I’m a sucker for Progresso’s Chicken Rice Soup (With Vegetables). Call me uncouth or uncultured, I don’t care—I grew up on the stuff. That tall blue can of way-more-than-my-daily-allowance of sodium and mono-textured ingredients was (and is) comforting. But sometime between childhood and making gallons of chicken consommé every other day in a restaurant, I learned there were other ways to be comforted in that way.
You would think making a proper chicken and rice soup is straightforward, but in practice it’s a little tricky. Rice absorbs liquid like a sponge, and if it’s left to sit in soup, it becomes mushy and blown out—less like rice in soup and more like mediocre risotto in starchy chicken water. So what’s the solution? Let’s look to another childhood favorite: Chinese pao fan, or soupy rice.
While it has many variations, the crux of the dish is simple: Take leftover rice, prepare a soup base, and combine the two toward the end of cooking—or even better, right at the table. Mixing the broth and rice at the end eliminates any chances of cloudy, starchy soup or blown-out grains. This gives you more control over the consistency and quality of the dish, and makes storage simple if you're preparing it in advance. Easy peasy, right?
The foundation of this recipe pulls from classic chicken soup flavors; I’m not reinventing the wheel here, but rather focusing on careful execution. Taking a page from Sohla’s Ultimate Chicken Noodle Soup, I start by roasting chicken wings to build a robust base for chicken stock, then build the soup with aromatics like charred onion and a healthy amount of black pepper.
Poaching and shredding chicken leg quarters separately from the base of the soup ensures the meat won't be overcooked and removes a lot of the guesswork. From there, the soup incorporates the usual suspects: carrots, celery, parsley, and, of course, frozen peas.
When it comes to the rice, I found that medium- or long-grain worked best here. To prevent the grains from clumping, I toast them in a mixture of oil and chicken fat rendered from the roasted chicken wings used in the stock. Instead of water, I cook the rice in a measured amount of reserved leg-poaching liquid—straight out of the Hainanese chicken rice playbook. The result? Chicken-flavored rice, which means even more chicken flavor in the finished soup. This is peak comfort food—warming for the soul. And it might just give that blue Progresso can a run for its money.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 500°F (260°C). Spread chicken wings directly on an unlined rimmed baking sheet. Roast wings until golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Remove wings from oven and drain any rendered chicken fat into a heatproof bowl and reserve. Pour about 1/2 cup of water on baking sheet and scrape up any browned bits that may be stuck to the bottom.
Transfer wings along with water and dissolved browned bits to a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Cover with 1 1/2 quarts (1.4L) water. Bring to a boil over high heat on the stovetop, let boil vigorously for 15 minutes, then reduce to a simmer and cook gently for 2 hours, adding water as needed to maintain the 1 1/2-quart volume.
Strain broth through a fine-mesh strainer set over a heat-proof container, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible; discard solids. Return broth to now-empty pot.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine chicken legs with enough water to barely cover, along with 1 tablespoon (9g) salt and 1 teaspoon black peppercorns. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until thickest part of legs registers 190°F (88°C), about 30 minutes. Drain chicken, reserving 3/4 cup (175ml) cooking liquid; discard peppercorns. When cool enough to handle, tear chicken into bite-size pieces. Set aside.
Wipe now-empty saucepan dry. Add reserved chicken fat and oil and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until rice is coated in oil and beginning to toast, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in reserved 3/4 cup chicken leg poaching liquid and swirl gently to evenly distribute the rice. Bring rice to simmer, then cover, lower heat to low, and cook until liquid is absorbed and rice is just cooked through, about 20 minutes. Off heat, uncover rice and stir to fluff. Set aside until ready to serve.
Heat a dry 12-inch cast iron or stainless-steel skillet over high heat. Char onion slices until blackened on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Add onions to broth, return to a boil, then reduce heat and gently simmer for 30 minutes. Strain broth through a fine-mesh strainer set over a clean heat-proof container; discard solids.
Return now-empty pot to medium-high heat. Sprinkle the 1 teaspoon ground pepper into pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until pepper is smoky and fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds.
Add broth, carrots, celery, and remaining 1 tablespoon salt and bring mixture to a simmer. Cover and cook until vegetables are just tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in chicken and peas and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt; if broth tastes overly rich or too full-bodied, thin with hot water 1/2 cup at a time until desired flavor is reached. To serve, divide cooked rice between bowls and ladle soup over rice. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Soup pot or large Dutch oven, medium saucepan, 12-inch cast iron or stainless steel skillet.
Make Ahead and Storage
To make ahead, prepare recipe through Step 7; store chicken, broth, and cooked rice separately in refrigerator for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months. To serve, finish soup as described in Step 8.