Chicken Soup with Roasted Garlic, Pearl Barley and Saffron

Chicken Soup with Roasted Garlic, Pearl Barley and Saffron

Chicken soup is soul food in the purest form. It's simple, healthy and good for your very being. Poaching chicken meat has gone out of fashion here in the UK. Admittedly you do lose the gooey, sticky caramelised bits that are so good when roasting a whole bird - but there are real benefits that come from gently simmering a chicken. As well as soft, juicy, tender meat - you end up with a wonderful broth to use as the base for a hearty soup.

Top foodie tip! Always poach chicken on a very low heat and never let the water actually boil - boiling it hard will dry out the meat and end in disappointment. If you can keep the temperature at a point where just a few bubbles are escaping the surface - somewhere between 76°- 80° you will have wonderfully tender and succulent chicken. Get the hang of this and you can start being really creative with aromatics to flavour your broth. In this recipe, I've used a combination of onion, celery, bay with a hint of licorice anise. Towards the end, I've added roasted garlic and a hint of saffron. However, you could swing it in a completely different direction by adding lots of fresh ginger, garlic, soy sauce and miso for more Asian overtones.

I love Swiss chard, it has a mild sweetness and is really good for you. Don't discard the stalks, they taste great as well - but need to be sliced and then cooked a little longer to become tender. If you can't get Swiss chard then use savoy cabbage, spring greens or kale instead.

Ingredients for my Roast Garlic Chicken Soup with Pearl Barley and Saffron Recipe 

Serves 6-8
1 whole chicken
3 whole bulbs of garlic (yes, this is a lot), wrapped in foil and roasted
175g pearl barley
450g swiss chard or other leafy greens, stalks finely sliced and leaves roughly chopped
A small pinch of saffron
2 white onions, peeled and cut into chunks
3 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
2 fresh bay leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 star anise
2 teaspoons Somerset Foodie chicken stock
A sprig of fresh thyme
2 tablespoons of Fussels cold pressed rapeseed oil
A few pinches of sea salt
Slices of toasted sourdough bread

1. Pre-heat your oven to 180°C.

2. Remove the leg and thigh joint from the chicken, and take off the wings at the point where it meets the breast. Snap the backbone in half to effectively give you a crown of chicken and a piece that contains most of the backbone and the 'parsons nose'. The breasts will stay moist and juicy by cooking them on the bone.

3. Place all the chicken pieces (including the backbone piece) into a large pot and cover with water. Add in the chopped onion, celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, star anise, fresh thyme and Somerset Foodie chicken stock, bring to a simmer.

4. Once it just starts to comes to a simmer, adjust the heat so you have a few bubbles coming to the surface and gently poach for 45 mins to an hour.

5. Meanwhile wrap the garlic bulbs in foil and roast in the oven for around half an hour. Allow them to cool slightly then squish out the soft garlic from each clove into a bowl. The sticky garlic will have a wonderfully mellow flavour, using a fork, mash the garlic into a smooth paste.

6. Cook the pearl barley in plenty of salted boiling water for around 20 minutes, you want the barley to be tender but still have a slightly chewy texture. Drain and set to one side.

7. Gently fry the sliced swiss chard stalks in a little oil for around 6-7 minutes before adding in the roughly chopped leaves with a few splashes of water to create a little steam. Once the leaves have wilted down, turn the heat off, you can leave the chard in the pan and then quickly re-heat it just before serving.

8. Once the chicken is cooked, remove the pieces from the stock to a large bowl. Drain the rest of the stock through a fine sieve, discard the remnants and pour the chicken stock back into the pot. Add in the roasted garlic puree with a pinch of saffron and bring back up to a gentle simmer.

9. Allow the cooked pieces of chicken to cool slightly for a few minutes - so you can handle it, then tear it into pieces.

10. It's now time to assemble the soup. Divide the pearl barley between the bowls along with the Swiss chard, some chicken pieces and season each bowl with a little flaked sea salt. Pour over the hot, garlicky chicken broth and serve with toasted sourdough and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

As a little twist, you could also add in white beans or lentils.

Enjoy! And foodies don't forget to tag us in your social posts when you cook this at home - and leave a review for this recipe here! All best wishes, Ben

1 Response

Sue Lintern
Sue Lintern

April 11, 2022

Thanks guys this has proved to be a big hit with Tony and will definitely become a regular.

Have you tried this recipe yet? Tell us about it...

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in Somerset Foodie recipes - let us inspire you...

Chorizo, White Bean & Potato Stew Recipe
Chorizo, White Bean & Potato Stew Recipe


A few years ago I was lucky enough to go on a cycling tour with a few mates where we followed the Ebro River in Spain, from its source, down into the famous Rioja wine region. As this was a self-guided tour we were given two pieces of advice when it came to lunch stops.
Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto - Somerset Foodie - Ingredients to inspire
Butternut Squash & Sage Risotto

It's fairly straightforward making a risotto but there are a few things you can do to take your risotto-making skills to the next level.  Your choice of rice is key:  Arborio is an obvious choice but in Italy, Carnaroli rice is the king for risotto. It has a higher starch content than Arborio which gives your risotto a creamier finish. 
Japanese Gyozas
Japanese Gyozas

1 Comment

Gyozas are little, half moon shaped dumplings made out of a hot water, wheat flour pastry and stuffed with pork, duck, chicken and vegetables. They are generally steamed before being crisped up in a pan and served with a dipping sauce. We think of Gyozas as being Japanese, in fact they actually originated in China but were adopted by the Japanese as they are soooooo good.