Comfort Food for Cold Days: Creamy Chicken and Risotto Soup

This entire summer has been blazing hot. I'm sure it's to make up for last summer, which was absolutely frigid. I kid you not, it was cold. Out of nowhere it seems, though, this summer made one giant leap to fall, which I'm actually loving. Autumn is truly my favorite season; it has my favorite clothes, my favorite movies, my favorite meals. It's cool, but just warm enough for me to wear pants and a cute jacket (usually, but who knows with Michigan). Plus, it contains my favorite holiday of all time; Halloween :) The one time when dressing up as someone else and stuffing your face with junk is truly appropriate. I like to spend each night eating a fall/Halloween-inspired treat with a glass of cider and a Halloween movie; I actually gained ten pounds the first month I started this ritual...oops.

So, as usual, the weather's gotten cold and I've been trying to make more comfort food, such as creamy chicken and risotto soup. I got the idea from Panera Bread's "Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice," which I've been obsessed with since my first taste. One day, mid-summer, I'd actually gone to Panera for a chicken salad sandwich and a cup of this tomato Parmesan soup they used to have, but it wasn't there! My only other option (as I can be fairly picky, especially with soup, which I don't usually even like) was the Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice, which did not disappoint...beyond did not disappoint. It was the thickest, creamiest, most addictive soup I'd ever eaten: no exaggeration, I could have eaten it with a fork, it was so thick. The problem with craving this soup on a constant basis, though, is how fattening it must be (I'm certain), not to mention how expensive.

A couple weeks ago, though, as I was stirring a pot of rosemary risotto to have with chicken for dinner, it hit me that risotto is an incredibly creamy rice dish; so creamy, sometimes, it's almost like a thick soup. Therefore, I should be able to easily turn it into a healthy, creamy chicken and rice soup. Why I'd never thought of this before is beyond me. But that's exactly what I did, last week :)

The meal was incredibly easy. The only actual hands-on cooking I did was food prep and, of course, constant stirring of the risotto. Basically, I cut up some vegetables (carrots and parsnips, to be exact) and poached them with a couple chicken breasts, pearl onions, and a bouquet garni, which is just a little homemade satchel filled with herbs (take some cheesecloth, fill it with flavorful items, tie it closed with kitchen twine, and there's your bouquet garni). While that was cooking, I made the risotto. I know that a lot of people probably think risotto sounds really complicated and tiring, but, as always, it's not. I used to be scared out of my mind of it, maybe because it just sounds so fancy, but after actually trying it? I don't even need a recipe and I doubt anyone else would either.

The basic method is to sauté chopped onions in butter or oil, add the rice to coat with the oil, then add a little wine and stir until nearly absorbed, and, lastly, add a ladle-full of heated stock (chicken, beef, vegetable, fish, whatever your flavor preference), constantly stirring (just casual, slow stirring is fine) until it's absorbed, continually adding stock until the risotto is the right consistency. Overall, it takes about twenty minutes, just like regular rice on the stove. The actual work is stirring; big deal, right? The time flies. And what's great about this method is you can keep adding flavorful ingredients, while it cooks, tasting every so often, until you've found exactly what you're looking for. The results are well worth it, like a fresh bowl of creamy, buttery mashed potatoes. It's also traditional to add a little butter and Parmesan at the end, letting it melt into the risotto on its own, lid on, without touching it. It adds an exquisite richness, but, I must say, it's not necessary. So, if you want it healthier, skip it!

