Copycat Panera chicken noodle soup

Few soups rival chicken noodle soup, especially if you're feeling under the weather. There's something about the combination of tender chicken, chewy noodles, and soft vegetables that warms us up from the inside out. Panera has one of our favorite chicken noodle soups, but we don't always want to drive to get it. That's why we created a recipe that's easy to make at home, ready in under an hour, and doesn't cost a fortune to create. It's simple enough to make on the stovetop, but you can also adapt our recipe to make this soup in the slow cooker or Instant Pot.

The best part about our recipe — other than its delicious flavor — is how versatile it is. It's naturally dairy-free and gluten-free (if you use gluten-free noodles), and it can be egg-free with the right brand of pasta. That makes it the perfect soup to enjoy with anyone, regardless of their dietary restrictions. Read on to learn how to pull off the perfect copycat Panera chicken noodle soup (along with some tips for making it taste just as good the next day, too).

Gather the ingredients for copycat Panera chicken noodle soup

Our first step in making copycat recipes is always to go to the source. So we checked out the ingredients list on both the Panera at Home and Panera Bread's website. The major difference between the two revolved around a single ingredient. The soup you get at Panera doesn't contain butter, making it dairy-free. We wanted to stay true to the restaurant's version, so we left out the butter and began gathering our ingredients accordingly.

The vegetable component of the soup includes onions, celery, and carrots. They're cooked, along with the chicken, in chicken broth thickened with cornstarch and seasoned with garlic and spices (thyme, celery seed, onion powder, turmeric, salt, pepper, and sugar). We also added a bay leaf to the mix for good measure. The chicken is specified as white meat chicken, so we grabbed a few chicken breasts and cut them into bite-sized chunks. The final ingredients were egg noodles, chopped parsley for garnish, and chicken fat (listed in the ingredients under "natural chicken flavor"). If you don't have chicken fat on-hand, don't worry; you can use olive oil to make this soup instead.

From there, we got to work creating the specific ingredient quantities and step-by-step instructions, which can be found at the bottom of this article.

Can you make copycat Panera chicken noodle soup in a slow cooker or Instant Pot?

We made our copycat Panera chicken noodle soup the old-fashioned way: On the stovetop in a large saucepan. That said, it's absolutely possible to make this recipe in a Crock-Pot or an Instant Pot.

To make copycat Panera chicken noodle soup in the slow cooker, add all the ingredients to the slow cooker's bowl (except the cornstarch, egg noodles, and parsley). Cook on high for four hours, or low for six to eight hours, until the chicken is cooked through. Just before serving, turn the slow cooker to high and add the cooked pasta and cornstarch slurry. Simmer for a few minutes until the soup is thickened.

For the Instant Pot, you can also toss the ingredients into the bowl (again, leaving the cornstarch, egg noodles, and parsley for later) and cook the soup in one fell swoop. Or, you can take advantage of the Instant Pot's Sauté function and follow the recipe instructions until the broth is added. Either way, cook on manual high pressure for 10 minutes and let the pressure release naturally. At the end, use the Sauté function again to simmer the cornstarch slurry and noodles.

Is our copycat Panera chicken noodle soup healthy?

In general, Panera chicken noodle soup is pretty healthy: Each bowl-sized portion contains only 170 calories, 4 grams of fat, 21 grams of carbohydrates, and 13 grams of protein. Our copycat Panera chicken noodle soup has a similar nutritional profile, but we were able to get the sodium content down quite a bit. Each serving of Panera's soup contains 1,490 milligrams of sodium (about 65 percent of the American Heart Association's daily recommended intake of 2,300 milligrams). Using low-sodium chicken broth and seasoning the soup to taste, we reduced our sodium to 274 milligrams.

Of course, portion size is always key here. According to users on Reddit, Panera's soup bowls contain 12 ounces of soup, or 1-1/2 cups. With that in mind, we developed the recipe below to make six Panera-sized portions. If you ladle more soup into your bowl, it's important to remember that the nutritional content will change.

