Connie’s Coronavirus Cooking Chronicles – Recipe 2 – Avgolemono Soup (Greek Lemon Chicken Soup)
Avgolemono is one of my all-time favorite soups. It’s fairly simple to make and consists of minimal, healthy ingredients but packs a TON of creamy lemon-chicken flavor. Eggs are used to thicken the soup and make it ultra-creamy without adding cream (although you can add cream too, if you’d like). The first time I had it was at a local Mediterranean restaurant and almost every subsequent time I went there I would order the Avgolemono soup. However, at $5 a cup, I wanted to learn to make it at home so that I could have it anytime I wanted without the steep price tag. Luckily, it isn’t hard to make at all; however, there are three important tips to follow if you want your soup to taste amazing, which are as follows:
- DO NOT SKIP THE LEMON ZEST. Lemon zest is the key ingredient that makes the soup taste deliciously lemony. If you just use lemon juice, you will only get a tiny bit of lemon flavor and the more juice you add, the more sour the soup will be without much of an increase in lemon flavor.
- Use a BLENDER when mixing the soup with the eggs. You don’t HAVE to do use a blender but I’ve found it to be the easiest method of tempering eggs without accidentally curdling them (to temper eggs means to slowly heat and mix them into another liquid without changing their texture). I’ve tried tempering by hand and found it very hard to produce a result that is as creamy as tempering by blender. And yes, you HAVE TO temper the eggs. If you just mix them into hot soup without tempering them you will just get egg drop soup. Who wants bits of scrambled eggs in Avgolemono soup? No one.
- Use a KITCHEN THERMOMETER to measure the temperature of your soup after adding the blended egg-soup mixture as it continues to cook. Once the temperature reaches 160 or slightly higher, turn off the heat. The eggs are fully cooked at 160 degrees F and will curdle around 170 or 180 degrees F so don’t let the temperature get that high. If you don’t have a kitchen thermometer, you can try to eyeball it (once you see steam coming from the soup, continue to stir and cook for another minute or so and then turn off the heat), but I can’t guarantee that the soup won’t be undercooked (with bacteria still alive) or overcooked (curdled).
The local Mediterranean restaurant that I like adds some heavy cream to their soup, but I’ve found it to be unnecessary since the eggs and rice already make the soup creamy. However, if you want your soup even creamier, thicker, and silkier (not to mention fattier), feel free to add a bit of heavy cream to the soup after adding the egg mixture. Some people prefer using only egg yolks for the soup but I like to use the whole egg. Also, feel free to use white rice or brown rice. White rice is more traditional but brown rice had more fiber. I have some very specific opinions about brown rice, which you can read in the recipe notes below. Lastly, I recommend using homemade chicken broth because it tastes more “chicken-y” and less seasoned than broth from a box, which has other additives like celery and onions. I prefer the clean taste of plain chicken broth for this soup, but if you want to make avgolemono with a seasoned broth, you’re welcome to try.
- 8 cups of chicken broth (see note 1)
- 4 eggs
- zest and juice of 2 lemons (or more lemons, to taste)
- 1 tsp salt (or more, to taste)
- 1/2 cup white or brown rice, dry (see note 2)
- the cooked and shredded meat of half a whole chicken (or a pound or two of chicken breast meat, depending on how much chicken you want in the soup) (see note 3)
- 1-2 tbsp heavy cream, optional
- Add the chicken broth and rice into a saucepan or pot and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to bring the broth to a simmer.
- Cook the rice until it is done (20-45 mintues).
- Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, and salt to the soup and stir. Turn off the stove.
- In a blender, add the eggs and blend for a few seconds, until well-scrambled.
- Scoop about 2 cups of the soup and rice mixture into a pourable container (like a glass measuring cup) and SLOWLY pour into the blender with eggs WHILE THE BLENDER IS RUNNING. Your eggs are tempered now. Turn off the blender.
- Pour the blended mixture into your pot of soup. I like to pour it slowly while gently stirring the soup with a spoon in my other hand to make sure the eggs don’t curdle as they are added, but it usually doesn’t curdle even if I just dump the soup in without stirring.
- Add the chicken meat into the soup. If using heavy cream, add it now.
- Turn the stove back on to low and cook, stirring constantly so that the eggs closest to the heat source don’t curdle.
- Use a kitchen thermometer to check the temperature of the soup every so often. When the temperature reaches 160 F (or slightly higher), turn off the heat. Your soup is ready!
- If you want to make homemade chicken broth, put a large raw chicken (or two chickens!) in a large pot and cover with cold water (not too much water – covering by an inch or so is good). Bring the water to a boil and reduce the heat to low. Simmer with the lid on until the chicken is cooked through (about 90-120 minutes). Take the chicken out and shred it (after letting it cool enough to handle). I like to put the skin and bones in a pile separate from the meat and reuse for making chicken bone broth. For the broth, I use a deep ladle to gently skim the fat from the top of the broth and pour into a glass mason jar. Once the oil in the jar separates from the broth beneath, I use a spoon to scoop out the oil and add the broth back into the main batch. You can use the oil to saute other food or toss it. Remember to measure out the broth needed for this recipe! Feel free to double the soup recipe if you want.
- Rice is known to have a considerable arsenic in it, especially brown rice. The arsenic is not naturally-occurring in rice but is a result of environmental contamination that is pretty much present in most rice farms due to the way rice is grown (underwater). Arsenic from the water seeps into the rice while it is being grown. However, the arsenic in rice is water-soluble so you can get rid of some of it by soaking the rice for several hours in cold water and then tossing the water. I like to soak and change the water multiple times over 2 or 3 days to get rid of even more arsenic in my brown rice. This causes the rice to sprout during this period of time, which is supposed to make rice a little healthier by activating enzymes, increasing vitamins, and reducing phytic acid. It’s a nice side benefit, but I mostly do this to reduce the arsenic level. If you want to reduce arsenic even more, you can then cook the rice in a large pot with way too much water, get rid of the water half way through cooking and replace with new water, and then when the rice is done, strain it and toss the cooking water. I then add this cooked rice (about 1.5 cups) to the avgolemono soup towards the end, when adding the chicken. Rice cooked and added this way dilutes the flavor of the soup a tiny bit, but I don’t mind that.
- If using raw chicken breast, you can cook the chicken in the broth (before or during the rice-cooking stage) and shred it after it is cooked through.