Need a comforting hot meal? Make a big pot of this delicious lemon chicken orzo soup, and you’ll be good to go. Each bowl has tender pieces of meat and hearty vegetables, plus a squeeze of lemon juice for bright citrus flavor.
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Of course, chicken noodle soup is staple comfort food, but why not switch things up with a citrusy version? All of the elements cook in one pot, which builds layers of flavor and minimizes mess. Yes, even the pasta! It’s the perfect balance of lean protein and hearty vegetables. I often make a large batch, then individually portion out servings to reheat through the week.
I start by searing the chicken breasts to brown the surface for more flavor. It simmers with sauteed vegetables and fresh herbs to add dimension to the soup base. If you haven’t tried orzo pasta before, it looks just like a grain of rice. It adds just the right amount of carbohydrates while keeping the soup light. It may become your new favorite noodle too!
Sear then shred the chicken
Cooking the chicken in hot olive oil before simmering makes a huge taste difference. It takes just a few minutes to brown the surface and develop new flavors compared to simply simmering raw poultry.
A gentle simmer ensures that the thick pieces are cooked through but not dried out. Once the chicken cools down a bit, shred it into smaller bite-sized pieces. For an even quicker option, use leftover rotisserie chicken.
Fresh vegetables and herbs
To transform the liquid base into a savory and fragrant stock, I use a combination of freshly chopped aromatics, vegetables, and herbs. I add a classic pairing of onions, celery, carrots, leeks, and minced garlic. They are the building blocks for any great soup, and sauteeing them enhances their earthy qualities.
To complement the poultry, I use robust herbs like sage and thyme. I cook them in the hot oil to draw out the fat-soluble flavor compounds before adding in any liquids. It makes the stock much more fragrant and tasty. You can also use 1 1 ½ teaspoons of dried herbs de Provence or Italian seasonings as a quick substitution.
Cooking the orzo
These tiny pieces of pasta take less than 10 minutes to cook. I add them right into the boiling stock, which infuses more flavor into the noodles. This process also saves you from having to use a separate pot. A bonus is that the starches from the pasta’s surface release into the liquid, making it a little more rich in texture.
Lemon adds some tang
The citric acid in lemon juice adds a natural tanginess. When used in just the right levels, it can brighten and elevate the soup’s flavors without becoming overwhelmingly sour. I use just a few tablespoons, but feel free to modify to your taste preference. I also grate the lemon zest. It has a beautiful citrus aroma without the pucker. Serve some wedges on the side for those who like an extra squeeze of juice.
What to serve this with
Starches soaks up liquid
If not serving the lemon chicken soup right away, you’ll notice that the liquid disappears slowly. That’s because the natural starches in the orzo act like little sponges, soaking up the surrounding moisture and swelling in size. This excess softening is why noodles become mushy if cooked too long. Just add some stock to the soup for a less thick consistency, and when storing or reheating later.
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Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup
- 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breast
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper, plus more for seasoning
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 cup diced yellow onion, ½-inch dice
- 1 cup sliced leeks, white and light green parts, quartered lengthwise, then cut ⅛-inch thick
- 1 cup sliced celery, ¼-inch thick slices
- 1 cup sliced carrots, ¼-inch thick slices
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 2 teaspoon chopped sage
- 1 teaspoon chopped thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 64 ounces unsalted chicken broth , or stock, 8 cups
- 1 cup dried orzo
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon thinly sliced basil leaves
- Season chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper.
- Heat a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, once hot at the chicken. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the surface lightly browns. Flip and cook for another 3 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate.
- Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pot. Once hot, add the onion, leeks, celery, and carrots. Saute and cook for 3 minutes, or until the vegetables are lightly browned.
- Add the garlic, sage, thyme, lemon zest, salt, and pepper, saute for 30 seconds.
- Add the chicken and chicken broth to the pot. Bring the broth to a boil, cover the pot and reduce to a simmer over low heat. After 10 minutes, flip the chicken over and adjust heat as needed. Cover and cook until the internal temperature reaches 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC), about 5 to 10 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and remove the chicken from the pot. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred into smaller pieces, then set aside.
- Bring the broth to a boil and then add the orzo. Stir and cook the pasta for about 7 to 8 minutes, or until tender. Turn off the heat.
- Add the shredded chicken back to the soup, stir to combine. Let it sit in the hot broth for about 5 minutes, or until warm.
- Stir in the lemon juice. Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste. If not eating right away, the pasta may absorb the liquid as it sits. Add more chicken broth if needed.
- Serve the soup hot, garnished with chopped parsley, basil, and lemon wedges.
- Recipe Yield: 8 cups
- Serving Size: 1 cup
- Using Pre-cooked Chicken: 3 cups shredded chicken or rotisserie chicken can be used in place of the chicken breasts. Skip the simmering step and move to boil the pasta, then adding in the pre-cooked chicken at the end, simmering until warmed through.
- Storing and Reheating: Cool the soup thoroughly. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Reheat on the stovetop over medium heat until hot. Add more chicken broth if needed to thin out the soup. The pasta will absorb the liquid as it sits.
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