PopLurker Recipes: Stranger Than Chicken (How to Feel Good When You’re Not Feeling So Good)

By Alan Wittenberg


It’s been a long week, and I’m desperately in need of some comfort food and a feel-good movie.  That means something different to everyone, but I want to share some of my personal favorites with you. Dark comedies are a long time pick-me-up genre for me, and if it comes with a good sappy romance, so much the better. As for comfort food, you can’t get much more classic that good old chicken noodle soup.  So why is it that every rom-com is as soggy and bland as most chicken soup? I honestly don’t know…and I can’t fix bad film making, but I can fix chicken soup. So let me give you the low down on a cute movie, and the techniques to make chicken soup with noodles that aren’t just soggy flavorless mush.

Now, I’m not a huge Will Farrell fan, I’ll admit.  I got really fed up with the series of “I’m Will Farrell and I’m an idiot but somehow better than everyone else” (actual genre name, look it up if you don’t believe me) films that came out in 2003-2009, but hidden within those years is a lovely little gem called Stranger Than Fiction. It stars Farrell as an exceedingly dull IRS adjuster assigned to audit a quirky baker played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.  Farrell’s character begins hearing the voice of a narrator as he goes about his day-to-day, and it is revealed that the narrator is a well know author having trouble finishing her current novel.  The story gets kind of deep and a little dark at times, and there are some predictable tropes, but it stays entertaining throughout and the characters are relatable and fairly normal folks.  It also contains possibly the sweetest, most well thought out, clever romantic gesture I’ve ever seen on film…and it’s an A+ pun, to boot!

As for chicken noodle soup, what really needs to be said?  It’s Jewish Penicillin (usually with matzo balls), it’s the cure all for every ailment, it’s an easy meal…and it’s easy to ruin. The chicken gets stringy or rubbery, the veggies are mush, the noodles dissolve into the broth, its watery, etc.  We’re going to fix that, by adding a few extra steps, and doing things a little out of order.  It makes the process a bit more complicated, but it will get you a noticeably better soup, and it’s a method that lets you prepare things up to a couple days in advance. Cooking the major components separately ensures that none of them get over or under cooked while waiting for another ingredient to finish, and since we don’t assemble them until right before service, each ingredient can be prepped and cooled at your convenience.  You could run through this recipe in about an hour, or you could work on it over the course of an afternoon and evening while hanging out with your friends.

Misery may love company (though I don’t really, when I’m feeling crappy) but between the movie and this rich, delicious soup, I suspect you’ll find your spirits lifted.  So, drag your ass to the grocery store (even if you can’t manage to shower or change out of your pajamas, I’ll forgive you on this one), grab the dozen or so things you need to make this and toss on your favorite uplifting movie.  Invite some friends over if you feel up to company or hoard the rest for leftovers to eat throughout the week if you just want to be left alone.  This one is about self-care, whether that means time with friends or time alone in a kitchen.


Chicken Soup with Noodles

Makes 4-6 portions


  • 2 ½ lbs. chicken, not including bones (Details below)
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 4 bay leaves
  • Parsley stems
  • 8oz dry fettucinni
  • 2 TBS butter
  • 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Vinegar/citrus/hot sauce (optional)


Before we get in to the recipe, let’s talk stock and what cut of chicken to use really quick.  Homemade stock is 100%, for sure, going to be better than store bought, and I try to keep some around all the time (you can freeze cubes of it). Because of this, I used boneless skinless thighs for the recipe, since dark meat tastes more “chickeny” than white.  Anyway, if you don’t have some stock handy I recommend using a whole chicken to make this recipe. Just cut the wings and legs off at the joints and simmer it in water with a duplicate of the veggies and herbs in the soup recipe (BUT NO SALT).  Let it go for 4-8 hours (skimming the top to remove fat and “scum”), strain it, rescue the chicken, shred the meat for later, and start the recipe from there. Here’s a couple of PopLurker’s favorite Food Network personalities discussing stock, if you want more info. Now, on to the recipe!


To pre-cook the noodles:



  1. Begin by bringing the stock to a boil in a medium-large pot (it should hold about twice as much as the stock) with two of the bay leaves and a small bundle of parsley stems. I like to tie them together with some butcher’s twine for easier retrieval.
  2. Break or cut the pasta into smaller pieces. I like soup I can eat with chopsticks and a spoon, so I cut them in half.  If you want to skip the chopsticks, cut them smaller or use smaller pasta.


  1. Cook the pasta until it is just barely crunchy. This will take about 5-7 minutes, and you’ll know it’s at the right doneness if you try a piece and it has just a small crunch as you bite into it.  At this point, al dente would be overdone.
  2. Drain the pasta, RESERVING THE STOCK, and run the pasta under cold water to stop the cooking. Return the stock to the stove and left it simmer.
  3. Toss the pasta with a bit of oil to prevent sticking and set aside.


The vegetables:

  1. Roughly chop the veggies while the butter melts in a large skillet with the remaining bay leaves. CutVeggies.JPG
  2. Once the butter is hot, add the carrots, then the celery, then the onions; waiting a couple minutes between to allow the heat to recover and the harder veggies to get a head start. Sauté these over high heat until browned around the edges.


  1. Once the veggies begin to take on some color, add the garlic and continue cooking until the garlic is golden brown. Then set these aside in a bowl until you’re ready for them.



The chicken and finishing:

  1. If you used a whole chicken to make stock, shred the meat from the carcass and set it aside. Otherwise, do what I did.
  2. While the veggies are cooking, add the chicken to the simmering stock and cook for 20-30 minutes, until it is cooked through and very tender.

Chicken CookingChickenCooked


  1. Roughly chop it and return it to the stock with the veggies, season and let simmer for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavors to come together. If the soup is too rich at this point, you can add some acid to brighten it up. I recommend vinegar (sherry, red wine, or champagne), citrus, or even bit of your favorite hot sauce.


  1. Plate the meal ramen-style by adding a portion of noodles to the bowl, topping with the meat and veggies, and then dousing with the stock and sprinkling with a little rough chopped parsley.
  2. Eat and feel significantly better than before.




Alan is a professionally trained and certified chef/bar tender and lifelong Pop Culture Geek. He is the owner of Witt’s Pickles in San Diego, California. You can follow him on Twitter.

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