I have been really busy for the past two months with work that eating out has been a luxury. When you are too wrapped up around your work and all its problems, it is very difficult to enjoy a decent meal. For the past couple of weeks I have been leaving work a little early, about 6 pm, and rush to a local hotel to hit their dinner buffet. The food is average, but there are a lot of selections to choose from, and getting there a little bit after 6 is great. The place is still quiet and the food is just served. Nobody likes to eat food that has been poked around by tens of people, nor do I.
I noticed for the past weeks that there is a Soto Medan soup served in the buffet line. No queue in front of it at all times, unlike the western food section. The last time I was there, the chef had some servers to prepare small bowls of the soup and offer them to diners at their table. Desperate much? When I tasted it, it was not bad, just a tad bland, not like what I have at home, or at local eateries. It then hit me, that this Soto Medan must be our city’s local signature, if Marriott includes it in their daily buffet menu, although not very successfully.
The soup is simple coconut milk-based soup, cook with spice paste and serve with condiments. Spices used that gives it the vibrant yellowish hue is fresh turmeric root paste. Almost all of fresh and dried spices found and grown in our region is used in the soup. The condiments are shredded chicken meat, bean sprouts, glass noodles and perkedel (potato patties). The soup is served warm with all these, sprinkled with shallot flakes, chopped spring onions and Chinese celery and liberally dosed with kecap manis (sweet soy sauce).
The secret of getting the best soto is fresh coconut milk, high heat when cooking, and constant stirring.
We grow our own turmeric roots in our front yard. They are easy to grow, and the leaves can also be used for cooking too. The leaves gives the dish turmeric flavor, without the color. This is not used in soto.
The way to enjoy soto is with a plate of warm steamed rice. Pour some soup on top of the rice, scoop up some condiments together with perkedel. Some likes to enjoy it the other way around. The rice goes into the bowl, instead of the soup on top of rice. Either way, it is delicious.
Spices to be ground shallots, garlic, candlenuts, turmeric roots, coriander seeds , white pepper.
Herbs to be used whole are salam leaves, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. I know, the pictures are all messed up. I “mix and match” both plates.
Condiments used are melinjo crackers, spring onions, Chinese celery, glass noodles.
Chicken can be substituted with fried tofu for vegetarian version.
Some bean sprouts.
Spices are ground using mortar and pestle till fine.
Combine all fresh herbs in a big pot. Dilute 1/3 of coconut milk with water into the pot.
Add chicken into the pot. Cook over medium heat till boiling and fragrant.
Add the spice paste into the pot and increase the heat. Bring the soup back to boiling. Let boil for a while till all the herbs and spices infused the soup.
Give the soup a good stir and turn off heat.
Use a strainer, strain the soup and get rid off traces of spices, leaving the soup light and clean.
Toss back kaffir lime leaves and salam leaves back into the pot.
Add the rest of coconut milk.
And strained soup. Cook over high heat and stirring constantly for 15 minutes, till boiling. Turn off heat.
Take the chicken off the soup and deep fry it in hot oil. It should be fried till dry and crunchy. Shred the meat and set aside for later use.
The chili sauce is an integral part of the dish. It is never served without the sauce. The sauce will heighten the taste of the rich coconut milk. Thai bird’s eye chilies, lime juice, salt and sugar. Season with kecap manis.
Easy as a pea.
Serve everything with warm steamed rice and perkedel for an authentic Medan soto dish.
6 garlic cloves
1 tsp whole pepper
1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
10 g fresh turmeric root
6 kaffir lime leaves
6 salam leaves
2 cm cinnamon stick
1/4 whole nutmeg
20 g galangal, lightly bruised
1 cm ginger
1/2 star anise
400 cc coconut milk
900 cc water
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tbsp sugar
10 g shallot flakes
100 g glass noodle, soaked in cold water
250 g bean sprouts
100 g melinjo crackers, fried
2 spring onions, chopped
2 Chinese celery, chopped
200 g chicken, deep-fried and shredded
Kecap manis, for serving
For soto chili sauce
20 g Thai bird's eye chili
1 lime, juiced
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp kecap manis, sweet soy sauce
Grind shallots, garlic, pepper, candlenuts, coriander seeds, turmeric root to fine paste.
Combine 1/3 of coconut milk, water, chicken in a big pot.
Add kaffir lime leaves, salam leaves, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, galangal, ginger and star anise into the pot.
Bring to boil over medium heat.
Strain the soup using fine strainer. Set aside.
Place kaffir lime leaves and salam leaves back into the pot. Throw away the rest of the spices.
Add the rest of the coconut milk and strained soup.
Cook over high heat and stirring constantly, about 15 minutes. Add glass noodles and bean sprouts, cook for a couple of minutes.
Remove from heat and serve warm with other condiments.
Take the chicken off the soup and pat dry.
Deep-fry in hot oil till brown, dry and crunchy.
Shred the meat and serve as one of the condiments.
For chili paste
Grind chili, salt and sugar coarsely.
Combine ground chili, lime juice and kecap manis in a bowl.
Serve with soto and rice.