Chicken soup has a reputation as a comfort food -- reminiscent of simple, yet elegant, homemade cooking. Chicken soup, prepared well and with finesse, has a flavor profile redolent of fresh chicken, aromatic vegetables and floral herbs that contribute depth of flavor when used judiciously and with precision. A classic herb combination used in chicken soup consists of thyme, sage, rosemary, parsley, tarragon and flat-leaf parsley.
Thyme serves as an ideal accompaniment to several proteins, including lamb, fish and chicken. Using thyme in chicken soup adds assertive, yet not overpowering, floral and herbal notes to the preparation. Incorporate thyme as a component of bouquet garni – a classic French herb combination wrapped in cheesecloth – and simmer it with soup and remove prior to serving. Alternatively, finely mince thyme and add it to chicken soup in the last 15 minutes of cooking. Use approximately three sprigs of thyme per qt. of soup.
In culinary terms, sage refers to the leaves of Salvia officinalis. Other names for the mildly pungent herb include kitchen sage and culinary sage. Sage contributes earthy and fragrant elements to chicken soup, and pairs well with other complementary herbs, such as thyme, rosemary and tarragon.
Rosemary, a member of the mint family, has a woody, assertive flavor and an aroma similar to pine. Its appearance – also similar to pine – consists of a dense stem and needle-shaped leaves. Rosemary works well in several poultry preparations, including chicken soup. Use rosemary judiciously in chicken soup to prevent masking other herbs and seasonings; approximately two freshly chopped sprigs per qt. of liquid is recommended.
Tarragon – botanically referred to as Artemisia dracunculis and informally as dragon’s wort – is known for its glossy green color, branched stems and anise-like flavor profile. It also possesses hints of juniper berries, the primary flavoring agent in gin. Use three sprigs of fresh tarragon – chopped or as part of a bouquet garni – per qt. of soup.
Flat-leaf parsley – perhaps the most commonly used herb in most cuisines – adds a mild herbaceous flavor to chicken soup that commonly goes unnoticed. Its absence, however, is easily detected; foods without parsley, particularly poultry preparations, lack a depth of flavor commonly associated with chicken soup. Parsley also serves as a garnish for finished dishes due to its fresh, bright green appearance. Several form of culinary parsley exist – most notably flat-leaf, Chinese parsley and Italian parsley. Use flat-leaf parsley in chicken soup; its unobtrusive flavor profile supports the more pungent and aromatic flavors introduced by thyme, rosemary, sage and tarragon.