How to make Greek Traditional Chicken Soup Avgolemono (with egg-lemon sauce)
This week the cloudy, grey skies of the last days, finally cleared up. A glorious sun showered Greece with much-needed warmth and sunshine, to help coping with a recent natural disaster.
We won’t go into much detail –as this makes us really sad, because there were casualties- but a rare phenomenon, a Mediterranean hurricane hit Greece in mid-November. The outskirts of Athens were hit really hard by the storm, and now that it’s over households and businesses affected, have the difficult task to start assessing the situation in order to heal their wounds, if possible.
We don’t want to write much more about this; it’s really a painful situation. In this blog, we prefer to write about the positive things in life, to celebrate food and tradition. As you have noticed through the years, we don’t write about the Greek financial crisis or anything similar. We rather write about the beautiful things that life has to offer. This blog is all about memories, traditions, culture and –of course- food.
So -taking a big breath- we’ll focus on these. Most of us got to enjoy the autumn and the cool weather. Ourselves, we got the opportunity to walk in nearby groves and make small excursions in the country. The setting with the yellow, orange and red leaves is so majestic, isn’t it? And walking (or driving) in the country, offers a panorama of emerald-green meadows and dark woods, that you gaze in awe, in their autumn splendor. The other day, while taking photos, we noticed how a scene of nature in the fall, is as beautiful as the work of an impressionist painter, don’t you agree?
In November, we have the olive harvest, here in Greece. It’s a tradition that hasn’t changed for thousands of years and the process is still more-less performed in the same manner. The olives are hand-picked by the workers -but also to a large extent- by families who own smaller olive groves. During the last years, most people opt for cold-pressing the olives, which means that they have a lower yield of oil, but the quality is higher. Organic groves are also on the rise, which is also great news, as the olive oil produced in them has both an amazing flavor and is free of any trace of pesticides.
Some of the best, chubby olives, are selected for pickling. These will become edible after a simple brining process, as olives are naturally very bitter. After brining, they are stored in olive oil and herbs, to accompany the meals in the months to come. There’s nothing like having selected your own olives and enjoying them in your table. There’s a link here with one’s past, with people who did this before, and people that will follow and continue this tradition.
Winter is coming :)
As November nears to an end, the festive period of Christmas and the New Year is gradually getting closer. The scents of orange, cinnamon, and clove from making melomakarona and diples will start filling the air in Greek households. The aroma of the flower water from buttery kourabiedes will put a smile on everyone’s face.
As mentioned in the kourabiedes post, regarding Greek Christmas, pork is the most popular choice as the traditional meat of the season. But it’s not the only one. Another popular dish for Christmas is the Greek chicken soup avgolemono (egg-lemon sauce). This soup is often the meal at the Christmas Eve dinner, or the first course at the main meal on Christmas.
Both of us have wonderful memories of Christmas past, sitting on the table with the family to enjoy this warm, delicious chicken soup, while the fire was crackling at the fireplace and the discreet music in the background was playing carols or Sinatra (or anything similar from the Rat Pack), staring at big piles of melomakarona, awaiting us for dessert :)
The chicken soup avgolemono
This soup is -of course- also popular all year round and is definitely one of the best and simplest dishes of the Greek cuisine. It’s also one of the most beloved Greek comfort foods. Perhaps that’s why we got many requests for this specific soup from our visitors and friends. These requests especially increased during the last year; as we noticed, this chicken soup is also getting a lot of attention from people abroad, being so easy and delicious as it is. So, we were waiting for the weather to cool down, in order to share it on the blog; and the season right before Christmas seemed to be the perfect time to post this.
Traditionally, this soup is made with a whole, free-range chicken. That is why olive oil was rarely added to the soup (usually only a drizzle when serving it), as free-range chickens have natural fat and one does not need to add more. You can make the soup with a whole chicken, cut into 6 or 8 pieces, in which case we suggest you double the rest of the ingredients of this recipe, as a whole chicken will weigh about 1,5 -2 kg / 3,5-4,5 lbs.
Being more practical, we preferred to use chicken thighs for this recipe. Buying boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs is far more convenient and easier to handle for most people so, we tried both and then adapted and tested the recipe, with just (500-700 gr / 1-1.5lb) of chicken. We found that the thighs work better for this soup, as they do have a little fat and come out tastier in the end, in comparison to chicken breast. Of course, feel free to use whichever part you prefer.
There are countless variations of this recipe. This version is the traditional way our parent’s families make it and a very popular version in general. Plus, it’s really simple. You start by making a broth/stock, simmering the chicken and the veggies with peppercorns and bay leaves. When ready, you remove the chicken and the veggies and keep them aside, to chop and add them later on, when you’ll serve the soup. The broth is strained and then simmered with starchy rice until it softens. And the final step is making and adding the magic ingredient: the avgolemono (literally meaning egg-lemon) sauce.
This sauce is so delicious, that many people abroad are calling this soup simply “Avgolemono”. That’s not very proper though, as the same sauce is added in other dishes as well. For instance, one of the most popular Greek winter (and Christmas) dishes is a pork and celery stew called Hirino me Selino and it’s quite common to add egg-lemon sauce to this. Magiritsa, a traditional Easter soup, is also served with avgolemono, even in its vegetarian version. So, it’s better to call this dish “chicken soup avgolemono”, to distinguish it from other Greek dishes that also contain the avgolemono sauce.
