This is Andrew’s favorite soup and it took me six months to make it. You would think that as his girlfriend I’d feel compelled to rush to the kitchen to make his favorite things to woo him, but apparently I’m obstinate and run on the over-promise and under-deliver campaign. I am easily distracted and seasonal foods are the equivalent of ooh-shiny-what-were-we-talking-about-again? Andrew has been lovely and patient, acting as an obedient guinea-pig and sampling whatever dishes strike my fancy at a moment’s notice. Might it be because he knows which side his bread is buttered on? Possibly. But either way, he’s been lovely.
In discussing our favorite dishes, Andrew told me about this Greek diner in Boston he’d go to with family, and the diner would make this amazing Greek chicken lemon soup. I’ve heard of avgolemono soup, but I’d never had it before. The premise: chicken stock, intensely infused with lemon juice and thickened with eggs, sounded at once comforting, luxurious, and refreshing (with lemons how could it not?). But because I’ve never eaten it before, how would I know a good recipe from a dud? It’s one thing to make your boyfriend’s favorite dish that you have mastered, but a totally different one to venture into the terra incognita. You don’t want to fall flat on your face, and while you want to wow and impress, you, the you with a day job, also might not have the time to run all over New York (or wherever you happen to live) and sample avgolemono in a dozen different locations.
But over the past month, I have looked at many an Avgolemono recipe in preparation for Operation Boyfriend’s Favorite Soup, and realized that you can tell, by reading through a recipe, if it’s going to be a good soup. Maybe not the exact replica Andrew was used to, but a tasty bowl of soup nonetheless. After reading through over a dozen or so recipes, I could tell which version produced what. Some recipes came across as inadequately lemony (you need more than one lemon for a whole pot of soup to bear its name); some as too watery (quarter cup of rice does not exciting soup make); some as skimping on the chicken itself, if not avoiding it all together. From my research, I learned that classic avgolemono, should typically contain some rice and offer noticeable chicken presence. Since you’re eating chicken soup, it follows that you should see chicken meat in your bowl. The soup should taste rich, but not overbearingly thick or heavy. If you want your soup to be less filling, adjust your chicken accordingly, but if you prefer to have a meal instead, chicken meat should have its own spotlight.
The soup gets better the following day, as the flavors meld together and grow more intense. I had it for lunch yesterday and thought perhaps I might be unduly flattering myself. But Andrew, who also had it for lunch at work, noted the same, which makes me think that perhaps there’s something to the better-the-day-after theory. Unless, he is just flattering me and it’s some kind of a Jedi mind trick so that I make this soup soon again and not wait another six months. If it’s the latter, this is nothing short of brilliant strategery* on his part – flattery will get you everywhere.
*Yup, I went there.
cobbled together from about dozen places
2 chicken breast halves
7 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup long-grain rice or orzo (stick with rice for a gluten-free recipe)
Juice of 4 lemons
Pepper to taste
4 tbsp chopped parsley
Combine the chicken, broth, and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, skim the surface scum off, lower the heat, and cover the pan, letting the soup simmer for 45 minutes or until it is cooked through.
Remove the chicken from the liquid. Ladle a little of the broth into a bowl and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil and cook rice according to the package directions. Set aside.
Skin about 1/2 of the chicken, and cut the meat into 1/4-inch pieces, discarding the bones; set aside.
Return the broth to a boil. Add the cut-up chicken and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, lemon juice, and pepper until emulsified. While whisking with one hand, slowly add a ladle of the hot broth to the egg mixture with the other, drizzling the brother and beating constantly. Beat in another 2 ladle of the hot broth in the same way.
Using the same method of whisking gradually, whisk the egg mixture into the pot of soup, stirring constantly. Return the soup to the medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes or just until the mixture thickens slightly. Be sure not to let the mixture bubble, even at the edges. Add the rice or orzo and stir well.
Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with parsley.
Serves 6-8, depending on how much soup you like to eat.
I’ve tried making a good version of this soup and have always failed. Maybe because I always just winged it. Time to pay attention as I want to make this soup right now. Looks and sounds ideal. Your boyfriend must be very happy :)
I also love this soup. It is a family favorite which is always a welcome in the cooler weather. Your recipe is very close to my Greek mother-in-law. The difference, always roast the chicken (rooster is even better) first for more flavor. Add large chunks of carrot & celery. And cook the orzo/rice in the soup for the last 20 minutes of cooking, which also thickens the soup. I think I’ll make a pot this weekend.
Joann – all are great suggestions! Thanks for sharing. I will use your tips next time!
