This spicy chicken broccoli cheddar soup recipe is everything you need on a cold night! If you’ve never made broccoli cheddar soup with chicken before, you have got to try this!
Once a week, I’ll buy a whole chicken and make homemade chicken broth. I always start the broth the night before because it means I’ll have a delicious homemade soup coming up in my future. The next day, I’ll shred it up, cook down the broth a little, and make whatever kind of soup I can come up with. If you’ve been following me for more than 5 seconds, you’ll know that I really, really like homemade chicken soup, like, a lot.
I have rarely made cheesy soups. Honestly, I’m afraid to admit that I have never once made a broccoli cheddar soup, despite much as I loved Panera’s broccoli cheddar bread bowl. Tonight, I decided to change all that.
Many a broccoli cheddar soup recipes will start with butter, flour, and broth and finish with cream, broccoli, and cheese. This recipe actually starts with a base of delicious homemade broth. Of course, if you’re pressed for time, you can always buy a rotisserie chicken and use store-bought stock. I recommend trying it at least once with homemade broth. Because you’re cooking down a whole chicken with lots of aromatics, you’ll get an intense broth. The intensity from the broth works perfectly in this soup.
I actually skip the roux entirely. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, and you may end up with a slightly thicker finished product. Since my spicy broccoli cheddar soup uses orzo, the pasta swells in the broth. With that extra starchiness, I find it doesn’t need to be any thicker.
I like to finish my soup with freshly steamed broccoli florets. I find it helps balance the richness of the soup.
How to make this broccoli cheddar soup:
As I mentioned above, you’ll start with homemade broth. I recommend starting this the night before.
The next day, shred the chicken from the bones. Reserve the carcass for stock, if you like! Boil down the broth briefly, strain it through a sieve, and discard the solids.
From there, simply cook the soup aromatics–onion, garlic, spices–and add the shredded chicken and homemade broth. Pour in the orzo and boil it until just shy of al dente. Throw in the broccoli and cream and simmer it until the broccoli is tender.
Now, if you’ve ever had cheese clump on you when adding it to the sauce, this tip is for you: cornstarch! Using freshly grated cheese (NOT bagged) coated with a thin layer of cornstarch is a fool-proof way to prevent clumping. It’s a lot of science-y stuff, so if you’re interested in the why, check out the Serious Eats post! The cornstarch will help create a smooth, creamy, stabilized cheese sauce that is just perfect.
Spicy Chicken Broccoli Cheddar Soup
- Fine mesh sieve
- Box grater
- 5 pound whole chicken, giblets removed and reserved for another use
- 3 heads garlic, halved crosswise
- 1 stalk celery (7–10 stalks), trimmed and rinsed and cut into thirds
- 2 yellow onions, wiped down and quartered
Chicken Broccoli Cheddar Soup:
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 3 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, optional
- ½ teaspoon cayenne powder or crushed red pepper, more or less to taste, depending on how spicy you want it
- 4 cups shredded chicken
- 8 cups homemade broth, plus more water if needed
- 1 cup dry orzo
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 4 cups broccoli florets and stems, finely chopped; a handful of florets reserved for garnish
- 2 cups freshly grated cheddar, do NOT use bagged
- 1 cup freshly grated pepper jack cheese, do NOT use bagged; plus more for serving
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Freshly minced parsley for serving
Prepare the broth:
- Place the chicken in a large stock pot and season it with salt. Pile the aromatics on top and cover completely with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 1½ hours. Skim off any foam or scum from the top of the broth as it cooks. Let cool completely and transfer to the refrigerator overnight.
- The next day, remove the pot from the refrigerator and transfer it to the stovetop. Using tongs, carefully remove the chicken from the liquid and transfer it to a large bowl. Discard the skin and pick all the meat from the bones. You can save the carcass for stock if you want. Shred the meat using your fingers and set it aside.
- Bring the broth back to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Rapid simmer for about 30 minutes to reduce the broth slightly and intensify the flavors. Turn off the heat. You should be left with about 8 cups of liquid. If not quite 8 cups, you can supplement with water as the broth will be quite intense.
- Carefully pour the broth through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl. Discard solids. Rinse out the pot and return it to the stovetop.
Start the soup:
- Heat the 1 tablespoon of neutral oil in the pot over medium heat. Once hot, add the diced onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic powder, sweet paprika, smoked paprika, and cayenne powder. Cook for 1 minute.
Cook the chicken and pasta:
- Add the shredded chicken to the pot and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the homemade broth and bring it to a boil. While boiling, pour in the orzo. Stir constantly and cook for 8 minutes until just shy of al dente.
Cook the broccoli:
- Add the broccoli and heavy cream to the soup, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 10–15 minutes or until the broccoli is tender. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your preference.
Prepare the cheese:
- Place the freshly grated cheddar and pepper jack cheese in a large bowl. Sprinkle with cornstarch and use your hands to coat the cheese completely. Set aside.
Finish the soup:
- Reduce the heat on the soup to low. It should not be bubbling at all! I recommend turning off the heat on an electric stove that has residual heat for this step.
- Add a handful of the cheese and whisk to incorporate. Continue whisking until fully melted. Continue adding the cheese in handfuls, whisking after each addition, until smooth and creamy. The cornstarch will help prevent the cheese from clumping. Taste and season. Turn off the heat.
Make the broccoli garnish (optional):
- Place the broccoli florets in a bowl with a few splashes of water. If your microwave has a steam setting, use that. Otherwise, microwave in 30-second increments until tender-crisp and warmed through. You don’t have to do this step; I like fresh broccoli on mine. Sprinkle with a bit of salt.
- Ladle the soup into bowls. Spoon a few steamed broccoli florets into each bowl and sprinkle with a bit more pepper jack cheese. Garnish with freshly minced parsley. Enjoy!