Anyone who knows me knows I love soup. It started with the classic tomato soup and grilled cheese when I was a kid. But now, as an adult, I find soups and stews to be the ultimate comfort food. If you have a sniffle, have some soup. Bad day at work? Have some soup. Raining out? Have some soup. There is something endlessly comforting about a big, steamy, bowl of goodness – the metaphorical hug for your insides. And unlike many other comfort foods, soup is, in general, extremely good for you. My recent food-hug obsession? Avgolemono (Greek Egg and Lemon) Soup.
Avgolemono gets its distinctive flavor (and vitamins to boot) from a bunch of lemon juice, and a gorgeous, silky, texture from eggs. No cream is involved in this creamy soup, and although tempering the eggs takes a bit of focus/attention, it’s by no means difficult.
Avgolemono is technically a Greek sauce made from eggs, lemon, and broth. From here, my research got shady. I found references for Avgolemono sauce used on vegetables, fish, or meat, but also used to thicken soups. So Avgolemono Soup is pretty much a chicken soup thickened with Avgolemono sauce. How thick the soup should be is also a matter of contention. Some folks swear by a velvety but thin soup texture, while others proclaim Avgolemono Soup should be as thick as yogurt or even rice pudding. To make matters even more confusing, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on what goes in the soup – orzo, rice, pastina, all are discussed as “traditional” and it seems many recipes use cornstarch to help stabilize the texture.
Personally, I want my soup to be, well, soupy, so I lean towards the thinner, velvety texture. I also prefer orzo, although I’m not against arborio or other starchy, short grained rice. My Avgolemono is no slouch in either the health or the comfort department though my recipe below does rely on a few variables that might not be the same for you.
First, for my chicken stock, I used half store bought and half homemade. Knowing that this soup was going to be on the stove for a couple of hours, I added 2 cups of water knowing that it would reduce/evaporate away during cooking. Using stock allowed me to use boneless skinless chicken breasts which I always seem to have on hand in the freezer. If you don’t have homemade stock, you can use all store-bought, but then I’d skip the water and start with 10-12 cups of store-bought stock with the plan to reduce it down to 7-8 cups.
If you don’t have stock at all, I’d then sub out the boneless/skinless breasts for skin-on, bone-in chicken (thighs are great, a half or whole chicken even better, just reserve some of the leftover chicken for other purposes) and starting with 12-14 cups of water. Add a bay leaf, and plan on cooking/reducing that down to the same 7-8 cups, skimming off any foam during cooking. Plan on adding a couple more hours to your total cook time.
And if you’ve got 8 cups of delicious homemade stock to start, this meal can get on the table in 30 minutes. Skip the veggies, heat the stock, add the orzo, temper the eggs and shred a grocery store rotisserie chicken.
No matter how you handle the broth situation, you can plan on this recipe making a really nice dinner for four. I’d add a side salad and/or crusty bread, but that’s just me.
8 cups chicken stock (see notes above)
2 cups water
1 large onion, quartered
2 carrots, peeled and cut in half
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 or 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts – about 1.5 lbs
6 oz orzo pasta
2 large eggs
6 tblsp (3/8 cup) fresh squeezed lemon juice
salt, to taste
Garnish – freshly ground black pepper, extra virgin olive oil, lemon slices. Fresh dill is also common.
Bring the stock, water, chicken, onion, carrots and garlic to a simmer in a large pot. Cook until chicken is cooked through (15-20 minutes depending on the size of the breasts.) Transfer chicken to a plate, let it sit until cool enough to shred, then shred and set aside. Cook the remaining ingredients at a low boil (more than a simmer, but not a big rolling boil) until the liquid has reduced down to 8 cups, 30 minutes to an hour. Season with salt to taste.
Discard the onion, carrots, and garlic, leave the stock simmering while you temper the eggs.
Whisk eggs and lemon juice in a medium bowl until foamy and no streaks of egg remain. Whisking constantly, slowly add 1 cup of hot broth to the eggs until fully incorporated. Be careful in the beginning, you don’t want to scramble those eggs. Set that aside while you go back to your soup pot.
Turn the heat up to a rolling boil and add the orzo, stirring so it doesn’t stick. Cook the orzo the time called for on the package (about 10 minutes) then add your shredded chicken to the pot to heat it up.
Once your orzo is cooked and chicken is warm, keep the soup at a low boil while you whisk vigorously and add in the tempered egg mixture. Go slowly at first and keep whisking until the egg mixture is fully incorporated.
Reduce heat to medium low and cook about 5 minutes more, until the soup has thickened a little and turned velvety and luscious. Remove from heat and season with salt to taste.
Divide soup among bowls. Garnish with pepper, olive oil, and lemon slices, then serve.