There is something about chicken soup that seems to make it a comfort food no matter what your nationality. The Thai add coconut to their chicken soup, the Italians add beans and Orzo, the Moroccans add couscous and butternut squash. I personally love a good American Chicken Noodle soup and that recipe will come, but there is nothing quite like what your grandmother made you as a little girl (or boy), to bring comfort to your meal.
So, if you are looking for a Portuguese comfort food, you have come to the right place! Canja is the quintessential comfort food. Portuguese Canja is made with simple ingredients, used in a way that you may never have thought to combine them before. Canja has chicken, lemon and is thickened with egg yolks all combined to form a lovely delicate creamy soup that I am sure you have never quite experienced in any other dish. My Vavó would make this soup any time she had some extra chicken or one of us was sick or just because.
This recipe is adapted from a recipe my good friend Lisa gave me to help remind me of just how my Vavó would make her soup. Throughout the recipe I will note the differences and you can really make it your own.
Dice up onions.
Chop up a couple of carrots. Some people also like to add in celery at this stage, I nor Lisa, nor was my Vavó a fan of celery in this particular soup, so I will be leaving it out, if you are partial to celery, by all means, add it in.
Chop up some garlic or put through a press. (Lisa runs hers through a press)
Saute onions and carrots until tender. Then add in garlic and a pinch of salt and saute another minute or so.
Add in about 10 cups of chicken stock. If you don’t have homemade chicken stock, you can use boxed or canned… Or like Lisa, add in water and 2-3 bullion cubes.
While the soup is coming to a boil, separate 3 eggs and reserve the yolks.
Beat a few times with a fork until smooth.
Now, cut a lemon in half and place in a press. If you don’t have a press, just use a ream or a fork to juice the lemon.
Add lemon juice to egg yolks and beat until combined.
Before adding the egg yolk to the soup, you will want to temper with some hot liquid from the soup. This process allows for the egg yolks to come a bit closer to the temperature of the soup so they won’t scramble upon adding them in. The point of the yolks is to thicken the soup, not to have breakfast with your dinner :)
Add in yolk mixture slowly and stir rapidly.
This is what you should have when all stirred in. It will become an opaque creamy looking soup. At this point taste for salt, add in a pinch if needed.
Cooked chicken breast… If you don’t have cooked, you can do the same with raw. I happen to have cooked from making my chicken stock. I use all white meat in my soup as it is my preference, but if you like dark meat in your soup, have at it ;)
Chop the chicken (and even shred it a bit) and add to the soup.
Next add in your pasta or rice. My Vavó always used stars, I am using Pastini which are a teeny tiny version of that. Lisa uses par boiled rice (like an Uncle Ben’s). It’s a matter of preference.
Lastly, chop up some flat leaf parsley and add in to soup.
Finally, allow to come to a boil long enough to cook your pasta or rice, 20 mins tops and turn off your burner. Taste for salt. And this is what you have left.
Portuguese Lemon Chicken Soup (Canja)
8-10 cups chicken stock
1 chicken breast, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 medium onion, diced small
2 cloves of garlic, diced (or run through a press)
3 egg yolks, beaten
1 lemon, juiced
2 Tbs. flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/3 cup Pastini pasta, stars or par boiled rice
kosher salt to taste
Saute onions and garlic in olive oil until tender. Add in a pinch of salt. Add in garlic, saute another minute. Add in chicken stock. Bring to a boil.
In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks and the juice of one lemon together. Add in about a quarter cup of hot stock from the soup pot to temper the yolks… Add hot liquid in slowly, but beat quickly to incorporate.
Add egg yolk mixture into the hot soup slowly while stirring rapidly. Once incorporated, taste for salt. Add in a pinch of salt if needed. Add in chicken and pasta (or rice). Cook for 10-20 minutes until pasta or rice is cooked fully. Add in parsley.