Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Soto Ayam, Malay Chicken Soup (for the Soul)

When you get showers one day, sun the next, winds on another, you know the seasons are changing. Then again, that's possibly the case for London all year round. The fickle weather gives us all something in common, aside from the economy and the Olympics, to whine about at least. But also with the changing seasons, comes the snotty noses and sore throats. When I'm down with a bout of flu, or when I just need a little boost of immunity to soothe my paranoia, or even when I'm just after a comforting bowl of warmth, there's nothing like chicken soup.

The power of "Grandma's chicken soup" is not just a placebo effect. I've written about making homemade stock/bone broths before, how the slow-cooking of meat and bones draws out both delicious flavour and health-giving nutrients. Every culture has their own version of chicken soup, and back in Singapore, the Malays have their chicken soup infused with fragrant herbs and spices. Soto ayam, or mee soto (i.e. with noodles), was always a simple favourite from the school canteen in primary school.

Malay Spiced Chicken Soup (Soto Ayam)
recipe adapted from the brilliant 3hungrytummies
makes enough stock for 2-3 servings

1 large free-range pastured chicken carcass (you can use a whole chicken and double the ingredients, but this is even more so frugal)
2 litres of water
1 large onion, minced
1 cinnamon stick
4 cloves
2 star anise
1 bay leaf
1 lemongrass, bashed
unrefined sea salt, to taste

for the spice mix
1" piece of ginger
4 cloves garlic
1 heaped tbsp coriander
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp white peppercorns

to serve (basic version, read below for other toppings)
rice vermicelli, soaked in cold water for 15 min
shredded chicken from above
handful of beansprouts
fresh coriander leaves

1. Pound/blitz the ingredients for the spice mix together. Rub the chicken carcass with the spice mix.
2. Saute the onion till lightly browned, then add the chicken carcass, along with the rest of the ingredients. Add the water, bring to a boil, skim off any scum that rises to the top, and then let simmer for 2h on a low heat.
3. Remove the carcass, pick at the remaining cooked meat and shred. Strain the broth to remove the spices.
4. Blanch the rice vermicelli and beansprouts in boiling water very quickly (less than a min), dish into a bowl, and pour a ladle of hot chicken broth over. Top with the shredded chicken, coriander, and crispy fried shallots, and serve immediately, with some chilli on the side if desired.

Ah, chicken soup, soto ayam especially. It's also often had with pressed rice cakes lontong, hard-boiled eggs and potato croquettes bergedil, and topped with extra chilli paste. The simplest "school canteen" version is usually just like what I've done though; noodles, beansprouts, shredded chicken, a sparse sprig of coriander because the kids remove it anyway.

Just a whiff of the fragrant asian herbs and the musky depth and aroma of the spices nourishes the soul, but a slurp of it nourishes the body instantly. I love reading about traditional (food) therapy, and traditional chinese medicine suggest warming pungent foods in spring to get your qi and blood moving, so this is actually a delicious way to get your dose of medicine.


  1. Shun Han, your soup looks delicious with such unique flavors in comparison to typical American CNS! It looks like it definitely could cure just about anything that ails you, including London weather! My daughter lives in London and I visit quite frequently so I know exactly what you're talking about - we have a motto "never bad weather, only bad clothing"! Might have to add a little something to that motto to include chicken soup! :)

  2. I used star anise the another day for an Asian meatballs broth, and really the star anise can give you a real punch to your dish

  3. This looks delicious. Definitely something for the soul. I hope the weather in London clears up soon!

  4. Oh YUM! Just by reading the title of this post already made me mouth watering!! And I'm drooling just by looking at these pictures! Ya, we had that too in our school canteen during my school days! I think I can even smell it from here , or it's my mind whose been playing tricks on me ?!! LOl Great post & I'll certainly bookmarking this recipe!

  5. now THIS is something I must try... I have often made my traditional Jewish chicken soup but I love the idea of all these Asian flavours... simply perfect for when you're feeling blue!... thanks for the recipe x

  6. I can't wait to make this at home! (I made your lamb cumin meatballs last night btw - delish!)

  7. I love soto ayam. It's just so good and comforting, when you're in a need for a soup-fix.

  8. shay: thank you!

    farine: that is a wonderful motto! haha! I'm going to recite that from now on!

    german: yes, star anise is powerful! you never need more than 2 for its lovely aniseed-y smell to come through!

    kyleen: it's not exactly bad, it's just..fickle. but it's ok, chicken soup is good for all seasons (:

    kit: haha it's a total school canteen must-have! You have a really powerful nose ;)

    dom: I love traditional Jewish chicken soup too though. All chicken soup, I love.

    little macaroon: yayyy!!! I'm always pleased to hear from people who've tried my recipe!

    michael: i know, only wish I had all the "extras" too..

  9. shu han, i am currently in singapore and was wondering if you could recommend a couple of places for chilli crab and anything else that i should try. this is my first visit. the only restrictions i have are that i don't eat any pig based meats. also, any insights on dessert would be helpful! thanks!

