The temptation to overcomplicate chicken soup is understandable. It too often suffers from watery broths limp with flavor.
So we compensate by piling on ingredients. But that just results in a muddle of indistinct flavors while starches like rice, pasta or potatoes get gummy.
We wanted a chicken soup with a clean, rich, velvety broth. We wanted vegetables, but not so many that they overwhelmed the meat. And we wanted a balance of acidity and spice.
We landed on chikhirtma, a traditional soup from Georgia. The Eurasian country bridges Turkey and Russia, and its cuisine often marries Western techniques with Eastern flavors.
The dish is built on a boldly seasoned broth enriched with eggs and lemon juice. The result is a soup that has body, yet remains light and refreshing. It’s reminiscent of Greek avgolemono, but its spice-driven flavor reflects Georgia’s Asian influences.
We used a recipe from Darra Goldstein, author of “The Georgian Feast,” as our starting point. Her chikhirtma calls for making broth with a whole chicken. But the meat of an entire chicken made the soup feel heavy, so we instead used chicken legs. The collagen and protein from the skin and bones made a flavorful stock and gave us just the right amount of meat.
We didn’t want a flat broth, so we built flavor with stems from whole bunches of dill and cilantro and a garlic head, as well as cinnamon, coriander and bay leaves. Black peppercorns and red pepper flakes provided heat.
Georgian soups usually skip the starch in favor of a few simple vegetables. We found some recipes that included cubed potatoes, asparagus, corn and peas, but we liked the simplicity of onions and carrots.
Goldstein uses a roux and tempered eggs to thicken her chikhirtma. We liked the combined approach, but we used egg yolks rather than whole eggs to give the soup a velvety body. Lemon juice and a finish of fresh cilantro and dill got us exactly what we’d wanted—a chicken soup that was complex, substantive, yet still fresh and light.
Georgian Chicken Soup