It’s fall (or just about), and I have my first cold of the season. 😦
But all is not awfulness, because at least I have an excuse to make my favorite chicken soup–which, since 2011, has been soto ayam. (Sorry, matzo ball!) With its super-flavorful, coconut-milk-thickened broth filled with chicken, rice noodles, and crunchy sprouts and scallions, it’s not just the only chicken-noodle soup I’ve ever really gotten excited about; it’s one of the best dishes, period, that I tried during my world travels.
The way I make this soup at home is in the style of the little roadside stall in Labuan (western Java) where I first tried it. Apparently, soto ayam varies by region in Indonesia, so when I returned to the states and wanted to learn how to make it, I had to sift through many different recipes. After a few rounds of experimentation, though, I finally developed this master recipe, which is very true to my memory of the soup I had in Java. It’s a bit of a project, but completely worth the effort, in my opinion. If you try it, let me know what you think!
Soto ayam recipe
1-2 bone-in chicken thighs (depending on how much meat you like in your soup)
2 lemongrass stalks (or 1.5 TBSP lemongrass powder)
1 tsp salt
6 cups water
Spice paste ingredients:
3 garlic cloves
1-2 TBSP chopped fresh ginger (or one knob of ginger, peeled)
1 small onion (or 2 shallots)
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 TBSP coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 small dried chili
1.5 tsp turmeric
1 tsp brown sugar
juice of one lime
1-2 TBSP neutral oil or coconut milk
2 TBSP neutral oil
1 can coconut milk (or 1.5 cups)
reserved chicken broth
reserved shredded chicken
1 bunch bean sprouts, rinsed
1 bunch spring onions, sliced
7-8 oz thin rice noodles
1) Combine broth ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 40 minutes, partially covered. Remove chicken thighs and set aside to cool. Discard lemongrass stalks (if used). Reserve broth to use later in the recipe.
2) Combine spice paste ingredients in a food processor. Process for about 5 minutes, or until a thick paste has formed.
3) Once chicken thighs are cool, remove the meat from the bones and shred it. Discard the bones.
4) Heat 2 TBSP oil in your large pot on medium-high heat, and add spice paste. Fry spice paste for 5 minutes, stirring almost constantly. Add coconut milk, reserved chicken broth, and shredded chicken; bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add bean sprouts and cook 5 more minutes. Add spring onions and cook 1 minute. Turn off heat.
5) Meanwhile, boil a pot of water and cook rice noodles according to package directions. When ready, drain, rinse with cold water, and mix in a little oil to keep noodles from clumping.
6) To serve: divide rice noodles among four bowls and ladle soup over them, making sure to get a good mix of solids and broth. Serve with a spoon and either chopsticks or a fork. Enjoy!
(Note: In Indonesia, this soup would be served with a bowl of white rice on the side–but for me, the rice noodles are starch enough so I don’t bother. It might also be served with fried shallots sprinkled on top, which are delicious. I’m just too lazy to make them most of the time.)