Avgolemono, meaning egg and lemon in modern Greek, is both a soup and a sauce. As a slightly thickened sauce it goes wonderfully with fish or chicken, but it sings at its most sublime as a soup, with a handful of white long-grain rice and gently simmered, and a handful of chopped parsley thrown in at the end. It is an utterly divine and life-changing taste-bud experience.
I first had it on Kefalonia in 2004, preceding an equally divine order of flame-grilled octopus tentacles, sitting on the restaurant’s outdoor terrace, watching the sun set slowly and spectacularly over the hills, and although the wine was seriously rough around the edges, I cannot remember the last time that a meal felt so perfect in all its parts. It was on Kefalonia that I fell head over heals in love with Greek cuisine, but that particular meal remains my favourite.
I have reproduced the meal many times since. Frozen octopus tentacles were available prior to lockdown in a Portuguese shop in Wrexham. When I lived in Aberdovey my father used to lob a pack in his rucksack for me, and it was always terribly exciting to collect it. Octopus has to be tenderized before it can be eaten, and the freezer is one of the best ways to achieve this, so frozen octopus is always a good buy. Not having ventured into that part of Wrexham since lockdown eased, and unable to get it anywhere else, I’ve had to abandon octopus for the time being, but the avgolemono soup needs no special ingredients. It does need good quality ingredients, but not special ones, which is the usual story with Greek cooking.
The recipe that I first used for avgolemono is the one that I still use. I bought The Complete Book of Greek Cooking by Rena Salaman and Jan Cutler on my return from Kefalonia, where there are two versions described. I use the first version, on page 96, although I note that the second one, on page 99, is very like Rick Stein’s version if you’ve ever tried producing that. The main difference is that the version that I use has egg yolks rather than whole eggs, as well as rice, whereas the other version uses whole eggs and has strips of chicken stirred into it rather than rice.
Here’s my preferred version of the two in the book, a perfect use for Churton Honesty Eggs (or any other eggs, of course 🙂 )
- 900ml home-made chicken stock, (in my case made by poaching a lot of chicken in water with parsley , onion and peppercorns)
- 50g white long-grain rice
- 3 egg yolks
- 30-60ml / 2-4 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
- 30ml / 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- salt and black pepper
- Lemons slices and parsley sprigs to garnish
- Pour the stock into a pan and bring to simmering point, then add the drained rice. Half cover and cook for about 12 minutes until the rice is just tender. Season with salt and pepper.
- Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl, then add about 30ml/tbsp of the lemon juice, whisking all the time until the mixture is smooth and bubbly. Add a ladleful of soup and whisk again
- Remove the soup from the heat and slowly add the egg mixture, whisking all the time. The soup will turn a pretty lemon colour and will thicken slightly
- Taste and add more lemon juice if necessary. Stir in the parsley. Serve at once, without reheating, garnished with lemon slices and parsley sprigs.
Top tip: The trick here is to add the egg mixture to the soup without it curdling. Avoid whisking the mixture into boiling liquid. It is safest to remove the soup from the heat entirely and then whisk in the mixture in a slow but steady stream.
The recipe advises against reheating to avoid curdling, but I prefer the soup hotter than it is at this point, so I heat it VERY slowly and carefully.
Don’t be tempted to skip the rice, even if it sounds a little odd, because it is really gorgeous, but must be cooked through. 12-15 minutes from when it enters the simmering water. Rick Stein uses orzo instead, but I really don’t recommend it. Far too solid and intrusive.
You can see my previous Churton egg adventures by clicking here. Churton Honesty eggs are parked in a barrow by the side of the road, and operate on an honesty system where you drop coins into the barrow in return for the eggs. You can hear the cockerel crowing, and he sounds like a fine fellow. The eggs are excellent.