A friend’s had “Avgolemono” on the tip of her tongue for about 2 months. As in “you know, that Greek lemon soup… with chicken? I had it once somewhere.” Thank you for solving the mystery for me! And sharing a recipe to boot! Also, the pictures of the lemons look luscious. Did you use Meyers?
Lauren – thank you, and no, they’re just regular Trader Joe’s lemons I got that weekend. It might not be tart enough with Meyer lemons, but could always try?
I love, love this soup. I’ve never made it before and this recipe looks like a keeper. I can relate to being wooed by seasonal ingredients :)
the blissful baker
i’ve never heard of this before, but it looks delicious!
Never had it before, but it sounded fantastic so I made it tonight. Loved it. I used lime and brown rice, and added sauteed onion and garlic to the stock while cooking the chicken. I was surprised at how easy it was to make. I’m definitely going to have it more often. Thanks!
this sounds delish but i’m confused– your recipe calls for 7 cups of chicken broth, but then the beginning of the recipe tells you “Combine the chicken, water, and salt in a large saucepan.”.
do you mean that after boiling the chicken it yields 7 cups of broth that you use for the recipe?
or do you need 7 cups of broth in addition to the water you need to boil the chicken and the rice?
I am also confused as Dina…what is with the beginning of the recipe “combine the chicken, water and salt” ?
Do you use pre-made broth or make your own broth with the chicken, water and salt?
I would love to make this soup as they used to serve it at my favorite Greek restaurant that closed down :( if you could clarify that would be awesome!
Wondering about the Greek diner in Boston – could it be Andros diner in Belmont – best comfort Greek food ever. Looking forward to making this soup tonight, what with the cold and all…
Dina and Rachel – typo (oops! this is what happens when you’re tired and are your own editor!) – it should be “broth” in directions and I fixed it. Thanks for pointing out.
This is the sexiest soup I have ever seen! I remember having avgolemono soup at a Greek restaurant in Queens, but it was nothing compared to this. It lacked in many aspects. Just look at that beautiful color and the chicken(!), I’ll have a bowl for now and three for later. :)
Yes, tell us which diner in Boston it is, so I can go try it out. :)
Katy – I’ll ask Andrew and let everyone know! :)
my little expat kitchen
Your soup looks fantastic! Being Greek, this soup is one of my favorites. It’s the soup my mom used to make for me when I was sick and the soup I make when the weather is getting very cold and I need something soothing. Shredded chicken inside the soup is a must and try cooking the rice in the prepared broth and not separately next time. That’s how we do it in Greece :) It is more flavorful that way.
I have seen recipe after recipe but never made this soup. Somehow th egg part always seemed a bit tricky to me. But this looks lovely and silky. I will have to try!
Katie – the egg part is sliiightly tricky, but very tiny bit. You just gently add a little hot liquid to the egg/lemon mixture, and whisk to incorporate. Then add a little more. The idea is that you gradually raise the eggs’ temperature without cooking the egg first. Then you can slowly incorporate back into the soup.
my little expat kitchen – thank you for the advice, I’ll do exactly that next time!
One of my all-time fave soups. I’ve always been a sucker for the creaminess, but then I also love that fresh zing of lemon that cuts through it all.
That looks sooooo yummy….!!!!
The Rowdy Chowgirl
I love this soup in restaurants, but somehow it seemed like one of those mystery dishes that I could never duplicate at home. Nice work!
I make this soup all the time and I refer a slightly altered version of Patricia Wells’ recipe. Definitely cook the rice in the broth, use short-grain rice, use egg yolks only, cook the chicken (strips of breast or thigh) in the broth in the last ten-fifteen minutes, add a grind of nutmeg and chopped parsley, rosemary or tarragon last.
This looks like a wonderful fall soup- thanks so much for doing the research to produce a really great recipe for us! I’ve never heard of this soup before, but think it could be a great alternative to chicken soup when I’m needing some extra comfort or warmth. Yum!
This does sound nice. The day after…I love soup leftovers the day after. Thanks for featuring such a nice soup.
butternut squash lasagna « Sassy Radish
[…] and dates for our Sunday supper, but at the last minute, changed my mind and promised Andrew his favorite soup, scrapping the planned-on lentil soup. That, of course, threw a wrench in the works because no one […]
So this is my first comment here, yet I am a character in these blogs, so I feel like this is a meta-comment.
The diner in Boston is not actually in Boston, but rather in Cambridge/Arlington. It’s called “Greek Corner” (http://www.greekcorner.us/) and is right on Mass Ave. between Porter Square and where Mass Ave. hits Rte. 16. I went to Tufts for grad school, and used to go to the Corner all the time, often trekking there on frigid winter nights in order to be warmed up by the thick, lemony soup, only to freeze again on the walk back home. But it was always worth it for the soup.
