Simple Chicken Soup From Leftovers

First, the chicken: where deadlines meet dinnertime

The other afternoon I was hard at work on an editing project when I noticed it was already 4pm. This meant that without even trying I had fallen behind on getting dinner ready. 

Chris and Cora were upstairs enjoying some movie-and-popcorn time while I worked. I had planned, a week earlier, to roast a chicken, steam some vegetables, and make buttermilk biscuits. I had already defrosted the little Amish organic chicken, but my usual lemon-stuffed and butter-rubbed roast chicken takes some time to assemble and cook – I didn’t have those three hours anymore. I also did not feel like I could invest 30 minutes in biscuit making and baking. 

So I turned to the internet for help and googled “simple roast chicken,” fully expecting to have to wade through a huge number of recipes to get what I wanted. However, the internet smiled on me and the first hit was for Thomas Keller’s simple chicken, which is so simple as to be ridiculous: chicken, salt, pepper, 450 oven for 60 minutes. Seriously? OK.

Commenters on mentioned that the chicken could spit fat all over the oven, making a smoky mess, but that some sliced potatoes in the pan would take care of that. I believe everything that I read on the internet, and I had potatoes, so I decided this was the recipe for me. 

I put the chicken in alone for 20 minutes, and waded through four more pages of editing. Then I added thick slices of sweet potato, a handful of baby fingerling potatoes, and some 5” long carrots to the sizzling pan, and returned to the computer. After 20 more minutes the sizzling made me nervous and I set a piece of foil loosely over the chicken. After another 20 minutes, I sent off the edited document, took the chicken out and set it aside, put some leftover rolls in the oven to warm up (sorry, biscuits, maybe next week), and sounded the 20-minutes-to-dinner warning.

The chicken was great, as promised, and the half we didn’t eat went into the fridge. Well, except for the finely chopped scraps I slipped into our aging cat’s dish. I was feeling generous: I had discovered a new recipe, very simple and very delicious.


Day Two: leftovers, lunchtime, and luck

The next day, as yet more rain approached, I decided to throw together a quick soup for our lunch. I wanted it to be a very simple soup, something maybe a little different than my usual chicken-and-vegetable soup, but still something all three of us would enjoy.  And I wanted it to take only about 30 minutes.

The first soup that I ever made was minestrone, when I was thirteen, and I think that it affected my way of thinking about soup, specifically that there must be many different ingredients. More often than not, my challenge is to not put in everything I can pull from fridge and freezer. So for this soup I decided to stick with the classic three vegetables: onion, carrot, and celery, all finely diced and sautéed in butter and vegetable oil. Then I added the remainder of a tetrapak of Pacific organic chicken broth I had in the fridge, a tablespoon of South River white miso, some of that leftover chicken, and a little salt and pepper.

I remembered I had some leftover rice in the fridge and asked my daughter if she wanted noodles or rice in the soup. She said, “Rice! On the side!” Fair enough. I scooped out her soup, heated some rice in a bowl for her, and put the rest of the rice in the soup. (Halfway through lunch, she decided to add her rice to her soup after all.) 

In the end, I was more pleased with the soup than the original chicken, because I made it up from what I had on hand, including leftovers for which I had no other plans (the broth and rice) and an ingredient I don’t have much experience with (the miso, originally purchased for a specific recipe). Did I forget to mention that the soup was delicious and that we ate it all?

Truthfully, I feel like this hardly deserves the label “recipe” because it is so easy and so template-like. I can imagine making this again without the onions and celery, but with ginger and a garnish of scallions. Or making it with the veggies in big chunks, with green beans and potatoes instead of rice, and maybe a little flour and milk to thicken it. Or without the celery, but with frozen corn, a spoonful of adobo sauce instead of miso, perhaps some black beans. 

After all, there is still about a quarter of a chicken in the fridge…


Simple chicken soup

½ onion, finely diced

2 ribs celery, finely diced

2 carrots, finely diced

½ Tbsp butter & ½ Tbsp vegetable oil.

3 C. chicken broth

1 Tbsp white miso

1 C. chopped leftover chicken

1 C. leftover rice

Salt & pepper


Sauté onion, carrot, and celery in butter and oil until softened. Add the broth and miso, stirring to combine, and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook about 15 minutes. Add the chicken and rice (unless you have a request for rice on the side) and season to taste. Simmer until chicken and rice are heated through. 

Merie Kirby grew up in California, moved to Minneapolis for grad school, and after getting her MFA stayed for fifteen more years. She now lives in Grand Forks, ND with her husband and daughter. Merie writes poetry and essays, as well as texts in collaboration with composers. She also writes about cooking, reading, parenting, and creating on her own blog, All Cheese Dinner. Her most recurrent dream is of making cookies with her mother. This is an excellent dream.