Winter Lemon Chicken Barley Soup
An irresistible creamy lemon chicken barley soup that has tons of veggies, tender barley, and is hearty and comforting for chilly winter days!
I’ve got a confession. This soup was an accident.
Lemon chicken barley soup is the product of a smattering of heavy cream that was sitting in the back of my refrigerator leftover from another recipe I was testing. And nothing bugs me more than when you’ve got a tiny amount of cream that needs to be used up before it expires. You know, when a recipe calls for something like 3 ½ cups of cream? One cup too many to get away with a pint-size and ½ cup too short for a full quart. When you can’t justify adding heavy cream to your coffee because you know you overindulged in birthday cakes and holiday treats and such.
We’ve had the grossest weather in Houston as of late. It’s cloudy and gloomy all day and cold and rainy evenings. Days like these all I want is warm comfort food for dinner, and my lemon chicken barley soup wholly fits the bill.
It’s warm chicken broth and veggie-based with a generous squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of heavy cream to bring it all together. In the hopes of going healthier in January, I’ve swapped out my usual pasta for pearl barley, and I couldn’t be happier with the results. Herby, lemon-loaded chicken soup – so perfect for winter.
It’s so not a secret that I love soups. I mean just looking through the recent archives, I’ve made us salmon chowder, Moroccan stuffed pepper soup, green curry chicken noodle, and my all-time favorite tomato basil soup. So today’s soup is a little different. Before this soup, I had never actually meshed together barley with chicken before. I’ve made us beef and barley soup in the past, and so many of you guys loved it, I thought why not do a creamy take on chicken and barley?
Think of this as an old-school cream of lemon soup, speckled with tender cooked barley and shredded chicken and veggies. One thing that utterly makes this soup though? The sprinkling or tarragon we add at the end. That licorice flavor does so much good work here.
Ingredients for lemon chicken barley soup:
- olive oil
- pepper (white pepper and red pepper flakes)
- pearl barley
- chicken stock
- bay leaves
- shredded chicken
- lemon juice + zest
- heavy cream
- chopped tarragon
What is mirepoix?
Mirepoix is a combination of chopped vegetables. Most often they are onions, celery, and carrots. Mirepoix is the ideal starter for most soups. I like to start my soups by sauteeing mirepoix in olive oil and/or butter until the veggies soften a bit. It instantly adds so much flavor!
What part of the leek do you use?
- Start by slicing through the white and yellow part of your leeks. The green leaves can be discarded, or you can pop them into the freezer for when you make chicken/vegetable stock (no really, it’s so good that way.)
- Now slice the leeks lengthwise and give them a good thorough wash under running water. Pat them dry and then thinly slice the leeks so that you have semi-circles. Your leeks are now ready to use in our lemon chicken barley soup!
Why use tarragon in this chicken soup?
Tarragon and lemon go together beautifully. Tarragon has almost a bittersweet, licorice flavor that elevates the flavors in this soup! It makes things fancy, without having to try very hard. Chicken and tarragon are truly made for each other!
How to make lemon chicken barley soup:
- Sauté the mirepoix and leeks in olive oil
- Season with garlic, red pepper flakes, and white pepper
- Toast the barley in the pot. Then add the bay leaves and the liquids and allow the soup to simmer for 20 minutes
- Add the chicken and lemon juice, stir to combine
- Combine the heavy cream and two tablespoons of the soup in a bowl, then add that to the soup pot
- Sprinkle with lemon zest and tarragon and serve!
Why do we add some of the soup to the cream before adding the cream to the soup?
Adding a few tablespoons of the hot soup to the cold cream is called ‘tempering.’ This process is used when you’re combining something really hot with something very cold. It’s also important to not skip this step as the soup has a ton of lemon juice and the cream could easily curdle.
Usually, heavy cream is stable enough and won’t curdle because of lemon juice. However, heat plays a significant role and sometimes, even after tempering the cream, it still can curdle. What I find works well is not allowing your soup to boil once you’ve added the cream to the stock pot.