Do I have to use chicken fat to make a copycat Panera chicken noodle soup?

You might be wondering about the addition of chicken fat to our copycat Panera chicken noodle soup recipe. Shouldn't that make it unhealthy? Chicken fat (also called schmaltz) adds a rich flavor to soups, and using olive oil would make the soup slightly less flavorful.

It turns out that olive oil isn't all that healthier than chicken fat, either. One tablespoon of chicken fat contains 115 calories, 12.7 grams of fat, and 3.8 grams of saturated fat. The same quantity of olive oil contains 119 calories, 13.5 grams of fat, and 1.9 grams of saturated fat. So the chicken fat has slightly more saturated fat, but fewer calories.

If you're concerned, go ahead and use olive oil. It's certainly not worth an extra trip to the store if you don't have any. But when we did a side-by-side comparison, we discovered using a small amount of chicken fat really did amp up the flavor of the vegetables we cooked in it. You may find they're so tasty that you'll decide to start cooking with chicken fat more frequently!

The secret to making copycat Panera chicken noodle soup

If there was a secret to making the perfect copycat Panera chicken noodle soup, it's all in the treatment of the noodles. We've all had chicken noodle soup that's filled with soggy, mushy noodles. It's not that great, right? That's because pasta noodles absorb water. They may thicken the soup as they cook, but the noodles themselves will get softer and softer as they go (via Serious Eats).

There's an easy alternative: Cook the noodles in a separate pot of salted, boiling water and add them the soup just before you're ready to eat. You will need to add a little cornstarch to the soup to get the same thick result, but this method keeps the soup gluten-free while also making the noodles more palatable. If you're cooking enough soup for leftovers, we recommend keeping those noodles in a separate container to prevent them from absorbing all the liquid overnight.

Grab a large saucepan and fill it with salted water. Cook the noodles according to the package directions and drain them when they're finished. You can toss the noodles with a little olive oil after they're drained to keep them from sticking (a good option if the pasta is ready in advance of the soup).

Choosing the right spices for this copycat Panera chicken noodle soup recipe

Chicken noodle soup is a simple dish, so it's important to choose the right spices. Too many spices, and you'll overpower the delicate broth. Not enough, and the soup will taste bland. Panera's website only lists a handful of spices, so we knew which spices to include in this copycat Panera chicken noodle soup recipe. That said, they didn't specify any quantities nor when to add the spices. We decided to add the spices in two separate stages. The garlic, sugar, thyme, and celery seeds went in after cooking the vegetables. Then, we added the bay leaf, turmeric, and onion powder alongside the chicken and chicken broth.

The first addition allowed the green spices and seeds to toast and bloom, bringing out their essential oils. This allowed the flavor of the thyme and the celery to really shine through at the end. The sugar was also given an opportunity to dissolve and caramelize, amplifying the small amount of sugar to create a greater effect. The second set of spices — the bay leaf, turmeric, and onion powder — didn't need to be toasted. They're already plenty flavorful on their own, so adding them alongside the broth made their effect on the soup more mellow.

Cook the vegetables for this copycat Panera chicken noodle soup recipe

The next step in making a successful copycat Panera chicken noodle soup recipe is to soften the vegetables. We'll start with diced onions, sliced carrots, and sliced celery. Grab a large saucepan and heat the chicken fat (or olive oil) over medium heat. Add the chopped vegetables and cook, stirring frequently, until the carrots are tender. This should take about ten minutes or less, depending on the intensity of your stovetop.

From there, we'll add the spices that need toasting — garlic, sugar, thyme, and celery seeds — and cook for an additional minute. You'll want to stir constantly at this stage to keep those small bits of garlic from burning. When you can smell the aromatic garlic, it's time to add the chicken broth, along with the chopped chicken, bay leaf, turmeric, and onion powder. Bring the mixture to a boil very briefly before reducing the heat to a simmer.

Can you use shredded chicken to make copycat Panera chicken noodle soup?

