For me, Sunday mornings are all about Sunday lunch.
With little else to distract me, I usually spend my Sunday mornings trawling through my legion of cookbooks searching for a spark of culinary inspiration: that fresh idea; the perfect meal to which I can dedicate these otherwise idle hours to. Alas, more often than not these weekend aspirations come to naught, and instead I find myself reverting to firm favourites for my Sunday feast. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, but occasionally my lunch musings do hit the mark and I discover a dish I just have to have.
Most recently this inspiration took an Indonesian turn and I found myself dedicating my morning to making a dish I had never actually had before: Mee Soto. Also popular in Malaysia and Singapore, I was of course familiar with this classic Indonesian staple, yet for all my years living in the region it had somehow eluded me. Unfortunately, with a lifetime of local dishes to discover, my 16 years in Malaysia was never going to be enough to try them all! Not one to dwell on missed opportunities, I decided this was the Sunday I finally found out what all the fuss was about!
Rightly framed as the ultimate Indonesian comfort food, Mee Soto is virtually interchangeable with the more widely known Soto Ayam. The soto, or soup, that forms the base of both dishes is almost identical, though the latter is distinctly soupier and is served with either rice vermicelli or compressed rice cakes. As its name suggests, Mee Soto is instead served with heavier, chewier, wheat noodles and considerably less soto – making for a more substantial meal.
With either dish, the soto is undoubtedly the star of the show: fragrant and nourishing, this heady broth is a powerhouse of flavour. Spiked with many of the classic spices associated with regional curries, this chicken broth is flavoursome without being heavy, as it omits coconut milk which is ubiquitous in most local curries. In its absence, however, it is essential to import as much flavour as possible from the chicken. To this end, it is important to use chicken with both skin and bone, or if using skinned boneless chicken, a good stock is required to achieve the requisite depth of flavour.
Another aspect of the broth worth considering is the spice paste – traditionally this is added to the boiling broth without being sautéed first, however I prefer to fry off my spice paste before adding the liquid. Perhaps it is all my years of diligently sautéing my rempah, but it is a habit I find hard to kick as doing so elevates and intensifies the spices – plus I find the flavoured oil adds just a little extra body to the broth.
With all great noodle dishes, toppings are of course essential, but ultimately variable depending on the cook – Mee Soto is no different. The typical garnishes are a collective variation of the following: blanched beansprouts, coriander leaves, garlic chives/spring onions, sliced boiled egg, crispy shallots, and fried potato cakes. Aside from the potato cakes and boiled eggs (which add body to the dish), by all means let your personal taste guide you in your choice of toppings.
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4 chicken thighs (with bone and skin)
2 litres chicken stock
4 portions wheat noodles (approx. 600g)
1 slice dried galangal
2 markut (Thai) lime leaves, preferably fresh
2 dried chillies
2 TBSP cooking oil
1 tsp salt
1 red onion, roughly chopped
4 candle nuts (sub. unsalted macadamia nuts)
2 inch ginger, peeled and chopped
2 stalks lemongrass, chopped (outer skins reserved for the broth)
1 tsp white peppercorns (1/2 tsp ground white pepper)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground fennel
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 medium sized potatoes, boiled and peeled
1 spring onion, finely slices
1 egg, beaten
Salt & pepper
Oil for deep frying
Coriander leaves, chopped
Garlic chives/spring onions, finely sliced
Boiled egg, sliced
Sambal Oelek or sliced red chillies
- For the spice paste, add the onion, ginger, lemongrass, candle nuts and white pepper into a blender along with a splash of cooking oil or water. Pulse until smooth then decant into a bowl. Mix in the dried spices.
- Place a large stock pot on a medium heat, then add the oil and prepared spice paste. Sauté until the paste darkens and the oil separates (about 5 – 10 minutes). Be mindful of the paste burning, so stir constantly.
- Pour in the chicken stock, along with reserved lemongrass skins, lime leaves, galangal, dried chillies and salt. Bring to a boil then reduce to a lively simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes.
- Add the chicken and gently poach for 20 minutes, or until cooked through (if using boned chicken, poach for 10 minutes).
- Remove the chicken and leave to rest.
- Strain the broth into a clean pot through a fine sieve, picking out and discarding the whole aromatics. Press through the remaining spice paste, and then decant this into a bowl.
- To the reserved spice paste, add the boiled potatoes, beaten egg, and spring onions – mash together and season with salt and pepper.
- In a stable wok or pot, heat the oil for deep frying. Using a spoon, drop nuggets of the mashed potatoes into the hot oil and fry until golden brown. Drain on some kitchen roll.
- Debone the cooled chicken, and slice into strips.
- Whilst you cook your noodles in a separate pot, bring the broth back to a boil.
- Divide the noodles into serving bowls and ladle over the hot broth (about 2 ladles should suffice).
- Mix the noodles in the broth, then top with the sliced chicken, egg and potato cakes.
- Garnish with your choice of toppings, with some sambal oelek or sliced red chillies on the side.
- Serve immediately.