Anyway, once everything was cooked, I simply diced up the chicken and veggies, added them to the risotto, and then continued to cook a little bit longer, adding more and more stock to achieve an even creamier, more soup-like, consistency. While risotto is quite creamy, it's supposed to be rather al dente--have a little bite in the center. With cream soup, this isn't what I'm looking for. So, that's why I continued on longer, with more and more liquid. At the very end, I added a splash of wine and a few extra herbs, for flavor. I have to say...it was delicious. Absolutely satisfying! We still have some leftover risotto--just plain risotto--that I'd set aside because we didn't need that much for the soup. So, I'm really excited to eat that with a meal some time this week. It's taken everything in me not to take it for lunch. I thought I should be a good person and leave it to share with my boyfriend :)

Creamy Chicken and Risotto Soup

Poached Chicken and Vegetables
This recipe is for a whole chicken; you can poach it, shred or dice up the meat, and store any leftovers in the freezer to have at hand any time you need it! It's great for last minute dishes when you're not sure what to make or don't have much to use because, most likely, you probably have some rice and veggies for a quick stir-fry or mayo for chicken salad--not to mention using it in enchiladas, tacos, pasta, or anything else you can think of. 

If you don't want to poach an entire chicken, simply reduce the other ingredients to match the amount you're using. You'll want to lower the cooking time, though, or the chicken will overcook and dry out.

  • One 4-pound roasting chicken, giblets and fat removed
  • 3/4 pound of carrots, peeled and trimed
  • 3/4 pound of parsnips, peeled and trimmed
  • 3/4 lb pearl onions studded with 6 whole cloves
  • A bouquet garni with 4 sprigs fresh thyme, 1 sprig tarragon, 8 peppercorns, 2 bay leaves, & 4 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 10 cups water

Put all of the ingredients into a large stockpot and place a colander on top to hold them down, rather than allow them to float above the water. Bring to a rapid boil and then lower the heat to maintain a gentle boil; cook for 20 minutes. Raise the heat and bring it back to a strong boil; cover the pot with a lid, turn off the heat, and allow it to sit for 45 minutes to an hour.

When the chicken's done, lift it out of the pot with a large strainer and set aside, with the vegetables, while you make the risotto. Once you're ready, the chicken will be easy to cut up/shred and the skin will peel right off. Don't forget to save the bones and cartilage to make stock later! You can keep it all in a bag in the freezer, until you're ready.

  • 3 pints stock (your choice, vegetable or chicken)
  • 1 oz unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 bay leaves (fresh, if possible!)
  • salt, to taste
  • 12 oz Arborio rice
  • 4 oz white wine
  • fresh thyme, to taste

Heat the stock in a large saucepan and keep it simmering; you always want warm broth for cooking risotto.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, cook the butter, olive oil, shallot, bay leaves, and salt over moderate heat. Cook, stirring, until the shallot is soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic about halfway, through, ensuring it doesn't burn. 

Add the rice and stir until well coated, 1 to 2 minutes; this is important to ensure a creamy risotto because the fats will keep the grains of rice separate.

Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until mostly absorbed, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add a ladleful of stock, stirring regularly until absorbed. You want to continue this action for about 20 to 30 minutes, adjusting the heat, as necessary, to maintain a gentle simmer and always adding more stock once the previous ladleful is absorbed. The rice should cook slowly and always have a veil of stock over it. 

With a traditional risotto, the rice is done when it's tender, but firm to the bite. For this soup, though, you want it to be very tender and creamy, which is why you'll want to cook it longer. You may or may not use all the stock, depending on the consistency you're looking for or how quickly the rice is finished cooking.

While the risotto is cooking, peel the leaves from a few springs of fresh thyme and add them. Taste the risotto throughout the cooking process to determine whether more herbs are needed. Once fully put together with the chicken and vegetables, you may want to add even more, to finish it off. Tasting it throughout, though, will ensure you get the end product you desire. Experiment with other herbs as well! Do the same with the vegetables; I prefer simply root vegetables in my soups, but you may like celery, peas, or other traditional items found in chicken soup. You may even enjoy sautéing them with some spices, rather than poaching, for more levels of flavor (garlic powder, ground ginger, even curry would probably be great). 

Once the risotto has finished cooking, remove from the heat, discard the bay leaves, and add the chicken and vegetables. Because the rice tends to absorb liquid very quickly, you may want to add more stock at the end. As stated earlier, I also added a splash of extra wine.

1 comment:

  1. This is exactly the recipe I was looking for, but instead of parsnips I will be using turnips. I'll let you know how it turns out. Thank you SO much for this!!!!


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