What is avgolemono?
Now, what is the avgolemono sauce? It’s a very simple sauce, where eggs (whole or yolks) are beaten until creamy and fresh lemon juice is then added to them. While whisking vigorously, one starts to add slowly warm broth into the mixture. The purpose is to raise the temperature of the egg-lemon mixture to almost the same level as the broth in a soup. This way, the eggs won’t curd, they won’t become scrambled in the soup. They will turn into a creamy sauce that adds a wonderful silky texture to the soup. You won’t believe that you got this texture without using cream. And it’s really simple to make.
You can use whole eggs (not just the yolks) if you prefer a sauce with more froth. In this case, when you add the sauce in the pot (in the final step), simply hold and swirl the pot, don’t stir. It comes out better this way. Some people also like to beat the egg whites into foam separately, and then mix them with the yolks and the lemon juice. Then they temper the whole thing with the warm broth.
In this recipe we added just the yolks, as we believe that this soup looks better with less frothy sauce. It’s entirely up to you, to use the yolks or whole eggs. It’s simply a matter of preference.
In this post, we share a trick used by many cooks that helps a lot when reheating this soup. If you do this, the reheated soup will look much better. The trick is to add a little cornstarch in the lemon juice and then add this to the beaten eggs (or yolks). If you plan to serve the whole thing at once, you don’t need to do this though.
You can easily make this soup a day ahead without the egg-lemon sauce, and the next day reheat it well, make the sauce and add it to the soup right before serving it. It will be as delicious as it was freshly made.
You can also add more rice if you prefer a thicker soup. This is only suggested if you serve the whole soup at once. If you plan to serve it on the next day, the rice will continue to absorb the broth and the soup will be very thick, with almost no broth, so keep that in mind when you want to add extra rice.
So let’s see how to make this yummy chicken soup with avgolemono!
- 500 – 700g / 1 – 1.5 lb (2 large) skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut in 2 or 4 large pieces *
- 1-2 carrots, peeled
- 1 stalk celery, cut into two pieces
- 1 large onion, peeled
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon peppercorns
- 1 chicken stock bouillon (optional)
- 2 lt / 8 cups / 2qt water
- 1/3 cup medium-grain rice **
- salt, pepper
For the egg-lemon (avgolemono) sauce:
- 2 egg yolks (from large eggs)
- 1 large lemon, juiced
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch (optional, but highly recommended)
* You can also use chicken breast
** Choose a starchy rice, like Arborio, Carnaroli
Place the chicken, the carrots, the celery, the onion, the bay leaves, the peppercorns and the bouillon in a large pot and cover with 2lt/qt of water (pic. 1). Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Once it starts simmering, reduce the heat to medium-low.
In case white foam forms on the surface, using a slotted spoon, skim off and discard (pic. 2).
Simmer covered, for 30 minutes. Then remove the chicken (pic. 3) and the veggies with a slotted spoon and place on a plate (pic. 4).
Place a fine sieve/colander over a large bowl and strain the stock from the pot (pic. 5). Pour the strained stock back into the pot, place over medium-low heat, and add the rice (pic. 6), salt and pepper (season well). Simmer for 20-25 minutes, depending on the type of rice you chose. Taste some of the rice to see if it’s soft (not chewy). When ready, remove the pot from the stove and set aside.
Add the cornstarch in the lemon juice and stir to dissolve. This is optional, only if you use cornstarch (which is highly recommended). In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the yolks until creamy, for a couple of minutes (pic. 7). Add the lemon juice (pic. 8) while whisking continuously.
Start adding broth from the pot (keep whisking continuously), one ladleful at a time (pic. 9). Add broth from the surface of the pot, to avoid adding much rice. It’s ok if the broth you add contains a little rice.
Add very slowly the first two ladles with broth, whisking vigorously (pic. 10). You will need about 3 full ladles to warm the sauce up. The whole point is to increase the temperature of the egg-lemon mixture to that of the level of the broth. This way, the yolks won’t become solid.
Once hot, pour the frothy sauce mixture into the pot (pic. 11), and stir. Ready to serve (pic. 12)
Shred the chicken (it’s now cool enough to handle) with your hands or chop it with a knife, and serve the soup with it, adding some chopped carrots or celery as well if you like, and freshly crushed pepper and/or finely chopped parsley.
1. You can make this dish with chicken breast, or even a whole chicken, cut into portions. If using whole chicken, simply double the ingredients, it will come out amazing.
2. The reason for suggesting the use of cornstarch is that it helps when reheating this soup to avoid cooking the yolks.
3. You can make the soup a day ahead without the egg-lemon sauce, and the next day reheat well, make the sauce and add it to the soup right before serving it.
4. You can also use whole eggs (not just the yolks) for a sauce with more froth. In this case, when you add the sauce in the pot (in the final step), simply hold and swirl the pot, don’t stir.
Some people also like to beat the egg whites into foam separately, and then mix with the yolks and the lemon juice.
5. You can add more rice if you prefer the soup thicker (like a stew) or less if you prefer a clean, broth-like soup.
6. You can also try this with any short pasta, like orzo, or couscous. It’s not the traditional way to make it, but it does make for a great soup.
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