Monday, June 9, 2014

Uji's Special Soto Ayam

During my latest trip back home to Malaysia, my sister-in-law was raving about the Soto Ayam prepared by Uji, her domestic help from Indonesia. Uji was kind enough to show me how she made this dish and let me photograph her. She tells me unlike the Soto Ayam that was commonly served in Malaysia, in Indonesia, the Soto Ayam soup is served over plain white rice or clear noodles. In Malaysia, Soto Ayam soup is served over compressed rice cakes called nasi impit or ketupat, or with yellow noodles. She had no exact quantities for the ingredients and I was fine with that. I wanted to capture the spirit of the dish. I will refine it recipe along the way and quantity the ingredients. For now, I just want to have a record of the cooking session.

Be warned, this is a lengthy post as I included almost all the pictures I took of the cooking session. A picture is worth a thousand words and I need them to recreate this wonderful dish

Spice Paste
Uji tells me you have to flash fry turmeric slices in oil before you grind them. It helps remove the overly strong and sometimes earthy smell of the turmeric root. This I never knew. I had always used fresh, unfried turmeric in my spice paste. Learnt something new and useful that day!

She had a container each of sliced candle nut (buah keras) and sliced garlic. It looked like approximately 1 cup each in quantity. There was a plate of ground white pepper, ground cumin and ground coriander; maybe 2 teaspoon of each and a pinch of salt.
Sliced candle nuts
Sliced garlic
Ground white pepper,ground cumin and salt
These items were added to a blender, along with the flash fried turmeric chunks.
From bottom up- candle nuts, garlic and turmeric
A bit of water added to help grind the ingredients.
Uji blended the ingredients for a few seconds then added more water to facilitate the grinding. Blend it for another few minutes before adding more water. She did this a few times until it was finely blended and the consistency she wanted. I had wondered through the blending process as she kept adding water, why she did not just scrap down the blender ? She knew what she was doing. It was the perfect consistency of spice paste.

She stops to prepare more ingredients; slices of galangal (or Lengkuas), slices of ginger, two stalks of lemongrass smashed with side of cleaver and she sprigs of bitter lemon leaves.
2 Slices of Galanga or Lengkuas

Slices of galanga, ginger, leomgrass stalks and bitter lemon leaves
Next she heats up some oil in the wok. She add a small amount of the spice paste to start off with. This is so not to lower the temperature of the oil too much. Gradually, she added more blended paste, frying each addition a bit before adding more. When all the blended paste had been added, she stirs it continously to ensure that it does not stick or burn.

She remove half the paste for another day. The quantity of spice paste is enough for 2 meals for 6-7 people. Cooked spice paste can  be kept in a seal jar in the refrigerator for 2 weeks. 

Soup Stock
The paste is added to the boiling stock which made with the chicken bones. Uji deglazed the wok in which the spice paste was fried with hot stock, adding it to the stock pot. The stock is simmered on low heat.

Deglaze the spice wok 

Meanwhile, she prepare some tomato and spring onions for the soup stock. 2 tomatoes and 3 stalks of spring onions. This will be added to the stock later.

Meanwhile, Uji prepares the chicken for the Soto Ayam. Ayam means chicken. This same recipe can be used to make Soto Kambing- lamb or goat Soto. Again, Uji surprises me! She steams the chicken breast before frying it. The wisdom behind this is once again to remove the game taste of chicken as well as to maintain juicyness of the chicken which will be flash fried later.
Tenderize the chicken by stabbing it with a fork

Lightly season with salt and pepper before steaming

Steam until cooked through
While the chicken is steaming, add the tomatoes and spring onions to the soup stock. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper.
Add spring onions to soup stock

Uji adding the last of the tomatoes
Remove steam chicken and let cool. Cut and separate the two breast pieces.
Cooked steamed chicken
Fried Potato Chips
Next comes the biggest surprise and my absolute delight. Uji tells me, we are making fresh potato chips - Goreng Ubi Kentang!!
Thinly sliced potato

Heat oil
Drain the potato slices
Testing temperature of oil

Can you say YUM!! Freshly fried potato chips made right in front of you. May have taken a nibble or two of those potato chips :)
Flash fry the steam chicken to give it a crispy golden crust. Once cool, slice the chicken into thin slices.

Uji flash fries the chilies and garlicbefore pounding them for the sambal. She grinds the fried spices in a special sambal grinder she had brought over from Indonesia. It consist of a hard fired clay rimmed platter and a wooden grinder pestle. It perfectly reduce the chilies and garlic to the right sambal consistency. Once again Uji imparts wisdom that the sambal can be kept in the refrigerator in a sealed container for week, Frying the ingredients prolongs the shelf life of the sambal. She advices to scoop up the desired amount of sambal and add lime juice to that portion if desired. Do not add lime juice to the unused portion of sambal.

Add some salt to the fried chiles and garlic

Smash the ingredients together

Right texture  is achieved
Topping and Garnishes
Set out the topping and garnishes for the Soto Ayam- Sliced steamed/fried chicken slices, sliced hard boiled eggs, lime slices, parsley, cooked thread bean noodles and smabal.

To Serve Soto Ayam
Scoop some rice or thread bean noodle into a bowl. Ladle over soup. Top with chicken, sliced hard boil egg, parsley and finally potato chips. Squeeze some lime over for tang and balance.

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