Confessions of a Chicken Soup Savant (Plus, a Recipe!)

Chicken Soup Lead
Photo: Johnny Miller

I am a serious Johnny Miller fan. And not just because he is an incredible lifestyle photographer (he happens to shoot most of the entertaining stories that we run in the pages of InStyle, like John Besh's white squash and shrimp soup pictured below). Working on set together month after month, contemplating whether an iced layer cake should be shot from above or at a 45-degree angle, or if a pink napkin looks better placed under or over a dinner plate, the conversation inevitably leads to cooking: what we are making for dinner that night, or what we baked over the weekend.

John Best White Squash Soup - Lead

Johnny cooks for his wife and two young sons, and his obsession is chicken soup (this is where my fandom of him escalates). So when I am staring down a raw chicken in my own kitchen at home and wondering how to make it into the world’s most reassuring, warming soup for my husband and daughter, I try to remember how Johnny makes it. He is not just any guy making a soup, however. He was formerly an on-staff photographer at Martha Stewart Living for six years, and gleaned much information from the kitchen pros around him on the subject.

Finally—and perhaps as an end-of-the-year marker—I asked him to jot down his chicken soup epiphanies over his many years of research. I may need it over the holiday break, after all. Here they are for you to learn from, too, straight from Johnny:

My colleagues at Martha Stewart who worked in the test kitchen taught me how to cook. I wish I could say it was my mom or grandmother, but it was not. If you were employed by Martha from the years of 2006 and 2012, then I'm sure I probably asked you if you preferred to leave the chicken whole or to cut it up to make stock. (For the record, when I make my soup I leave the chicken whole with the skin on—and I probably put too much water in the pot—but my kids eat it so I don’t really want to do anything differently!)

It all started with this recipe for basic chicken soup, and this is how I have adjusted it over the years:

1. I use extra garlic and onions. (I am always trying to boost everyone’s immune systems!)
2. I first cook the chicken, carrots, onions, and celery (30 minutes or so) to make the stock, then discard carrots, celery, onions and remove the chicken.
I add fresh carrots, celery, onions, and garlic and the chicken meat, then cook for another 10-15 min. I turn off the heat, let the soup set and then skim off the fat.
To make it more robust, I add a cup of rice and maybe some hot sauce.

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