The Boozy Ingredient You Need To Level Up Comforting Chicken Soup

When it's cold outside and you're under the weather, or you're simply craving comfort food, popular wisdom says chicken soup is the solution. This isn't entirely wrong, because it's healthy, hydrating, and possibly has some anti-inflammatory qualities. The problem is when it tastes bland, or you're too stuffy to taste as much as you normally could. If you're not abstaining from alcohol, then ½ cup of a neutral spirit can make your soup taste better and help to clarify its aroma.


Speaking to Michelin, the French tire company whose famous guidebook awards its coveted stars to the best restaurants, chef Taewoo Kim suggests splashing a little vodka or soju into your soup, as they both contain a neutral flavor profile that enhances the savory, salty flavors of chicken soup. The liquor can also clear up any lingering odors if you've made your soup from scratch using raw chicken. The result is a more appetizing dish that tastes better, with a tiny kick to it; on a sick day, these things can help.

Vodka and soju enhance flavor

In most contexts, vodka and soju shouldn't be used interchangeably because they're not the same thing: Vodka is a fairly simple spirit originally hailing from Russia and Poland that's usually distilled to around 40% alcohol by volume (ABV), and which is nearly flavorless beyond a strong alcohol sensation. This makes vodka easy to mix with other drinks and foods. Soju is a Korean spirit — hovering around 20% ABV – made from rice, other grains, or potatoes. It's less harsh to drink than vodka because of its lower ABV, but it's similarly neutral in taste. When adding these boozes to your broth, you have a few options. You can add them as part of a marinade for your chicken, or to your broth as it simmers. With gentler soju, you can even add it as a finishing touch before serving.


If these drinks are so "neutral," how can they enhance the flavors in a dish like chicken soup? Spirits like vodka are good at bonding with fat and water molecules in a way that concentrates and intensifies those flavors — in this case, chicken stock and vegetables. Also, because alcohol evaporates faster than water, more of these molecules are reaching your nose faster, so you perceive the soup as smelling stronger. Lots of strong liquors can do this, but a drink with a more distinct taste, like bourbon, adds noticeable flavors to the soup, which you don't necessarily want.

Alcohol and chicken smells

It's thought that alcohol and vinegar can be good ways to remove overbearing "meat" smells in chicken, pork, or fish. If you don't care for that specific poultry smell from the chicken, broth, or stock lingering in your kitchen, adding in liquor could help it dissipate. Chinese rice wine like Shaoxing is often used for this purpose, and other rice wines have purportedly been used to similar effect. Soju can be used as a substitute for these kinds of sweeter, sometimes saltier cooking wines, although the taste is not the same.


This isn't to say that throwing in liquor can clear up a rotten smell in chicken: Store-bought chicken broth only lasts a few days when opened, and raw chicken only a day or two. Of course, you should never eat chicken that smells off. Some forms of alcohol can be decent at cleaning certain things, but alcohol is not a safe method for killing bacteria; it can't save spoiled food. When you add soju or vodka it's only to elevate your chicken soup to Michelin levels of deliciousness.