Soto is a popular dish in the Nusantara or Malay Archipelago. It consists mainly of broth, meat, and vegetables found in warongs, a casual, family owned outdoor eatery. There is no fixed recipe and the taste varies from family to family and region to region. In Indonesia, it is often classified by region with different meats and ingredients used. One notable distinction is the presence or absence of coconut milk in the broth. Bandung (West Java) soto is clear while Medan (North Sumatera) soto is with coconut milk.
In Malaysia, Soto Ayam is a yellowish spicy chicken soup, usually clear, served with compressed rice cubes (nasi impit) or rice noodles. Again, there are variations found in the different warongs around the country. Some years back during one of my visits, I came across this soto ayam spice mix at the Central Market in Kuala Lumpur where one can find an array of Malay crafts and foods. I bought several packets home and was able to introduce my boys to this delicious dish. Of course those spice mixes are long gone and I have not been able to replenish my stock. I had a craving recently for this fragrant noodle soup and the craving had to be satisfied. I checked several recipes, all very different, and decided in the end that I should put it together the way I remembered it.
Here is my adaptation with the ingredients I had on hand. I had purchased some candle nuts and a packet of rice cube (ketupat) mix during my most recent visit to Malaysia. Candle nuts can be substituted with macadamias. The rice cubes can be easily prepared with mashed cooked white rice spread onto a rectangular dish and compressed or weighed down with something heavy. It should then be left to cool before cutting into cubes. I found Chinese celery at my regular Asian grocery store. Chinese celery has a more intense flavor and is used mainly in stir fries and soups. It may be substituted with cilantro. It is known as “daun sop” or “daun saderi” to the Malays.
- 1 piece bone in chicken breast, skin removed
- 2 stalks lemon grass, bruised
- 1 inch ginger, bruised
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 8 oz (240g) dried rice noodles or 4 portions of rice cubes
- ¼ cup canola oil
- 6 shallots or 1 large onion, sliced
- 1 big onion (6 shallots), cut into small pieces
- 4 cloves garlic
- 6 candlenuts or macadamias
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- ¼ tsp ground turmeric
- ¼ tsp ground pepper
- 2 eggs, boiled and sliced
- 2 pieces pan fried tofu, sliced
- 8 oz (225g) bean sprouts, blanched
- 1 sprig Chinese celery
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- 2 red chilies, sliced
Grind spice paste ingredients in a blender adding a little water if necessary.
Bring 6 cups (1.4 liters) of water to boil. Add chicken breast, lemon grass, ginger, and cinnamon stick. Reduce heat allow to simmer for 45 minutes. Remove chicken breast and shred the meat. Set aside. In the meantime, cook eggs, pan fry tofu, blanch bean sprouts , and boil rice noodles. Set aside.
In a fry pan, heat oil. Fry shallots or onions until brown and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Fry spice paste with oil remaining in the pan until fragrant, about 5 to 6 minutes.
Transfer fried spice paste into boiling soup.
Give it a good stir to get spices well mixed into the soup. Allow soup to simmer for another 15 minutes. Turn off heat.
Divide rice noodles or rice cubes into 4 bowls. Pour soup over noodles or rice cubes. Garnish with toppings and fried shallots or onions. Serve immediately.
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Enjoy…..and have a wonderful day!