What if I don’t like barley/am gluten-free?
If you don’t like barley, you can replace it with 1 cup of dry orzo pasta. If you decide to use pasta here and would like to cook it in the soup base, I suggest checking the package for cooking time suggestions (usually orzo requires 10 minutes.) So I would allow the soup to simmer for 10 minutes, then add the pasta during the last 10 minutes (before adding the chicken.) Other smalls shapes or pasta work equally well! I plan on making this with Acini de pepe or pearl couscous next time!
If you follow a gluten-free diet, I suggest cooking gluten-free pasta in a separate pot and either adding it in with the lemon zest and tarragon or serving pasta in bowls before ladling the soup over it. If you’re anticipating leftovers, I suggest keeping the pasta separately so it doesn’t disintegrate into the soup. You can omit the water from the recipe since you’re boiling the pasta separately.
Will the barley thicken the soup?
Lemon chicken barley soup will thicken a bit once it cools or you refrigerate it. To bring the soup back to the right consistency, I suggest adding a little water or broth when you reheat it!
How can I make this soup faster?
I’ve got a couple of tricks up my sleeve that will do the job!
- grab a rotisserie chicken and shred it up and add it to the soup during the last 5 minutes
- grab prechopped mirepoix from the produce section. This is a great little hack to make a homemade meal and spend less time chopping veggies!
Hearty, warm and so filling! Don’t forget to serve this with tons of crusty bread. And if you’re feeling ambitious, I’d suggest making your own! 🙂
Winter Lemon Chicken Barley Soup
An irresistible creamy lemon chicken barley soup that has tons of veggies, tender barley and is hearty and comforting for chilly winter days!
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cups mirepoix (equal parts chopped onions, carrots, and celery)
- 1 large leek, whites only, thinly sliced
- 10 cloves garlic, minced
- ⅛ teaspoon white pepper
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- ⅔ cup pearl barley
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
- 4-6 tablespoons lemon juice + zest of 1 lemon
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons chopped tarragon
- SAUTE: Place a dutch oven or a stock pot over medium-high heat. Drizzle in the olive oil and add the mirepoix and leeks and sauté the veggies for 4-5 minutes or until the veggies soften a bit, add the garlic and pepper flakes during the last 30 seconds and stir until fragrant. Season the veggies with a big pinch of salt and white pepper and add the barley.
- SIMMER: Let the barley toast for 1 minute, stirring as required so nothing sticks or burns. Pour in the chicken stock along with 1 cup of water, and bay leaves. Allow the soup to come to a boil. Lower the heat to low and cover; let simmer for 20-23 minutes or until the barley is mostly cooked. Add the chicken and 4 tablespoons of lemon juice and kick the back up to medium-high and let the soup gain a simmer, then lower the heat to low for 5 minutes, at this point you don’t want it to have any bubbles on the surface. Taste and adjust with additional lemon juice as desired. Keep in mind that the cream will mellow out the flavor a bit. We like it with 6 tablespoons of lemon juice!
- FINISH: Pour the cream into a small bowl and add 2 tablespoons of the prepared soup (just the broth if you can) and stir. Pour this cream mixture into the prepared soup while stirring let it heat through for 1 minute but make sure to not let the soup boil from here on out! Turn off the heat stir in the lemon zest and tarragon. Serve topped with chopped parsley and with tons of crusty bread, if desired!
Sounds wonderful! Could you adjust the recipe for the instant pot? I will make it tonight 🙂
Hi Melissa! Glad you wanted to give this recipe a shot! Unfortunately, it’s difficult to suggest changes that would need to be made without further recipe testing. However, if you decide to give this a go, I’d love to know how it went for you! 🙂
Love the recipe and use of barley (I love grains), but I thought it needed more seasoning. Added a very light sprinkling of poultry seasoning. Will make again.
Can you swap coconut cream instead of heavy cream?
It should work!
