On a chilly winter's night a couple of months ago, I made a version of avoglemono soup, a Greek chicken soup with lemon, egg, and orzo, with my sister from another mister, Stephanie. Soup is a very easy thing to put together and, once you know a few basics, you won't even need to follow a recipe! It's the type of thing that you can eyeball amounts and guess here and there and it still ends up tasting good. Here are this evening's cast of characters: 1 whole chicken, celery, carrots, 1 spanish onion, 3 lemons, 2 eggs, thyme, parmesan cheese rind, orzo, and chicken base.
The first step is to cook the chicken. Now, if I had all afternoon to make this soup and if I wanted to buy double the vegetables, what I would have done is made the chicken stock from scratch. I have only done that on a few occasions in my life and it's not difficult, just time consuming. Therefore, I like to cheat. I use Better Than Bouillionorganic chicken base, which takes 1 teaspoon per cup of water. It tastes great, comes in a small, NYC refrigerator-friendly sized jar, and allows me to have quick chicken stock on hand whenever I need.
Before you cook the chicken, make sure to take out the bag of giblets from inside the cavity and wash the bird, inside and out, under cold water. To cook the chicken, I used a measuring cup to put enough water in the stockpot to cover the chicken (about 8 cups for this chicken) and then added about 6 and a half teaspoons of chicken base. "That's not 1 teaspoon per cup!" you say? You're right! I put in less because some of the water will evaporate during this whole process and I don't want the soup to be too salty. I promise, you will have plenty of time to adjust the seasoning of your soup later on, just don't do it now while the chicken is raw. Boil until chicken is almost done (usually about an hour, but it depends on the size of your chicken). Why at "almost done"? I'll tell you in a bit, but first, there's vegetables to chop.
While the chicken is cooking, you can prepare everything else for the soup. The base for many soups and sauces starts with a mirepoix (pronounced: MEER-PWAH). A lovely French word for carrots, onion, and celery, these ingredients are also often referred to as "aromatics". The ratio for this classic combination is two parts onion to one part each of carrot and celery. For the soup, I cleaned and diced 3 large celery stalks, 4 small carrots, and one whole spanish onion.
Thyme is a wonderful herb with a slight lemony-ness that works well with chicken and is a great addition to this soup. To remove the thyme leaves from the woody stem, use your thumb and forefinger to lightly pinch the top of the sprig and use your other hand to pull the sprig through your pinching fingers so that they are going against the direction of growth. The leaves should come off quite easily. Do this until you have about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of thyme leaves and then give them a rough chop.
Your other option to incorporate thyme is to tie some sprigs together with cooking twine (about 7 sprigs, more or less depending on your taste preference) and just dropping them right in. Just make sure you take the bundle out before serving. You can always use dried thyme as well. For now, just prep the thyme and set aside.
Lemon chicken soup requires more lemon than you’d think and I like it lemony! It makes me feel like I’m getting a Vitamin C boost, which is always nice in the middle of winter. I squeezed the juice from 3 medium sized lemons and set the juice aside.
I love cheese. I try to put it on everything. Maybe I was a mouse in another life. Why not throw a parmesan cheese rind into the soup? Waste not, want not. I know you’re excited, but don’t throw it in yet! Just cut a piece of rind off, about 2 inches by 1 inch, and set it aside.
Once the chicken is almost done, take it out and set it aside. It’s perfectly fine to pull it out a bit early. Residual heat will keep cooking it for a bit and you’ll be putting the chicken back into hot soup where it’ll also cook some more. Also, set aside the broth that the chicken cooked in.
Using the same stock pot, heat a bit of olive oil over medium heat and saute your mirepoix and parmesan rind until the onions are almost translucent. Reserve 2 cups of the chicken stock and add the rest of the stock back to the pot along with the thyme.
Now, here’s the hard part for me. Tempering eggs. All you have to do is bring the temperature of beaten eggs up nice and slowly so when you add them to the soup they don’t scramble. It sounds so easy in theory, right? I always screw this up. Always. Adding correctly tempered eggs to a soup will thicken it up nicely, lending a creaminess without having to actually add cream. If you do it incorrectly or if your soup is too hot, your eggs will scramble, resulting in egg drop soup. Patience, grasshopper. I vow to master this by the end of the year. A small part of me thinks that, because I’m Chinese, the soup automatically thinks I’m trying to make egg drop soup. Really, soup? Give me a break.
Here’s the technique. In a medium sized bowl, whisk 2 eggs and lemon juice together. While whisking the eggs, slowly add the 2 cups of stock that you set aside. The reserved stock should still be warm, but not hot.
Slowly, slowly add the warm egg and stock mixture to the stock pot and keep the soup moving!! I think, what I should have done is turned the stove off and let the soup cool for a couple minutes. The soup in my stock pot was too hot and the eggs scrambled. Sad face. Even if this happens, don’t fret! I promise the soup will still be delicious!If you turned the heat off, turn it back on to medium and wait for the soup to come back up to a gentle boil. (**Once the soup has boiled for a few minutes, killing any chicken "rawness" that might have remained in the stock, give the broth a taste. What does it need? If it's too salty, add some water. Not salty enough? Add some salt or chicken base. Maybe you're a cracked pepper fan. Add some. It's your soup! Use your taste buds and sense memory and decide what else it needs, if anything.)
While you wait for that gentle boil, you can start to tear your chicken up into bite sized pieces. It’ll still be on the warm side, but you should be able to handle it at this point. If it’s too hot still, you can wait, or you can get started with a couple forks.
Once the soup comes up to a gentle boil, add the orzo. Orzo is a pasta that is in the shape of rice grains. It's perfect for soups and salads! Now, don’t add too much or else it’ll absorb too much of the liquid and you won’t have much broth left. 1 to 1 1/2 cups is plenty. Feel free to use whatever kind of pasta you want! Rice works too. Just follow the cooking instructions on the box for the proper cooking time.
Add your pieces of chicken back to the soup and keep it on the heat for a couple more minutes so the chicken will warm through and then, you’re ready to serve! YUM!
-We discussed the tempering of the eggs. No need to rub salt in an open wound.
- I used about 2 or more cups of orzo, which was way too much. I was excited and I didn’t measure. The first serving was perfect, but in my excitement to eat the soup, I forgot to turn the heat off after scooping out the first two bowls and the orzo kept cooking and absorbing the broth. When we went back for seconds, the ratio of broth to stuff-in-broth was all wrong. I packed up the leftovers as they were so, when I re-heated them, I added some water and my handy-dandy bouillion and it was still quite delicious. Even with this additional step, soup is always better the next day and this recipe gave me almost a week’s worth of tummy warming goodness!