Almost every culture has a homey version of chicken soup to comfort the sick or the soul weary, or to stave off the chill of cold weather, but the Greeks, my gosh, might just have the very best version: the egg and lemon soup known as avgolemono.
Here's why Greek egg and lemon soup is the best. First of all, it's gorgeous. The broth is vibrant yellow from the eggs and heavily scented with lemon fragrance. Next, when you dig in for a spoonful, the broth is not only stunning, but it's also silky and rich without a drop of cream in sight. Finally, avgolemono isn't an all-day affair.
Here's how to make this classic comfort soup at home. If you start now, you can eat it for dinner.
What Is Avgolemono?
Avgolemono actually refers to a Greek sauce made from eggs, lemon, and warm broth. Commonly added to soups for thickening, the sauce is used to dress up everything from roasted vegetables to fish dishes.
Here, avgolemono thickens what would otherwise be a pretty standard chicken and orzo soup, making it a welcoming weeknight dinner or an impressive dinner party dish. This vibrant lemon and egg soup may cause you to weep with joy upon mastery. The subtle flavor of this soup (lemon, chicken, eggs) is made that much tastier by the velvety texture of the finished soup.
How to Pronounce Avgolemono
Making an Everyday Avgolemono
When I set out to master avgolemono, I was astounded but not surprised by the variations. Some recipes called for making broth from a whole chicken, slow simmering for hours, while others called for a box of broth, a few eggs, and lemons.
Avgolemono [the sauce] is used to flavor meat, fish, and vegetables, but there's also soup avgolemono, either with chicken or a soup with meatballs scented with herbs and cooked in vegetable or meat broth, which is then thickened and flavored with avgolemono. These are probably the first frugal dishes that used this ingenious sauce: Scraps of chicken or meat and bones are turned into a hearty family dish with the addition of eggs, and the bright flavor of lemon that is so popular around the Mediterranean.
Later, the Greek urban cuisine adopted avgolemono, which is often thickened excessively with flour — like sauce mornay — to dress all kinds of braised meat and vegetables in an unctuous, tangy cream.
This recipe is the best of both worlds. You get delicious homemade broth and meat from simmered chicken thighs — no whole chicken required. Once the chicken is cooked, you shred it. Then you make and add the lemon-egg mixture.
Tempering the Egg and Lemon Mixture
So, you've simmered and shredded the chicken thighs. You've got the broth from making the chicken, and cooked the orzo in its wake. Now you've come to the only challenging part of making Greek lemon and egg soup: adding raw eggs to hot broth without scrambling the eggs. No, no, don't worry — tempering to the rescue!
Tempering is the process of adding a small amount of the hot broth to the eggs while whisking vigorously. You'll slowly raise the temperature of the eggs enough to add them to the soup without the eggs curdling. Remove the soup from the heat before you being tempering and never bring the soup back to a boil once the eggs have been added.
Pro tip: Set the bowl of egg lemon mixture on a damp towel (or paper towels) to hold the bowl steady while you whisk with one hand and pour with the other.
A Secret Shortcut for Avgolemono
I want to tell you a secret shortcut for those nights when you just can't make broth from scratch. Buy your favorite carton of chicken broth and reduce it by half. This will take about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, shred the meat from a rotisserie chicken and then start this recipe from step four. It will still be really, really satisfying in about half the time.
P.S.: Make this dish gluten-free by choosing rice instead of the orzo.
How To Make Greek Egg and Lemon Soup (Avgolemono)
What You Need
For the soup:
6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
8 cups cold water
1 large unpeeled yellow onion, quartered
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon kosher sea salt
1/2 cup dried orzo
4 large eggs
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
1/2 medium lemon, thinly sliced
Fresh dill or oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
Measuring cups and spoons
5-quart or larger Dutch oven with lid
Spoon or fat separator (optional)
Large heatproof bowl
Citrus reamer (optional)
- Cook chicken and make stock: Place the chicken, water, onion, peppercorns, and salt in a 5-quart or larger Dutch oven. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. If any white foam forms, use a slotted spoon to skim off and discard.
- Strain the broth: Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large heatproof bowl and discard the solids. If there is an abundance of fat rendered from the chicken thighs, skim it off it with a spoon or use fat separator. Reserve 2 cups of the stock in a measuring cup. Return the remaining stock to the Dutch oven and place over low heat to keep warm.
- Shred the chicken: When the chicken is cool enough to handle, take the meat off of the bone and use your fingers to shred into bite-sized pieces; set aside. Discard the skin and bones.
- Cook the orzo in the broth: Bring the stock to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the orzo and cook until al dente, 7 to 9 minutes. Stir in the reserved shredded chicken. Reduce the heat to low.
- Make the avgolemono: Place the eggs in a medium bowl and whisk until lightened in color and frothy, about 2 minutes. Continue to whisk while gradually adding the lemon juice. While constantly whisking, temper in the eggs by slowly drizzling the reserved 2 cups of warm stock into the egg-lemon mixture. This warms the eggs just enough so that they do not curdle when added to the hot soup.
- Thicken the soup: Add the avgolemono back into the pot with the chicken and orzo and stir to combine. Cook until the soup thickens slightly, 3 to 5 minutes, but do not let it come to a boil.
Serve the soup: Pour the soup into serving bowls and serve with lemon slices, fresh chopped dill or oregano, and freshly ground black pepper.
- Gluten-free: To make this soup gluten-free, use white rice instead of the orzo.
- Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Reheat on the stove over low heat, making sure not to boil the soup. If you expect that you'll have an excessive amount left over, simply halve the recipe.
- Make ahead: The chicken and stock can be prepared 2 days in advance. Shred the chicken and refrigerate separately. Strain the stock and refrigerate. The lemon can be juiced ahead of time as well.