Greek Egg Lemon Soup (Avgolemono)

by Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet on January 21, 2011

This is a dish we often made at home because of its heartiness and simplicity. My dad would pile all of the ingredients for the chicken stock into a huge pot and let it slowly simmer until the chicken broth had reduced by half. The intense flavor is derived from the slow reduction of liquid and the combination of assorted vegetables. It is no wonder that it is one of the most popular items on Greek restaurant menus.

The traditional version is very creamy and has a little rice (or potatoes) in it, and sometimes my family would make it with diced potatoes.  Over the years, I made it the same way my dad did and each time I made it, I experienced the same problem he had when reheating — the soup would break (separate). Ideally the amount of  rice you add to the soup should help to prevent this, but I don’t like a lot of rice in my soup. I tried it a few different ways and slightly varied my technique, but nothing worked — when I would reheat it, the soup would always break.

I searched all of the Greek cookbooks that I had, and all used whole eggs and also cautioned about the same thing, so they were not much help either. This was a challenging problem, but thank goodness I kept at it because the simple solution that I found to fix this created a beautifully creamy and luxuriously silky soup. 

I began experimenting with only the yolks and achieved a more velvety texture, but I still had the problem of the soup separating upon reheating. Then one day, I had a revelation — how about using just a little cornstarch? I didn’t want to thicken the soup like a pudding, but I wanted to add just enough structure to create some stability in the soup, so that the fat molecules had something to hold on to.

I tried it and Voila! Problem solved.

Now cooks in every home can create a perfectly creamy avgolemono and not end up with something that looks like a Chinese egg drop soup. This soup is incredibly delicious, filling and addictive. I like the soup a little on the tart side, so I add the juice of all four lemons. You may want to add the juice of only 3 lemons first, then taste it and see if it is to your liking before adding the fourth. If you have stock in the freezer, this soup will come together in less than 30 minutes.

8 cups of prepared chicken broth
8  large yolks
1½ chicken bouillon cubes (I use Knorr)
Juice of 4 medium lemons (1 cup)
2 cups shredded chicken
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Salt as needed **you may not need too much if you have added the bouillon cubes
White pepper (start with ¼ teaspoon)
¼ cup long grain rice, or
1 cup small diced potatoes

Prepare your chicken stock ahead of time, strain out all of the ingredients and allow the stock to cool and refrigerate overnight. The next day, skim off the fat that has hardened on the surface. You should have about 8 cups in the small stock pot, now begin to heat the liquid to a rolling boil. Once it is boiling, add the rice and turn the heat down to a simmer to allow the rice to cook. While the rice is cooking, separate eggs and put yolks into a medium sized bowl, add the cornstarch and whisk it all together. Juice the lemons and then slowly whisk the lemon juice into the yolks. Next, ladle some of the hot stock slowly into the egg yolk mixture and whisk continuously. I usually add about 6 ladles to bring the eggs up to temperature. Then, remove the pot from the heat and slowly pour in the entire egg/lemon/cornstarch mixture into the rest of the stock, whisking vigorously to prevent it from curdling. Taste this for S &P and additional lemon juice at this time. Lastly, add in the shredded chicken just to heat it through and serve warm.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar heather February 12, 2011 at 1:03 p

I’ve never used cornstarch in this recipe. The use of rice adds an interesting texture, thickens the soup and reduces the need for so many egg yolks or cornstarch. It makes the soup easier to reheat with no danger of curdling. I believe it always needs to be reheated very gently.

avatar Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet February 12, 2011 at 8:29 p

Hi Heather! Whether we added rice or not, we always had the problem with it ‘breaking’ on us upon reheating the next day…out of frustration I set out to fix it, and this really works! Now we make a huge pot to last a few days with no worries…

avatar Jenni November 4, 2014 at 11:26 p

Before I got to your big reveal, I thought “I bet they used cornstarch!” That stuff is magical for keeping soups from breaking. Great idea–I don’t know that I’d have thought of it myself in this application, so I’m putting this in my “back pocket” for next time I make this! Thank you so much. =)

avatar Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet November 10, 2014 at 11:51 p

Jenni cornstarch gives great results in moderation to so many foods and desserts, but in this case, the soup needed just a little bit of structure. I could have also used rice flour or potato starch for a similar result, but I always have cornstarch on hand. This soup is such a winner with this little ‘fix’.

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