When it comes to comfort foods, homemade chicken noodle soup from scratch is a classic. While you may consider chicken noodle soup with chicken breast to be your healthiest option, to get the most flavorful soup, professional chefs recommend making this classic comfort food with legs and thighs.
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Can you make chicken soup with legs and thighs? You bet. In fact, if you were to ask any professional chef, she would say it’s the only way.
Thighs and Legs for Flavor
For a full-bodied, full-flavor broth, the professionals at the Culinary Institute of America in their textbook The Professional Chef, published by John Wiley & Sons in 2011, recommend using cuts of meat that are more developed, which means the muscles that get the most exercise. In chicken, thighs and legs are the most developed and have the most flavor. You may already know this if you prefer dark meat over white because of its meaty taste and tender texture.
These darker cuts of meat have more fat within the muscle, which is responsible for the flavor and tender texture of the meat. Thighs are especially flavorful, according to Bon Appetit, because the bones in the thigh also contain bone marrow, which creates a roasted, meaty taste within the meat, which may add extra depth to your soup.
Read more: Chicken Broth Nutrition
Comparing the Nutrition
For the past 25 years or so, Americans have been consuming more chicken than beef, according to the National Chicken Council. This may be due in part to the fact that many health care professionals recommend poultry products (without the skin) over red meat to keep saturated fat intake down, says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Too much saturated fat in the diet raises blood cholesterol levels and your risk of heart disease. For health, less than 10 percent of your calories should come from saturated fat. If you consume 2,000 calories a day that's no more than 22 grams of saturated fat per day.
Yes, dark meat chicken (legs and thighs) is higher in fat and saturated fat than white meat chicken. But the difference is minimal, especially when you take the skin out of the equation.
According to the USDA, a 100-gram (3.5-ounce) portion of stewed chicken leg meat (which includes the thigh) without skin has:
- 173 calories
- 25 grams of protein
- 7.5 grams of total fat
- 2 grams of saturated fat
If you include the skin, you get 211 calories, 23 grams of protein, 13 grams of total fat and 3.4 grams of saturated fat in a 100-gram serving of stewed chicken leg.
By comparison, the same serving size of cooked lean chicken breast has:
- 157 calories
- 32 grams of protein
- 3 grams of total fat
- 1 gram of saturated fat
So if you're debating between chicken noodle soup with chicken breast versus chicken leg soup due to concerns about saturated fat, then you can put that debate to rest.
Chicken Noodle Soup Ingredients
While thighs and legs are an important ingredient in your homemade chicken noodle soup from scratch, they're not the only ingredients you need to make a full-bodied soup. The Culinary Institute of America experts suggest adding a mirepoix to your broth base, which is simply carrots, celery and onions, as well as a bag of spices, such as parsley, bay leaf, rosemary and thyme.
For depth and texture, egg noodles make a good choice for your chicken noodle soup. Of course, any pasta you have on hand would work well. Pasta or noodles are a classic addition, but to bump up the nutritional quality of your chicken leg soup, sub out your pasta for a whole grain, such as barley or brown rice.
You can also add other vegetables to your chicken noodle soup ingredients, such as green beans, corn, kale, collards or tomatoes. Hearty beans, such as garbanzo and cannellini beans, also boost the nutritional quality of your soup
Chicken Leg Soup Recipe
According to the home-cooking experts at Better Homes and Gardens, you can have a delicious homemade chicken noodle soup from scratch that's ready to serve in an hour or less.
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 4 bone-in chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks) with skin
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 1 large white onion, roughly chopped
- 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
- 2 large celery sticks, sliced
- 2 teaspoons of minced garlic
- 5 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon of pepper
- 8-ounce package of noodles or pasta
- Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat.
- Cut your chicken parts into pieces, separating the thigh from the drumstick and pat dry. Add chicken to your pot skin side down and sprinkle with salt. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, or until browned.
- Add onions, carrots, celery, garlic, bay leaves and pepper to the pot and cover with 8 cups of water. Stir and bring water to a boil then reduce heat and allow soup to simmer for 20 minutes or until the chicken is falling off the bone.
- Add the noodles, bring the soup back to a boil and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Remove bay leaves and chicken bones and serve.
This soup recipe makes four to six servings and can be consumed immediately. However, to trim some of the fat and calories from your soup, consider placing your cooked soup in the refrigerator overnight. The next day you can skim the fat off the top, reheat and serve.
Making Soup With Chicken Breast
While chicken leg soup produces a more flavorful broth, you may simply prefer white meat chicken over dark meat. Martha Stewart suggests creating a simple and tasty chicken noodle soup with chicken breast using chicken broth.
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1 large white onion, chopped
- 2 large celery stalks, chopped
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 4 cups of low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 1/4 pounds of skinless, boneless chicken breast
- 2 bay leaves
- 8-ounce package of egg noodles or pasta
- Pepper to taste
- Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add carrots, onion and celery and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt.
- Add broth and 4 cups of water to the vegetables and bring to a boil.
- Add chicken to the broth, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
- Remove chicken from the soup with tongs and tear or shred with a fork into bite-size pieces.
- Add egg noodles to the broth and cook for 5 minutes.
- Stir in chicken, sprinkle salt and pepper to taste and serve.
Makes six servings.
Ready-to-serve chicken broth is convenient when making soup, but it's also high in sodium. A 1-cup serving can have more than 900 milligrams of sodium. By comparison, ready-to-serve low-sodium chicken broth has 72 milligrams per cup.
Like saturated fat, too much sodium in your diet increases the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day for heart health.
- Culinary Institute of America: "The Professional Chef" published in 2011, John Wiley & Sons
- Bon Appetit: "Bone-In Chicken Thighs Are Just Plain Better"
- The National Chicken Council: "Per Capita Consumption of Poultry and Livestock, 1960 to Forecast 2020, in Pounds"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Breasts vs Thighs Which Is More Nutritious"
- MedlinePlus: "Facts About Saturated Fat"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Chicken, Leg (Drumstick and Thigh), Stewed, Skin Not Eaten"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Chicken, Leg (Drumstick and Thigh), Stewed, Skin Eaten"
- MyFoodData: "Lean Chicken Breast (Cooked), Soup Chicken Broth Ready-to-Serve, Soup Chicken Broth Low Sodium Canned"
- Better Homes and Gardens: "Bone-In Chicken Noodle Soup"
- Martha Stewart: "Easy Chicken Noodle Soup"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Get the Facts: Sodium and the Dietary Guidelines"