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
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.