There’s something almost endearing about a recipe that calls for both a chicken and her eggs. And what offers more comfort than a bowl of chicken soup? Everyone has their own version; everything from Italian brodo with tortellini to Vietnamese pho ga (and I love them all); but I always come back to this Greek variation (a cousin of Chinese congee). It's surely the perfect Greek Easter lunch fare, but easy enough to be a weeknight dinner also.
Years ago I would make this with George – whenever he asked me what I’d like for lunch the answer was almost always “avgolemono!” (fassolakia coming a close second). His kitchen was very basic with no special equipment whatsoever (we whisked the egg whites with a fork), and he never measured anything. Although it was nothing more than a chook, a couple of eggs, a lemon or two and a large handful of rice – I thought it was utterly perfect. I honestly think I could eat an entire pot in one sitting. These days I can’t help but add a few vegetables to the stock – they give the soup a depth of flavour that’s well worth a little chopping and a few extra dollars, but at its heart it's still George's soup.
Avgolemono (Greek Chicken, Lemon and Egg Soup)
1 whole, organic chicken (size 1.7-1.8), cut into quarters
2 carrots, cut into thick rounds
1 leek, cut into thick rounds
1 stick celery, cut into large pieces
2 brown onions, cut into quarters
A few parsley stalks
1 tbsp black peppercorns
Sea salt, to taste
150g (¾ cup) uncooked short-grain white rice (such as Arborio)
3 large organic eggs, separated
2 lemons (to yield ½ cup juice), plus one extra for serving
Rinse the chicken pieces, place them in a large stock pot and cover with water. Bring slowly to the boil over low-medium heat and as soon as it does, remove the chicken and discard the water.
Give the chicken (and pot) another quick rinse and return them the stovetop. Add enough cold water to just cover (approx. 3-3.5 litres) and slowly bring to the boil over medium heat, add the vegetables and season with salt and pepper, then lower to a gentle simmer. Cook uncovered for about 1-1.5 hours until the chicken is cooked and falls easily off the bone, skimming occasionally.
Use a ladle to carefully remove the stock from the pot to a very large jug. Reserve the chicken pieces and set aside. Discard the vegetables and give the pot another rinse.
Return the stock to the pot, add rice and simmer gently for about twenty minutes.
Meanwhile, shred the chicken and set it aside. Whisk the egg whites till very frothy before adding the yolks, strain the lemon juice and add it to the eggs.
Gradually add a cup or so of the warm stock to the eggs whisk to combine. Add the egg mixture back into the stock and stir gently before covering. Turn off the heat leave the soup for about five minutes before serving with extra lemon wedges on the side.
C(h)ook’s notes –
- As tempting as it may be; try not to skip the first step – it removes a lot of fat and scum resulting in a cleaner, healthier soup.
- I like the brightness that the lemon brings this soup, but you may wish to start with half the lemon and add more if desired.
- Replace the whole chicken with 5-6 carcasses and increase the cooking time to up to 4 hours and you have a clean, flavourful chicken stock that can be frozen in portions and added to other soups, stews, risottos, etc.