn’t mean your soup will taste like nuts, but browning does significantly improve the flavor, its well worth the five minutes it will take to do it.) And extra butter always means extra flavor. The roux will both thicken the soup, and thanks to the extra butter, give it a better, more luxurious taste.
- 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
- Approx. 4 large carrots (1 – 2 cups when diced to ¼")
- 1 medium or large onion (1 cup when diced to ¼")
- 2 stalks of celery (½ cup when diced to ¼")
- ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
- Pinch of sugar
- ¼ teaspoon of baking soda (for Method 3 only)
- 4 cups of chicken broth or stock (2 – 15 oz. cans)
- 2 tablespoons of dry vermouth or white wine
- 1 tablespoon of Chicken Base
- 1 teaspoon of roasted garlic
- Chicken parts to make 2 – 3 cups of diced chicken
- 1 cup of uncooked white, brown or wild rice (optional)
- 2 cups of milk, half and half or cream
- 3 – 5 tablespoons of butter (optional)
- 3 tablespoons of flour (optional)
- To use Method 1, peel the carrots and onion. Dice the vegetables into ¼" squares. For Method 2 or Method 3, skip to Step 3 and Step 5, respectively.
- Add the diced vegetables, 2 tablespoons of butter, ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt, ½ teaspoon of coarsely ground pepper, and a pinch of sugar to the pressure cooker bowl. Set the machine on "sauté" and sauté the vegetables until onions wilt and turn translucent and carrots and celery have browned at the edges. Skip to Step 7.
- To use Method 2, peel the carrots. Roughly cut all the vegetables into ½" pieces. Add cut veggies, 1 – 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar to a shallow baking dish, tossing to coat. Bake at 350 ° F / 175 ° C (for convection ovens, 300 ° F / 150 ° C) for 30 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the oven, turn the vegetables over, and return to the oven for 15 more minutes. When cooking is completed, remove the roasted vegetables, remove any blackened bits, and add the carrots, onion and celery to the pressure cooker. Skip to Step 7.
- To use Method 3, peel the onions and carrots, cut all the vegetables into approximately ½" cubes. Add the vegetable chunks, 2 tablespoons of butter, ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt, ½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper and ¼ teaspoon baking soda to the pressure cooker pot. Turn the machine on, lid off, to melt the butter. Stir to distribute the butter, salt and baking soda amongst the vegetables. Lock the lid on and cook at HIGH PRESSURE for 20 minutes using QUICK PRESSURE RELEASE.
- When pressure has been released, remove the lid, holding it at an angle over the bowl to allow any hot water to fall back into the pot. Give the vegetables a quick stir. DO NOT discard the cooking liquid.
- In small batches, transfer the vegetables and any liquid to a blender or food processor. Pulse several times, remove the lid, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and repeat until vegetables have been pureed to a smooth consistency.
- Remove the blade, using a spatula to scrape any pureed vegetables off it, and return the puree to the pressure cooker bowl.
- Add the raw chicken parts, 4 cups of broth or stock, 2 tablespoons of vermouth, 1 tablespoon of chicken base and 1 teaspoon of roasted garlic to the pressure cooker. Cook at HIGH PRESSURE for 6 minutes using NATURAL PRESSURE RELEASE. Once pressure is released, remove the lid and turn the unit off.
- Remove the cooked chicken parts from the pressure cooker, and allow to cool sufficiently that you can handle them. Bone the pieces, cutting or shredding the chicken into small pieces, and discarding the bones. You will need a total of 2 – 3 cups of diced chicken.
- If you don't want rice in the soup, skip to Step 12. Add 1 cup of uncooked white, brown or wild rice to the pressure cooker. Cook at HIGH PRESSURE using QUICK PRESSURE RELEASE as follows: for white rice, 4 minutes; for brown rice, 11 minutes, for wild rice, 22 minutes. Proceed to Step 13.
- If you are not using rice, you'll need roux. Set the pressure cooker on "Sauté" or "Simmer" to keep the soup warm. On your stovetop, warm a skillet over low to medium heat, mix 3 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of flour together. Cook the roux slowly, stirring constantly, until it turns a light caramel color, then remove from the heat. Those with gluten intolerances or who want to cut the calories, can use smaller quantities of Potato Starch or corn starch, in a slurry, instead. Combine one tablespoon of starch with an equal amount of cold water, removing any lumps, pour the slurry into the warm soup, stirring immediately to distribute. If you need more starch thickener, you can make additional small amounts in equal amounts of cold water, add keep adding until thickened. (The soup will be thinned by "cream" added in the next step.)
- Add the diced chicken to the soup to cool it down a bit, then add 2 cups of milk / half and half / cream, or a combination thereof. If you use milk but want the taste of cream, add 1 tablespoon of butter for each cup of milk. Stir to incorporate. Taste and add additional salt and pepper as needed. Serve.