Soto ayam


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

Fire Islands: Recipes from Indonesia

Fire Islands

By Eleanor Ford

Published 2019

  • About

Night falls quickly in the tropics. With little warning, soon after six, there is darkness. The evening insects begin their hum and geckos chirp in reply. To me, nowhere holds more magic at night than the land along a river gorge, deep in the heartland of Bali. It is here that our great family friend and ecological visionary Linda Garland created a paradise dotted with thatched huts, bamboo gazebos and covered bridges. She referred to it as an ‘edible landscape’ as all the vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices for her food came from the estate. The darkness of nights at Panchoran estate was broken only by a blanket of stars and flickering oil lamps made of coconut. For dinner, a series of delicious dishes would come out from the kitchen. This chicken soup is one of my favourites, a dish Linda inherited from her Madurese mother-in-law. Different elements are served in small bowls so everyone can layer their own flavours.


Bumbu spice paste

  • 4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 4 small red Asian shallots, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 2 cm (¾ inch) turmeric, peeled, or ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 cm (¾ inch) galangal, skin scrubbed
  • 2 cm (¾ inch) ginger, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons oil, for frying


  • 1 small chicken, trimmed of any extra fat in the cavity
  • 3 spring onions (scallions), chopped
  • 4 cm ( inches) ginger, skin scrubbed, thickly sliced and smashed
  • 3 lime leaves
  • 2 lemongrass sticks, smashed and roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt

To serve

  • bowlful glass noodles or vermicelli rice noodles, soaked in hot water until soft
  • 4 limes, quartered
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
  • ½ Chinese napa cabbage, finely shredded
  • 4 juicy tomatoes, sliced
  • bowlful beansprouts
  • bowlful good potato crisps
  • handful Chinese celery leaves
  • crisp-fried shallots
  • Sambal oelek or Fermented sambal


Make the bumbu in a food processor or high-speed blender. Blitz all the ingredients, adding a little water to help the paste come together.

Heat the oil in a pan large enough to hold the chicken. Fry the bumbu until softened and aromatic. Add all the ingredients for the broth and cover the chicken with cold water. Bring to a rolling boil and immediately turn the heat right down. Poach the chicken for 1 hour. The water must not boil; it needs to be gentle with small bubbles popping at the surface at irregular intervals to keep the chicken tender and the stock clear.

Remove the bird from the pan and strip off the meat. Store in the fridge for later. Return the carcass and any skin to the broth and continue to simmer for another half an hour, or longer if you have time. You want the broth to extract all the flavour from the bones. Strain out the aromatics and skim the fat off the surface. Taste the broth - if it is too watery then boil hard to reduce and concentrate. Adjust the seasoning after reducing. Reheat before serving if required.

Shred the chicken meat and put into one serving bowl. Snip a pair of scissors into the bowl of noodles to cut them to more manageable lengths for serving. Each of the other elements should go into separate bowls, large or small. Bring to the table along with the hot broth and let everyone help themselves, adjusting their bowls of soup to their taste. Don’t let them omit lots of lime juice though, the most crucial element!