Panera's chicken noodle soup features chunks of tender chicken breast, so we did the same when making our copycat recipe. We used chicken breasts, but you could use chicken tenders for a similar result. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and add them to the broth. After about 10 minutes, the chicken should be cooked through and tender.

Of course, if you're not worried about authenticity, feel free to use any leftover chicken you have on hand. Rotisserie chicken will absolutely work here, as will any chopped or shredded chicken. Since this chicken is already cooked, it only needs to be heated through. You can wait to add it at the very end (when you add the cooked noodles).

Now that the chicken is cooked, taste and season the soup with a little salt and pepper. At this point, the soup is almost finished: We only have one step left.

Add a little cornstarch to thicken the copycat Panera chicken noodle soup

Remember how we mentioned that noodles absorb liquid, becoming soft over time? Well, they also release starches into the soup, thickening it up and giving it body. Panera's chicken noodle soup isn't thick like a chowder, but it's not quite as thin as broth. Without the simmering noodles, we have to introduce an alternative ingredient to create that thickness: cornstarch.

Similar to how the starches expand in noodles as they cook, cornstarch also absorbs water until its starches thicken and gel. The small amount of cornstarch we use in this recipe won't create a gravy-like consistency, but it does go a long way to give the soup the added texture it needs.

Combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl before whisking the slurry into the soup. Simmer for about three minutes, until the soup becomes clear again and is slightly thickened. If you're ready to serve, add the noodles and simmer for an additional minute, until they're heated through. Otherwise, cool down the soup and add the noodles when you're ready to reheat. Garnish the finished soup with the chopped parsley and enjoy!

How close did we get to the original Panera chicken noodle soup?

Our copycat Panera chicken noodle soup had all the same elements of the restaurant's soup, so we absolutely consider this one a win. The chicken was tender and flavorful, and the vegetables were cooked to the perfect level. They had very little bite left, and they were almost soft enough to melt as you ate them. We loved that cooking the noodles separately kept them from getting mushy, too. Finally, the spices were spot-on, and the broth's color was stunning (thanks to the addition of turmeric).

All in all, we would absolutely make this recipe again! The 1-1/2 cup portion size was a little small for our liking for a dinner portion, so we recommend serving it with a side salad and some garlic bread to make it more filling. If you want to end up with leftovers, try doubling the recipe. It's worth noting that cornstarch doesn't freeze well, though, so you may want to skip it (or use an alternative, like arrowroot) if you plan to freeze the soup for later.

Copycat Panera chicken noodle soup
4.9 from 8 ratings
If you're craving a warm bowl of Panera chicken noodle soup, but you're not in the mood to go out, this recipe for Copycat Panera chicken noodle soup is sure to fulfill your craving. Made with chicken breasts, egg noodles, and veggies, this Copycat Panera chicken noodle soup is sure to comfort.
Prep Time
15
minutes
Cook Time
30
minutes
Servings
0
servings
how to make copycat Panera chicken noodle soup
Ready in 45 minutes
Ingredients
  • 4 ounces egg noodles
  • 1 tablespoon chicken fat (or olive oil)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, thinly sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon granulated white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into half-inch pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch (or arrowroot, if you're planning to freeze the soup)
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, for garnish
Directions
  1. Cook the noodles according to the package directions. Drain and set aside, tossing the noodles with a little olive oil to keep them from sticking if they're ready in advance of the soup.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat the chicken fat or olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring frequently, until the carrot is tender, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, sugar, thyme, and celery seeds to the pot. Cook for an additional minute, until the garlic is fragrant.
  4. Stir in the chicken broth, bay leaf, chicken, turmeric, and onion powder and bring the mixture to a boil.
  5. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the chicken is tender and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  6. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and water. Whisk the cornstarch slurry into the soup and simmer for about 3 minutes, until the soup is thick and no longer cloudy.
  7. Just before serving, add the cooked noodles to the soup. Simmer for about one minute, until the noodles are heated through. If you're making leftovers, leave the noodles on the side until you're ready to reheat the soup.
  8. Ladle the soup into individual bowls and garnish with chopped parsley.
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