    1. oh my god where do I start.

      ok you have to try fried carrot cake, it's the first thing I have when I go back home. char kway teow (fried rice noodles, better than pad thai), chicken rice (I like five stair hainanese chicken rice, they use kampung i.e. 'village' free-range chicken), laksa (get it from katong, there are a two stalls all claiming to be the real thing. it doesn't matter, both are good), Satay, Mee Pok (egg noodles tossed with amazing chilli sauce. since you don't eat pork, get fishball noodles instead of bak chor mee), Prawn Noodles (the soup is a shot of unbelievable flavour from prawn shells), Nasi Lemak (go to Newton Hawker's Centre), and while you're trying chilli crab, also look for fish head curry. Omg, and fried oyster omelette (not just oyster and omelette, it has chewy tapioca starch insidetoo, against the fragrant crispy egg). Oh roti prata (very different from the traditional indian paratha).

      For recommendations of places, this brilliant site by a Singaporean doctor (yes doctor, his motto is never waste calories on yucky food) will explain it all. try not to get too carried away linking to all the posts (he will have a few places rated for almost every food item in singapore).

      for desserts, i love chinese desserts, which are actually often smooth pastes and really healthy at that. go to Chinatown, temple street. awesome black sesame paste.You will know which stall ebcause it's ALWAYS crowded. they also have towering bowls of shaved ice. Speaking of shaved ice, you can try chendol and ice kacang at most hawker centres, i don't like the latter but I love chendol, it's toped with coconut milk, sweetened red beans, and chin chow. Oh, try chin chow, it's a grass jelly in syrup, lightly bitter-sweet, great for cooling yourself on a hot day. mmm, and i LOVE pernakan snacks and desserts (called kuihs), they have a huge variety, mainly coconut milk based, I would pick and mix some of everything to try. kuih bingka (buttery tapioca cake), and kuih talam are some of my faves. For breakfast, this is considered "sweet" too I guess, try the traditional peanut/shaved coconut pancakes from Ghim Moh food centre, you can smell it and be happy.

      damn, I'm hungry. you lucky thing.

    2. Thank you so much for all these. I will let you know how I get on. For now I am down with a bout of food poisoning which is not very pleasant!

    3. Sorry to intrude but this is blog post worthy, Shu Han!! I need to refer back to this comment next time I'm in Singapore haha!

  10. Heh, I wish we'd had this in our school canteen - we had some real unearthly slop, but never any brothy chicken/noodle soups :(

    What's the thing which looks like a piece of bark in the picture? I guess it must be the cinnamon maybe but it looks different to what my cinnamon sticks usually look like.

    A lovely looking soup though - I think there's a lot to be said for good, warming flavours and spice combinations like this :)

    1. thanks charles, it is cinnamon! It's the cheaper cinnamon which comes in huge broken twigs instead of lovely quills hehe.

  11. What a lovely soup. This is my first visit to your blog, so I took some time to browse through your earlier posts. I'm so glad I did that. I really like the food and recipes you share with your readers and I'll definitely be back. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  12. chicken noodle soup is healthy, and tasty. much better than lemsip... I like the idea of of only using the carcass -I've used the whole lot before but my greed and skintness makes me want to overide my loathing of handling raw chicken and get on this!

  13. SHU HAN!!! Can I tell you how much I LOOOOOVE Soto Ayam?!??!? It's one thing that never fails to get me excited to eat but at the same time, can never figure out how to make. Thank you so much for this recipe, I'm going to have so much fun with it, woo-hoo! Btw, hope all is well with you. Am sure you're busy, but handling it well as always =D

  14. Shu Han, your soup looks very delicious. I have tried soto ayam before and it was quite different than most chicken soups that I was used to. It took some time for me to get used to the spice, but I am enjoying it now. Thanks for sharing the great recipe.

  15. What a lovely dish! I simply adore soto ayam too, I even buy instant noodles in that flavor:D

  16. This looks gorgeous. I love the look of all the toppings too.

  17. The famous London weather...
    The spice combination in this soup looks very unusual and intriguing. It also looks delicious. I must try making it one day.

  18. mary: thanks, i'm really happy to hear you enjoyed your first visit! hoep to see you back (:

    the gannet: the carcass is just cheaper, only costs you a pound or sometimes even less, and it's the bones that matter the most in getting yummy stock anyway!

    winston: HELLO! haha i really hope you make your own soto ayam one day(:

    beyondkimchee: it's not actually hot-spicy, more like aromatic-spicy, love it!

    jeannie: thanks jeannie, haha now you can make it yourself instead of resorting to instant noodles and feel virtuous (:

    corina: thanks, it's the fried shallots isn't it.

    sissi: please do!

  19. Your soup looks so good! If I told my husband about this recipe he would be begging me to make it! :) I would love you to share this on Sunday Night Soup Night! Just stop by my blog on Sunday - the link will be up! www.easynaturalfood.com

    I hope to see you there:)

    1. aw thanks debbie!! would love to!

    2. Thanks so much for sharing this recipe with Sunday Night Soup Night! I'll be hosting every week so I'd love to see you again with your next soup/stock/chowder/stew/chili recipe.

    3. I have chosen this soup as one of my top 3 picks from Sunday Night Soup Night! I have tweeted it, pinned it and shared it on my Facebook page. It will be featured on Sunday Night Soup Night this coming Sunday. Thanks for linking up and I hope to see you again soon!

    4. Wow, thanks debbie! (: I'll stop by on Sunday for sure!

  20. Made your recipe last week, it was delicious! Thanks for sharing ��

    1. So pleased to hear! Thanks for taking the time to drop by and let me know how you got on with the recipe! :)