A few weeks ago, Costco was giving tastes of Campbell’s Simply Chicken Soup. It wasn’t half bad; at least it didn’t leave the chemical aftertaste in my mouth that some of the other Campbell’s chicken soups do. But when I was reading the ingredients on the can, I noticed that Campbell’s Simply Chicken Soup uses carrageenan as a thickener.

While the FDA has declared carrageenan to be safe, some studies have expressed concerns about carrageenan’s pro-inflammatory effects and possible contribution to diseases that are associated with inflammation, including inflammatory bowel and other gastrointestinal problems.

That’s when I had my rotisserie-chicken soup epiphany right there in the middle of Costco: why not make my own chicken soup using a Costco rotisserie chicken? I have since learned that Costco makes its own Kirkland Signature Rotisserie Chicken Noodle Soup as a seasonal item, but I don’t know what they use to thicken it with. The soup base is apparently pre-made and shipped frozen to Costco locations which then add chicken that’s either rotisserie or precooked.

One of the problems with making chicken soup from scratch is that it’s usually a two-step process. The first step is making the chicken stock, and then you make the soup. My goal was to combine both steps into one. So I filled my cart with Costco rotisserie chickens to begin a mission to create a simple recipe for making chicken soup that actually tastes like chicken soup and is satisfying to eat.

After several attempts, here’s what I discovered:

1. Less Is More. All you need is a Costco Rotisserie chicken, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, water, canned or boxed chicken stock, and some peppercorns or pepper if you don’t have peppercorns.

2. Water & Chicken Stock. I made batches using different amounts of water and no chicken stock. But none of the water-only batches could top using 8 cups of water and 4 cups of store-bought chicken broth. Feel free to experiment, as your mileage (and taste buds) may vary.

3. Sauté and Partially Caramelize the Onions. I tried several batches using raw onions, but the onion flavor always stood out a bit too much. So I ended up sautéing the onions until they were beyond translucent and well on their way to being caramelized. This helped the onions transition from being party crashers to one of the silent powers behind the throne.

Sautéed and partly caramelized onions in a frying pan.

4. The Carrots & Celery. I also tried sautéing the carrots and celery. My advice: Don’t do this! You will end up with wimpy carrots and celery that has a gross texture. While the sautéed onions pretty much disappear into the soup, sautéed carrots and celery remain but in a truly pathetic state.

5. Slow Cooking. Slow cooking for several hours is key. Either cook the soup in a large pot over low heat or in a dutch oven placed in your oven, OR use a 7-quart slow cooker like my beloved Crockpot model that I got for $19.95 at Walmart. The slow cooker allows me to keep the soup going for ten to twelve hours on low without having to worry about burning it or the house down when I’m asleep or not there.

Ingredients of soup with small pictures of a rotisserie chicken, celery, carrots, onions, chicken broth, garlic, peppercorns and salt.

Ingredients (These are only approximate — don’t fear trying proportions that speak to your inner Julia Child.)

—1 fully cooked rotisserie chicken, at least 4 lbs. Include the drippings.
—1 ¼ lbs. peeled and chopped yellow or other type of onions. This works out to appx. 1 ½ lbs of whole, unpeeled onions.
—12 oz. of carrots (4 medium sized carrots or more) chopped into whatever size you like
—2 to 4 cloves of garlic, sliced or chopped
—4 stalks of celery, chopped into ¼ to ½ inch long pieces
—1 teaspoon of whole peppercorns; I’ve used up to 2 teaspoons of peppercorns, so it’s okay to add more If you don’t have peppercorns, try substituting ½ tsp. of ground pepper.
—4 cups or more of chicken stock. I use low sodium, but regular should be okay.
—8 cups or less of water. I found that using 4 cups of chicken stock to 8 cups water hit the Rotisserie Chiken Soup sweet spot, but you might prefer a different ratio.
—Salt: wait until the soup is fully cooked before adding salt, then salt to taste. I use very little salt in this soup because the rotisserie chicken already has salt and there’s salt in the chicken stock; also, the finished soup has enough taste that you don’t need to add a lot of salt.

1. Pull or cut the chicken into at least 8 pieces. Place them in the bottom of a 7 quart slow cooker or a large pot or large Dutch Oven. (A Dutch Oven is just a fancy term for a pot that has a fairly tight lid and that you can put into the oven.)

2. Sauté the onions in a frying pan over moderate heat until they are translucent and brownish (see pic of onions in frying pan above). Layer the sautéed onions over the chicken in the slow cooker.

3. Layer the carrots, celery and garlic over the chicken and onions

Looking into a slow cooker with raw carrots and celery layered over pieces of rotisserie chicken and sautéed onions.
4. Add 4 or more cups of chicken stock

5. Add appx. 8 cups of water, making sure the chicken and vegetables are covered with liquid.

6. Cook on low heat for 8 to 12 hours (the longer, the better). Pull out the chicken and add as much of the meat to other soup as you’d like. If you will be eating the soup right away, try using a pair of forks to separate the meat from the bones so you don’t burn your fingers.

Cooling and Storage

This soup is even better the next day. As for how to cool hot soup, I’ve written a separate post on Cooling Hot Food without Getting Too Terribly Sick.