Now I need to request my 2nd favorite dish for Sassy Radish to cook for me, in order to plan a meal that will take place six months from now. What?!? Oh yes, I went there.
I shall now return to my regular role as a character referred to in the third-person.
Julianne (Kitchen Ninja)
I will admit that I have only ever made the Cooking Light version of avgolemono, and I love it. But I bet I will love this even more. Thanks!!
Love “operation boyfriend’s soup.” Very sweet. I’ve just started hearing about this soup in random places (sister’s friend, online blog, morning talk show)…must be a sign it’s time to give it a go. Thanks for the recipe and lovely photos.
Here are some tips from a greek girl:
1) you don’t need a broth. Just boil in the saucepan the chicken, water, 1 onion, 1 carrot, 1 tomato, some celery. The taste is more original like this.
2) do not cook separately the rice
3) the most “gourmed” version for the avgolemono is to beat separately yolks and whites. With the whites make a very light meringue and combine in it the beaten yolks. Then add this in the saucepan. You don’t have to cook it again. My mother though puts the eggs and lemon in the food processor and slowly she adds some spoons of the broth untin the eggs get the same temperature as the broth.
4) You don’t have to put that much lemon from the begining. If someone wants more he can add more in his plate
5) Avgolemono the next day? No way! The rice texture is discusting!
My husband favorite soup! I make this at least once a month. I keep the rice separate until we eat it and add the rice then. I agree with Anna that I don’t like the soft rice the day after.
My dad makes this every Easter! I’m excited to make it for dinner this week! I’ve always loved it, but never tried making it before….
Amelia from Z Tasty Life
looks and sounds comforting with a tad of zippiness!
JUST discovered your blog (stumbled on it via twitter), can’t wait to read more, and follow you :)
Amelia – thanks so much! :)
I’m bummed, I completely messed it up somehow. I couldn’t get it to thicken, and the entire pot of soup had a horrible metallic taste. Reckon I’ll make it in my dutch oven next time – my regular cookpot must be too reactive or something!
It had promise, though. ;) I’ll very likely try again!
Completely unofficial and inauthentic, but we dry toast orzo in a frying pan and cook that in the broth before we add the eggs. The first avgolemono I ever tasted in a greek restaurant was orzo based, though not toasted. Toasting it does two things: 1) It adds a *great* flavor hit to the soup – you have to try it to understand it – especially if you’re not including chicken (which we don’t, when it’s a side soup) and 2) toasted pasta will hold up in the soup (or any other soup – we use this technique with vermicelli, etc. often) for several days, unlike rice or plain orzo. Great recipe, thanks. :)
OK, so here’s some pointers from a born-and-bred Greek.
For the stated amount of soup you really need to tone down the avgolemono to like, half. So:
– use juice from 2 lemons, not 4
– use 2-3 eggs, not 5
– also: have eggs at room temperature
Make chicken soup as in recipe. Cook the orzo / rice as well, as you won’t want to be actually be cooking anything after you’ve added the avgolemono. Once the soup is done, remove from heat just before starting the avgolemono.
– separate egg whites and yolks
– beat yolks in small bowl
– beat egg whites till somewhat white and fluffy in a medium bowl
– add the yolks then the lemon juice into the egg whites slowly, keep whisking till blended & emulsified. Keep whisking.
– add approx 1 cup of hot broth, ever so slowly, especially in the beginning. Do NOT stop whisking. You want to heat the mixture but without cooking the egg & breaking the emulsion.
– add the avgolemono mixture to chicken soup. Do NOT stir. At all. Seriously. Don’t. Shake the pot instead. Also: do NOT cover the pot.
– put pot back on medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes. Maintain a strategy of NEITHER stirring NOR covering the pot. Now your egg mixture is cooked but (hopefully) not de-emulsified.
Vangelis – thank you for the helpful suggestions. I was just talking to my boyfriend and we were going to play around with the recipe more. This is helpful!
247. When Life Hands You Lemons…Make Soup! « Girl Can…
[…] I had some down time at work, I decided to do another Google search for recipes and ran across this post by Sassy […]
broiled tofu with snow peas, broccoli, and shitake | Sassy Radish
[…] I have some work to do this afternoon after which I’ll go out to gather some ingredients for his favorite soup. I hope it does the trick. I have faith in soup’s restorative […]
Ramen: Hacked | The Purplest House
[…] then I thought of this recipe I’ve been wanting to try for at least a year, and I had an idea. The results were awesome, I […]
I tried this tonight and it was good. Next time I will cook rice in it and also use chicken stick from cooking chicken. Most def I will add celery and carrots, it was missing this time. Overall I doctored it up with more salt and pepper and parsley.