Spring is a fantastic time to be in the kitchen. The promise of seasonal produce brings a renewed sense of creativity to my cooking. The changing weather (especially here in Virginia) allows for a lot of variety in our meals, with some days requiring a stick-to-your-ribs dish to warm up from a chilly rain, while balmy, sunshiny days call for bright and fresh flavors. Finding a recipe to bridge the gap is the trick, and lemon chicken soup does just that.
Lemon chicken and rice soup is a hearty dish that boasts a wonderfully light flavor while still packing in a healthy dose of cold-weather comfort. Known as avgolemono, this soup is a longstanding Greek dish dating back to 1000 AD, when lemons made their way to southern Europe. One of the defining features of this unique soup is the addition of eggs, giving it a decadent flavor and silky texture. The trick is to incorporate the tempered egg correctly so it doesn’t cook too fast, resulting in a scrambled egg soup.
As with most traditional recipes that have been handed down over the generations, there are a variety of ways to prepare avgolemono. Some methods call for finely chopped veggies,
some for large chunks; some incorporate whole lemon pieces, while others utilize just the juice. There are recipes that use the whole egg and some that opt for just the yolk. It all depends on how you learned to make it.
Over the years I have refined my recipe to include my favorite flavors and style. This soup tastes like you have slaved over a hot stove for hours, when the reality is that this is a one-pot, one-blender meal. So simple, so a few dishes, so easy for a spectacular weeknight dinner. There are a few steps to get the best consistency: you prepare the soup base, then the egg-lemon mixture and then combine everything with the rice. Get yourself some crusty bread and a glass of white wine (albariño is what I had the other night) and enjoy this perfect springtime dish.
Lemon Chicken Rice Soup
Yield: 6-8 servings
1 cup uncooked white rice [note: medium or long grain is best]
4 chicken breasts
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and cut in half
3-4 carrots, peeled
4 ribs celery, white ends removed
1 yellow potato, peeled and cut in half
6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 Tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoons black pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
8 cups water
2 bay leaves
3 egg yolks
Zest of 2 lemons
Juice of 4 lemons
1 large clove garlic, crushed or finely minced
Submerge your rice in cool water and allow to soak for 15 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and set aside.
In a large stock pot, combine all of your soup base ingredients. Cover, bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Allow to cook until the carrots are tender and the chicken has an internal temperature of 165 degrees, about 15 minutes.
Once the veggies are tender, remove the chicken breasts and set aside to cool before shredding with two forks. Using a spider strainer or slotted spoon, scoop out all of the veggies and add them to the blender. Make sure you find and remove the bay leaves! Allow the veggies to cool for a bit while you make your egg mixture. Do not discard the water from the pot.
In a medium heat-proof bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the egg mixture and whisk well. While continuously whisking, slowly add about 1 ½ cups of the hot broth from the stock pot to the bowl. Whisk thoroughly and set aside.
Bring your pot back to a boil and add the rice. Reduce to a simmer. Blend up your veggies and add the mixture back to the pot. Stir in your tempered egg lemon mixture, taking care to get the lemon zest and garlic, which will have settled to the bottom of the bowl. Add your shredded chicken.
Simmer until rice is cooked. Serve warm and often.