Chicken Soup with Egg-Lemon Sauce
It’s pitiful to beg, I know, but I’m coming dangerously close to it. Just look over the recipe below, imagining the pairing of these ingredients, and you’ll want to try this soup. (OK, I want you to, but let’s not quibble.) This is one of those comfort foods, and – I’m fully convinced – a cure for what ails. It’s somehow “creamy” with no cream (thanks to the arborio rice.) It’s full of flavor, while still being gentle and so easy to eat. It’s aromatic (thanks to the generous amount of dill and the perfume of the lemon.) It’s a soup equally good in summer as in winter, so Spring would be the perfect time to prove it to yourself! Take the challenge – try this soup – you will not be disappointed! It’s positively kissable.
At the start of “Citrus Month,” I promised you a soup from Yaya and Papou’s homeland. This is the one. In Greece, until fairly recently, chickens were considered a great delicacy. Except on important feast days, chicken dishes would have been reserved for children and the sick. This chicken and rice soup, with an egg and lemon “sauce” stirred in at the last moment, was served as a much-loved, one-pot meal at Christmas. Nowadays, I’d venture to say you can find this on any Greek restaurant menu – but please let me know if you’ve ever tried one better.
The secret to any good soup is in the stock, and this one is no different. If you’re pressed for time, you could use a pre-roasted chicken and a high-quality, store-bought (or previously prepared homemade) chicken stock – but the gentle, two-hour-long cooking of a whole chicken imparts the most delicate, silken of flavors to this broth. If you need to take the short-cut, about 2-1/2 quarts or so of good stock should prove about right, and the meat from about one-half of the chicken. (In either case, please use a free-range, organically fed bird.)
Chicken Soup with Egg-Lemon Sauce (Kotopoulo Soupa, Avgolemono)
(makes 4 to 6 main-course servings – or 6 to 8 for first-course)
- one 3-to-4-pound free-range chicken, quartered, plus 2 pounds chicken backs, necks and/or wings
- 1 large onion, halved
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and quartered
- 2 bay leaves (if your bay leaves are more than a year old, toss them and start new)
- 10 – 12 peppercorns
- 2 Tbl. olive oil
- 5 scallions (white and most of the green parts), thinly sliced
- 1 cup chopped fresh dill
- 2/3 cup of medium-grain rice, such as Arborio
- 2 large eggs
- 4-6 Tbl. freshly-sueezed lemon juice
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To greatly reduce the fat content of the resulting broth, and how much skimming is required, I like to start by first removing the skin and all visible fat from the quartered chicken. Remove the fat from the backs of the chicken as well. Place the chicken parts in a large pot and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam. Reduce the heat to low and add the onion, carrots, bay leaves, salt and peppercorns. Cover and simmer for two hours, adding a little more water if needed, until the chicken begins to fall from the bones.
Transfer the chicken quarters to a large plate to cool long enough to handle. Remove the meat from the bones and cut or shred half of it into bite-size pieces. Cover and refrigerate. (Reserve the other half for another purpose.) Strain the stock, discarding the solids (but giving the flavor-soaked carrots to your dog!) Refrigerate the stock for a couple hours, or long enough for the fat to congeal – remove all that you can of it.
In a large pot, heat the oil and sauté the scallions over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes until soft. Add one-half of the dill and sauté for 2 minutes more. Add the stock and return to a boil. Add the rice, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, 1/4 cup lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of water. Whisking constantly, slowly pour about 3 cups of the hot stock mixture into the eggs. (If you were to add the eggs directly to the stock, you would have something more like an egg flower soup – NOT what you want !) Now slowly pour the egg mixture into the pot, whisking constantly to prevent curdling. Do not let the soup come to a boil. Add the chicken and the remaining 1/2 cup of fresh dill. Taste and adjust the seasonings – adding salt, pepper, and more lemon juice to your liking. Simmer (without boiling) for 2 to 3 minutes, and serve.
(I have borrowed this recipe from The Foods of the Greek Islands by Aglaia Kremezi – a Julia Childs award-winning cook and author. Everything I’ve tried from this book has been sensational.)
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