Peanuts are woven richly into Indonesia’s culinary livelihood, and any attempt to recreate the experience at home must include crunchy peanut butter. Preferably the “natural” variety, as it comes closest to expressing the nut’s pure essence that so animates Spice Islands cooking. Other options may provide adequate taste, though natural crunchy peanut butter best captures the textural savor as well.
This week finds the journal in just such a fortunate position, introducing Indonesian Chicken and Peanut Soup. A glance at the ingredients Fine Cooking lists in the October/November 2018 issue reveals big tastes summoning the tropical isles. Enough to jump past spring and into glorious full summer vacation mode.
There’s coconut milk, of course, providing a wonderfully aromatic sweetness that’s more than just a little evocative of swaying palms. Quiet! Can’t you hear the sea breeze rustling the fronds? Juice from a lime or two adds sunlight glistening over the waters, as well as a green freshness the cilantro reinforces.
A heaping spoonful each of Madras curry and sambal oelek (the latter to garnish) remind us that, among all the world’s jungle-lined shores, we’re in the Far East. Verdant paradise in the general sense, coastal Southeast Asia in the specific. Though the location hardly matters, as we’re in a much better place than, well, here, staring at a monitor as another work week looms.
This spectacular scenery enlivens the palate and particularly favors the chicken, which is an inspired protein choice. It also greatly enhances the peanuts, which, while not original to Southeast Asia, found a happy home in the region’s cuisines. Selecting the right peanut butter is important, too, as it can add an extra day at the beach.
Indonesian Chicken and Peanut Soup
- 8 ounces rice noodles (*1)
- 1 tablespoon coconut or safflower oil (*2)
- 2 large shallots, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- 4 cups chicken broth (*3)
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter (*4)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sugar (*5)
- 2 cups shredded cooked chicken (*6)
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
- fresh cilantro and sambal oelek (*7), for garnish
Cook the noodles as their package instructs. Drain them in a colander, rinse with cold water and set them aside.
Meanwhile, set a stockpot over a medium-high flame. Pour in the oil and, when it shimmers, add the shallots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to pick up color, about three minutes. Add the curry and stir constantly, until it’s fragrant, about ten seconds.
Add the broth, peanut butter, soy sauce, sugar and coconut milk. Whisk until the peanut butter is fully incorporated. Add the chicken and simmer for 15 minutes. (*6)
Add the lime juice and season with pepper. Divide the noodles evenly among four serving bowls and ladle soup over them. Garnish with cilantro and sambal if desired.
1 – Choose the variety that best suits your desires; for me, it was mai fun.
2 – Coconut oil is the better choice, if it’s available, as it accentuates the coconut milk in the slop. (*8)
3 – As I’ve repeated to excess previously, homemade chicken stock is the ideal option. In this case especially, as it includes ginger, an ingredient the soup lacks. The vague traces of it add a nice nuance.
4 – Continuing the previous lecture, use “natural” peanut butter if it’s on the shelves. True, most varieties of peanut butter will do the job, though not so stylishly.
5 – If you have it, use palm sugar. In this case, it’s more “authentic” and, more vitally, it’s better for you.
6 – Alternate plan: use instead four raw boneless, skinless thighs. After the quarter-hour of simmering is behind you, the chicken will be cooked nicely. Using tongs, remove the thighs to a cutting board, shred them with forks, then return them to the soup. The extra minute or two this takes will be extra simmer time for the soup, which isn’t a bad thing.
7 – Any hot sauce, particularly an Asian variety such as sriracha, will work. However, sambal, like the soup, is Indonesian, making it a natural pairing.
8 – A typo, which you caught, thus proving I’m wrong about nobody reading this far. “That’s it, the movie’s over. You can go home now… Go.”