This is absolutely delicious! I made it tonight and my hubby loved it AND my toddler loved it! Thank you! Keep the lemon recipes coming! ?
Made this last night and the whole pot was eaten between two people! Very flavorful. I used about 2 cups of homemade and 4 cups of boxed chicken stock, but that was the only change I made. I don’t even like barley and I love this recipe! Thank you!
I made this last night! Skipped the cream and it was delicious anyway. 🙂
Fantastic flavor & very easy to make! I love barley but could easily see making this with a wild rice blend, as well. I used 6 TB lemon juice, as directed. I got a lot of zest off my lemon & thought it would be too lemon-y but I actually think I could’ve used more lemon juice! The tarragon is a bit strong but I don’t cook with it ever so perhaps just a new flavor for me. I’d still keep it but maybe ease a bit back. Doesn’t seem heavy despite 1/2 cream. I’d make again this way but also would be interested to try it without the cream.
Made this along with your no knead bread and what a way to start the new year! I am challenging myself to menu plan and meal prep and enjoyed making both this afternoon. The lemony soup makes me think of spring even though it’s so far away.
I have read this 3X but do not see when to add the tarragon?
Please see the bottom of step #3
Made on the 52nd day of our Corona Virus Isolation. This soup was so satisfying and delicious. These are the changes I made for taste preferences or because I can’t go to the store on a whim.
–Didn’t have leeks, so I left them out.
–I used homemade chicken stock.
–I used about ¼ tsp. dried Tarragon (maybe more?) and just a dash of Cayenne in place of red pepper flakes.
–Husband doesn’t care for lemon in soup, so I omitted it. I put some in mine, and it was good, but not necessary.
–I forgot to add the cream. And the parsley. Still good. So good.
I made this recipe and loved the combination of lemon and fresh tarragon. I just got some fresh herbs since I love to cook with fresh herbs. I substituted ground white chicken since I had it available. I cooked it separately and added it when directed. So yummy on this cold supposed to be spring day. I will make this again.
Do you have instructions on how to make this in an Instant Pot?
I made this tonight. I think it could use a bit more barley, about a cup. And more vegetables. Particularly more carrots. Otherwise it was a nice weekday soup
So yummy! I have been making this soup almost every week since I first tried it. The whole family loves it. I use about 3lb bone-in thighs to make the broth. I fill a large pot half way with water then add chicken, 2 carrots, 3 stalks celery, 1 onion cut in half (leave the skin on!), some salt pepper and 2 bay leaves. Bring to boil and simmer for 40 min. It makes a delicious start for your soup while cooking the chicken. I let the chicken cool before removing the meat from the bones. Toss the veggies used to make the broth. I continue from this point with the recipe but I use 1 1/4 cup barley and some extra carrots, celery and onion. Delicious! Don’t forget the crusty loaf of bread- a must with this soup!
What can I use instead of heavy cream?
Hi Veronika! Because of the heavy use of lemon juice in this recipe, it’s essential to use a milk product with higher fat content, such as heavy cream, so that it doesn’t split when you add it to the soup. For best results, I suggest preparing this recipe as written.
This soup is absolutely delicious!!!!
This is one of my all time favorite recipes. I make it often enough, I have it memorized. The combination of lemon, tarragon and the hint of red pepper is amazing. If I could give it 20 stars, I would.
This looks sooooo delicious!
I was wondering if there is a way to substitute fresh tarragon for dried?
I’ve been to 3 different grocery stores and no where has it. And in the world of Covid I’d love to not have to go to every grocery store in town lol.
Thank you so much!!
Hi Janie! Dried will work here as well but I suggest starting with ½ the quantity first as dried herbs are more potent. You can always adjust with more after tasting, if you’d like 🙂
Delicious! We Loved it
This is my all time favorite soup. I make it at least once a month if not more. I get the shredded Costco rotisserie chicken. Do not skimp on lemon juice or chili flakes. We add avocado chunks.
Just made my first batch and haven’t even added the cream yet. This is one of the most perfect soups ever. Thank you for sharing!