Craving comfort food on a cold day? Make a big pot of this absolutely delicious recipe for lemon chicken orzo soup, and you’ll be good to go!
Table of Contents
This chicken lemon orzo soup is the next best thing when I’m not making chicken noodle soup. All elements are cooked in one large 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.
Start by searing the chicken breasts in a Dutch oven 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 like a grain of rice. It adds just the right amount of carbohydrates while keeping the soup light.
“Just made this last night. It’s so good! Even my husband who isn’t a big fan of soup, enjoyed it because it was somehow both bright and comforting.”—Kaily
Sear the chicken
Step 1: Simmering raw poultry tastes bland. It only takes a few minutes to brown the surface of the chicken and develop wonderful new flavors. After cooking, set the meat aside. If you prefer dark meat, use boneless chicken thighs instead.
Saute the vegetables and herbs
Step 2: I use a combination of freshly chopped aromatics, vegetables, and herbs to transform the liquid base into a savory and fragrant stock. 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 hot oil to draw out the fat-soluble flavor compounds before adding any liquids. It makes the stock more fragrant and tasty. You can also use 1 1 ½ teaspoons of dried herbs de Provence or Italian seasonings as a quick substitution.
Simmer the chicken
Step 3: Add the chicken back to the pot and add the chicken broth. A gentle simmer ensures that the thick pieces are cooked through but not dried out.
Cook the orzo
Step 5: This type of pasta takes less than 10 minutes to cook. I add them right into the boiling stock, which infuses more flavor. This process also saves you from having to use a separate pot. A bonus is that the starches from the pasta’s surface are released into the liquid, making it richer in texture.
Lemon adds some tang
Add the shredded chicken.
Add lemon juice.
Step 6: The citric acid in lemon juice adds a natural tanginess. Using the proper levels can brighten and elevate the soup’s flavors without becoming overwhelmingly sour. I use a few tablespoons but feel free to modify it to your taste preference. I also grate the lemon zest. It has a beautiful citrus aroma without the pucker.
Step 7: Serve some fresh lemon wedges on the side for those who love lemon and would like an extra squeeze of juice. Garnish with fresh parsley and basil to add herbaceous aromas to each spoonful. I even like to sprinkle on some parmesan cheese for extra savory seasoning.
What to serve this with
- Green Salad with Italian Dressing
- Hawaiian Rolls
- Tomato Basil Bruschetta
- Garlic bread
- Crusty no-knead bread
Frequently asked questions
Tart lemon juice adds dimension to the savory soup. It provides tanginess from the citric acid in the fruit. Start at 1 tablespoon, and add more to your taste preference.
Since the rice-shaped pasta is very small, it cooks very quickly. When cooked too long, the starches will burst, causing the orzo to become very mushy. Add it towards the end of cooking the soup so that the pasta is tender but not overly soft.
Yes, the orzo will reheat well when suspended in the liquid of the soup. You may find that the starches in the pasta absorb some of the broth. Just add in more liquid when reheating on the stovetop.
Starches soak up the liquid
If you do not serve 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 moisture and swelling in size. This excess softening is why they become mushy if cooked too long. Just add chicken stock or broth to the soup for a less thick consistency, and when storing or reheating later.
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
- Sear the Chicken – 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, then once hot, add the chicken. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until the surface lightly browns. Flip and cook for another 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
- Cook the Vegetables and Herbs – Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pot. Once hot, add the onion, leeks, celery, and carrots. Saute for 3 minutes or until the veggies are lightly browned. Add the garlic, sage, thyme, lemon zest, salt, and pepper, and saute for 30 seconds.
- Simmer the Chicken – Add the chicken and chicken broth to the pot. Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer over low heat. After 10 minutes, flip the chicken over and adjust the heat as needed. Cover and cook until the internal temperature reaches 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC), about 5 to 10 minutes.
- Shred the Chicken – Turn off the heat and remove the chicken from the pot. Once cool enough to handle, shred into smaller pieces, then set aside.
- Cook the Orzo – Bring the liquid to a boil and then add the orzo. Stir and cook for about 7 to 8 minutes or until tender. Turn off the heat.
- Season the Soup – Add the shredded chicken back to the pot, and stir to combine. Let it sit in the hot broth for about 5 minutes or until warm. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. If not eaten right away, the pasta may absorb the liquid as it sits. Add more chicken broth if needed and rewarm.
- To Serve – Garnish with chopped parsley and basil. Serve lemon wedges on the side.
- Recipe Yield: 8 cups
- Serving Size: 1 cup
- Using Pre-cooked Chicken: 3 cups of shredded chicken or rotisserie chicken can be used in place of the chicken breasts. Add after cooking the orzo to warm the meat.
- Storing: Cool and 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.
- Freezing: Portion out the soup in resealable plastic bags. Freeze the bag flat. Store for up to 1 month. Defrost before using.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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