The classic Greek chicken soup made with rice and a rich egg-lemon sauce.
We love this soup. We love making it today, and we love reminiscing about how much fun it was to help our parents make it when we were young. It’s true that it is relatively simple and in terms of active cooking time, this soup doesn’t require much; there is a lot of waiting around. Waiting for the chicken to boil and for the stock to be made. Waiting then for the rice to cook. One of the key steps however is preparing the egg and lemon mixture, the avgolemono. This is what transforms a plain rice soup into a Greek classic.
When we were small, our parents had a rotary handheld egg beater. How many of you remember having one of those?! As kids we thought this gadget, with it’s wooden handle and simple, yet intricate mechanism, was simply amazing and so we happily accepted the task of being the first to use it to froth up the egg whites. Our parents would watch our progress, tell us what a great job we had done, and then step in to finish the job. We would then be assigned to gingerly, upon their instruction, add to the egg whites some egg yolks, lemon juice and cooled broth. Once the handheld beater had successfully combined all of these, we would listen, with great anticipation as either our mother or father slowly poured this beaten mixture into the pot of soup. That’s right…we would listen. You see, as they poured they would let out a long, drawn out kiss, right into the air. They would explain that this was a crucial step, one that would ensure that
their our soup turned out delicious. When we were making avgolemono with them recently, recording the recipe and steps for posting on this blog, we talked about this air smooch. Our parents laughed and told us that this was really just silliness, an old wives tale not meant to be taken seriously. But then, almost as though they couldn’t help themselves, they proceeded to kiss the air when finishing up our soup, and it was delicious.
The chicken which will be boiled for this recipe serves two purposes. First, the water used to boil your chicken, along with some vegetables, creates a delicious stock which is used as the soup base. Second, the boiled chicken can be cut up into pieces and added directly into your soup, or eaten separately on the side, along with the boiled vegetables. If you have never had plain, boiled chicken, sprinkled with nothing more than a bit of salt and pepper, you are missing out. It’s true! The flavour is so mild and so simple that it can sometimes be a welcome change for your palate. The boiled vegetables as well, are deliciously comforting. If plain boiled chicken is not your thing, and you don’t want to add the extra protein to your soup (remember…you’ve got eggs in there), you can also choose to use your chicken in other ways; maybe a filling for chicken salad sandwiches, part of a stir-fry, or as a special treat for your dog.
As you will notice in the recipe below, we suggest that you boil your chicken in water for about 5 minutes and then discard that water. Rinse your pot and start boiling your chicken again immediately with a fresh pot of water and the vegetables. This is certainly an extra step, but one which our parents feel helps make the soup less fatty. Given that the effort is minimal, we suggest you follow their lead. If you can save even a few calories, or a bit of fat…why not?
When it comes to making avgolemono soupa, the use of arborio rice is pretty non-negotiable in our parents’ kitchen. Few other types of rice (at least from those varieties available where we live) will create the thick and creamy soup you want to end up with.
Another key ingredient here is, of course, the lemons. Use the freshest lemons you can find and try to avoid using bottled lemon juice unless you are certain that it is not diluted with water. Even still, there is nothing like the smell of fresh lemons. The quantity of lemon juice that our parents use will give you a tart, but not overly tart soup. If you want your avgolemono to taste more lemony, adjust the quantity of lemon juice. You can also add a squeeze of lemon to each individual serving plate if tastes differ around the table.
You will see that the directions below instruct you to remove some of the stock, set it aside to cool, and then add it slowly to the beaten eggs and lemon. This is a critical step because if you add the beaten eggs directly into the very hot soup you risk having your eggs curdle.
Avgolemono tends to thicken as it sits. If you have leftover soup in the fridge which has thickened up more than you would have liked, add a little bit of chicken stock or water while reheating it either on the stovetop or even the microwave.
Looking for some more comfort soups, try these:
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Mia Kouppa: Avgolemono soup with chicken
- 1 whole chicken
- 2 – 3 large carrots, each carrot cut into half
- 2 – 3 stalks celery, each celery stalk cut into half
- 2 – 3 large potatoes, each potato cut into 4 large chunks
- 1 /2 cup leek (white part only) chopped into large chunks
- 1 3/4 cups (350 grams) arborio rice
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 4 eggs
- Prepare chicken by removing excess fat. Fill a pot with enough water to cover chicken and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Remove chicken and pour out water. Rinse pot.
- Return chicken to pot and add enough water to cover chicken (at least 12 cups of water). Add carrots, celery, potato and leek. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium. Cook, covered, for approximately one hour. Check the pot approximately 10 – 15 minutes into the cooking and remove any froth that has come to the surface of the water.
- Once the chicken has cooked remove it to a platter. Set aside
- Using a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables from the chicken broth. Set aside with the chicken.
- Strain the broth into a large clean bowl using a fine sieve. Measure the liquid that you have. You will need 12 cups of liquid total. Add enough water in order to reach 12 cups.
- Pour this stock into a pot. Rinse the arborio rice and then add it to the stock. Add salt.
- At this point remove about 1 – 2 cups of the stock and keep it in a bowl, to cool slightly. Set it aside.
- Cook the rice over medium high heat, stirring regularly (especially during the first 5 – 10 minutes to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot) until the rice is cooked, about 20 minutes . If you find your soup is too thick, add some boiled water.
- Remove pot from heat.
- Separate eggs. Using a hand held mixer, or a fork, (or, if you have it, a rotary handheld egg beater!) beat egg whites until frothy (you will NOT create soft peaks…that’s okay). Once the egg whites are frothy and foamy, add the egg yolks. Continue beating. Then, add the lemon juice. Beat together until combined and then slowly stream in the cup of stock that you had set aside, and which should have cooled so that it is warm but not hot. Continue to beat the egg / lemon mixture until all of the stock has been incorporated.
- Take this egg / lemon mixture and pour it slowly into the soup, stirring well. Give your pot of soup a few more good stirs after all the avgolemono has been added.
- Serve in individual bowls. At this point you can choose to place cut up pieces of chicken directly into the servings of soup or do as our parents always did; serve the chicken, cut into pieces, on a large platter along with the boiled vegetables. Sprinkle lightly with salt. It is then up to each person to decide how much chicken (if any) to add to their bowl.