Egg-and-lemon-thickened chicken soup is the iconic, typically Greek variation on a much-loved, comforting, winter soup.
It is the traditional one-pot Christmas dish on Rhodes and other Dodecanese islands. Christmas in the Greek islands is not the big feast celebrated in the United States or northern Europe: Easter and the Virgin Mary’s Assumption (August 15) are the important island festivals.
The addition of ginger and a piece of lemon peel is my twist on the basic recipe I got from my mother. I think their flavor and aroma deepens the broth’s taste. I prefer making the soup lighter, with vermicelli instead of rice, or even plain — just the broth and pieces of chicken. In that case you may want to add one more egg if you want to make it thicker, creamier.
Sometimes instead of chicken meat, meatballs such as the Scallion Meatballs, are cooked in a chicken or meat avgolemono soup.
Until the late 1960s, chicken was considered a great delicacy on the islands. It was the most expensive of all meats and, except for important feasts, it was usually reserved for children and the sick as the lighter of all meats. The free-range chickens or capons of Greece need a long time to cook, and even then, their flesh can sometimes be tough and stringy. But they make the most delicious soup or youvetsi.
Instead of chicken you can make the soup with de-fatted broth from beef bones or make an exquisite fish soup (psarosoupa) boiling down fish heads, bones, and small fish. I try to always have various homemade stocks in my freezer so that I can make not just soups, but flavor risotto and all kinds of sauces.
Makes 6 to 8 servings as a first course, about 4 to 5 as a main course
1 3-to-4-pound free-range chicken, quartered, plus 3 pounds chicken backs, necks and/or wings OR instead of entire chicken, use 5-6 skin-on chicken legs
1 large onion, halved
2 medium carrots, peeled and quartered
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons salt
10–12 whole peppercorns
2 tablespoons allspice berries bruised in a mortar
1 3-inch piece ginger unpeeled, cut into 4-6 pieces lengthwise (optional)
1 3-inch lemon peel (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 scallions (white and most of the green parts), thinly sliced
A few stems from dill or fennel (optional)
1-2 Thyme or Savory sprigs
1 cup chopped fresh dill
2/3 cup medium-grain rice, such as Arborio or about 100 grams vermicelli pasta
2 large eggs
4–6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the chicken and chicken parts in a large pot and add water to cover. Bring to a boil, skim off the foam and reduce the heat to low. Add the onion, carrots, bay leaves, salt and peppercorns. Cover and simmer for 2 hours, adding a little more water as needed, until the chicken starts to fall from the bones.
Transfer the chicken quarters to a large plate. Remove the meat and cut half of it into bite-sized pieces; cover and refrigerate. Refrigerate the remaining chicken for another use.
Strain the stock, discarding the solids, and refrigerate it for a few hours, or until the fat congeals on top. Remove and discard most of the fat.
In a large pot, heat the oil and sauté the scallions over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until soft. Add 1/2 cup of the dill and sauté for 1 minute more. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the rice or vermicelli, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender, or about 10 minutes for the vermicelli.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, 1/4 cup lemon juice and 2 tablespoons water. Whisking constantly, slowly pour about 3 cups of the hot stock mixture into the eggs. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the pot, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from curdling. Add the chicken and the remaining 1/2 cup dill. Taste and adjust the seasonings with lemon juice, salt and/or pepper. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes more; do not boil. Serve hot.
VARIATION On Kea, 1 cup of grated or diced tomatoes is added to the broth along with the rice, making a delightful pink soup.