Don’t be fooled by the balmy weather, cold & flu season is upon us! When the temperature drops and noses start to run, I am a big fan of soups and stews. As much as I like matzo ball and chicken noodle soups when under the weather, after a few months of winter they can seem a bit uninspired. So, I was curious about Soto Ayam when I read about it in the NYTimes almost two years ago. Promising rapture, I couldn’t resist making it that very same day and now it is regular rotation around here. Soto Ayam is a spicy chicken soup originating in Southeast Asia and flavored with aromatics. Turmeric gives it a bright yellow color and you can add endless variations of condiments. While I am sure that one can probably find better, more authentic versions of this soup somewhere in Queens, this does the trick for me and lasts for days. You can put it over noodles or change it up with rice, even adding an egg if you’re into that. Below is the recipe adapted from the cookbook, “Cradle of Flavor” and printed in the Times:
SOTO AYAM (Indonesian chicken soup with noodles and aromatics)
Adapted from “Cradle of Flavor” by James Oseland (W. W. Norton, 2006).
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
1 free-range chicken, about 3 pounds, quartered
2 stalks fresh lemon grass, bruised with the handle of a heavy knife and tied in a knot
6 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or frozen (optional)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
5 shallots, peeled and halved
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons finely minced fresh turmeric, or 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 tablespoons finely minced ginger
3 tablespoons peanut oil
4 ounces glass noodles or thin dried rice noodles, called vermicelli, bihun or bun
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped celery leaves, mint, Thai basil or cilantro leaves
2 shallots, thinly sliced and fried in vegetable oil until brown (optional)
Quartered limes and chili paste (such as sambal) for serving
Cooked white rice (optional).
1. Place chicken in a medium pot with lemon grass, lime leaves (if using), salt and 2 quarts water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off any foam and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes, skimming as needed to make a clear broth. Remove chicken pieces from broth and set aside. Remove and discard lemon grass and lime leaves; reserve stock in pot. When chicken is cool enough to handle, discard skin and bones and shred meat into bite-size pieces.
2. Meanwhile, combine peppercorns, coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a small food processor. Pulse until ground. Add halved shallots, garlic, turmeric and ginger and pulse to a thick paste. (Add a little water if needed.)
3. Heat peanut oil in a medium saucepan over high heat. When very hot, add spice paste and cook, stirring until paste is cooked and beginning to separate from the oil, about 5 minutes.
4. Add cooked spice paste and chicken meat to stock. Bring to a simmer and cook 10 minutes.
5. Cook noodles according to package directions.
6. Turn off heat under soup and stir in lime juice. Taste for salt.
7. To serve, divide noodles in large soup bowls. Ladle chicken pieces and soup on top and sprinkle with celery leaves or herbs, and fried shallots, if using. Pass lime and sambal at the table.
8. Eat from soup bowl, or serve a scoop of rice on a side plate, sprinkled with more shallots, and put a mouthful of noodles and chicken on rice. Combine on a spoon, dab with sambal, and eat.
Yield: 4 servings.