I have been to comparatively few American Greek restauarants in my life; I can count the number on less than half of one hand.  I have no early memories of spanikopita or moussaka, had no knowledge of grape leaves until at least high school.  Surprisingly, though, the first sauce I ever learned how to make was avgolemono sauce.  This is even more surprising when one considers that the only time I’d ever had avgolemono sauce before said attempt was at my first meal on an archaeological study trip to Greece, immediately after which I became ill with food poisoning. 

I don’t necessarily blame the avgolemono; it might have been the lamb it was surrounding, or even just random Greek microbial beasties that my stomach wasn’t used to.  Nonetheless, I dealt with an irrational two-year aversion to dill after a similar incident involving tuna salad, so it wouldn’t be out of line to expect a rejection of all things lemon.  On the contrary, when I returned to America it was the egg-lemon sauce that I remembered above all things.  (Well, that and the fantastic feta in the Greek salads I ate at almost every meal after that).

I was living alone that summer, in an illegal sublet from a person with next to no cookware.  She did, however, possess a single pot and a single saucepan, and no matter how destitute I became, trying to live alone on the salary of a part-time library page, I could still afford eggs, lemon juice and chicken broth.  These days I make my own broth and use fresh juice, but at the time I used the cheapest boxed brand and the juice in the little squeezy bottle.  The results are different, but always good. 

I am tempted to make dramatic pronouncements about my first sight of the alchemy that is a successful custard, for avgolemono sauce is really a custard.  Simply scalded chicken broth, lemon juice and a violently whisked egg, stirred together over low heat until thick and creamy, it’s like the savory version of lemon curd.  The first time I made it I poured it over an inexpertly-sauteed chicken breast and found myself unexpectedly sitting down to A Meal.  The chicken breast was dry and underseasoned, but the avgolemono sauce transformed it into _food_.  I ate it all in about two and a half minutes and licked the plate when I was done.

Since then, I’ve poured my various version of avgolemono over pasta, fish, stuffed grape leaves, steamed greens, even lentils.  Sometimes I add herbs, usually oregano or marjoram, sometimes a prodigious quantity of black pepper.  Tonight, though, I made the unadorned basic recipe to acompany roasted artichoke hearts, a combination I adore.  The brininess of the artichokes and the crispiness of their charred edges contrasts with the creaminess of the sauce, the lemon spark just keeping it from being cloying.   It isn’t the nectar of the gods, but it’s a delightful and soothing way to finish a plate.

Published in: on March 28, 2007 at 9:21 am  Leave a Comment  

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