Dinner

Instant Pot Soto Ayam

November 24, 2020
2 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop stylist: Megan Hedgpeth.
Author Notes

Everyone has their favorite comfort foods—it may be pop pop’s mac and cheese, bubbe’s kugel, or lola’s lumpiah. But it’s always a dish that transports you to a carefree time in your life when you were swathed in the warmth of cinnamon and spice, and the love of a parent or grandparent. And if you have a recipe and/or the fortitude to replicate the dish—lucky you!

For me, my comfort foods have always been elusive. Growing up in Singapore to Chinese-Indonesian parents—and a mother who won cooking competitions as a teenager—good food was a given. But there’s a reason why the food tasted so good: painstaking preparation and a plethora of herbs and spices.

As a little girl, I didn’t realize that my mom pounded garlic, shallots, and chilies in a mortar until her arm ached to produce the bumbu bumbu (spice paste) to make beef rendang; that she stewed oxtail for hours on the stovetop to coax it to fall-off-the-bone tenderness; or that the turmeric fried chicken my siblings and I squabbled over went through a manifold process of marinating, braising, and deep-frying.

When I moved away from home, I tried to recreate these childhood dishes I loved. After extended phone calls and studying numerous recipes handwritten by Mami, I concluded that I had neither the time nor the energy to spend hours on end in the kitchen. Over the years, I became content to eat Ma’s food just once or twice a year when I saw her.

Then, the Instant Pot took the culinary world by storm. The claims were seemingly outrageous. “It pressure cooks and it slow cooks!” “It does the job in half the time!” “It changed my life!” I was skeptical at first, but I finally caved in and bought one. And was it a game-changer!

Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting miracles. But I was pleasantly surprised. After a steep learning curve (and writing an Instant Pot cookbook!), I discovered how the appliance can work for me.

The Instant Pot helped me reclaim my Mami’s recipes, encouraging me to streamline steps and slash cooking times. After convincing myself that grinding herbs and spices in a food processor isn’t blasphemous, my prep time went from 30 minutes down to 30 seconds. Instant Pot’s sear-and-cook-in-one-pot function reduced washing up, and my dishwasher (aka my husband) thanked me. While the food isn’t ready in an instant, a cook time of one hour is a lot better than three!

One of my mom’s recipes I’ve reclaimed and now make regularly is soto ayam, a turmeric-laced chicken soup popular in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. There are many versions of it depending on country, region, and family, and is usually served at roadside stalls with rice, noodles, and shrimp crackers. I don’t slice and fry potatoes to make my own chips like Mami did; store-bought chips are a whole lot easier and go a long way in enticing little ones to eat this dish. —Pat Tanumihardja

  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Serves 6 to 8
Ingredients
  • Soto ayam
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 chubby 2-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 shallots (about 3 ounces), peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 3 pounds to 4 pound whole chicken, 4-pound chicken, or equivalent mix of bone-in thighs, legs, or breast meat
  • 2 plump lemongrass bulbs, trimmed and smashed
  • 5 makrut lime leaves (optional)
  • 3 teaspoons fine sea salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Yukon Gold potatoes (about 10 ounces), peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 8 ounces cellophane noodles, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes
  • Garnishes (feel free to mix and match!)
  • 4 large hard-cooked eggs, peeled and halved
  • 2 cups shredded green cabbage
  • 2 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
  • 1 handful fried shallots
  • 1 handful chopped celery leaves or flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 handful crushed plain potato chips
  • 2 large limes, cut into wedges
  • 1 dash chile-garlic paste, like Sambal Oelek
  • 1 dash sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. In a food processor, grind the garlic, ginger, and shallots into a rough paste.
  2. Add the oil and spice paste to the Instant Pot. Sauté on high for about 1 minute until aromatic. Stir in the ground turmeric and cook for another 30 seconds.
  3. Turn off sauté mode. Stir in 8 cups of water and add 2 teaspoons salt, sugar and pepper. Scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
  4. Place the chicken breast-side up in the Instant Pot. Add the lemongrass and lime leaves. Cover and cook on high pressure for 20 minutes. Let stand for at least 15 minutes before releasing pressure. This prevents hot soup from spurting out the valve.
  5. Insert a meat thermometer into a thigh and check to see that thermometer reads at least 165°F. If not, cover and cook for a few more minutes.
  6. Use tongs or a large slotted spoon to transfer the chicken to a large bowl. It may come apart so go slow and be gentle. When you can comfortably handle the chicken, remove the meat from the bones and shred using two forks or cut into bite-sized pieces.
  7. Remove and discard the lemongrass and lime leaves. Spoon off as much fat as possible from the surface of the soup or use a fat separator. (You can make the soup the day before serving and refrigerate to allow fat to solidify before removing.)
  8. Add the potatoes and simmer on sauté high until tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
  9. Taste and add remaining 1 teaspoon salt and/or more seasonings as needed.
  10. To serve, divide the noodles, egg halves, and cabbage among 8 bowls. Pour ¾ to 1 cup piping hot soup into each bowl and garnish as desired with green onions, fried shallots, celery leaves, and potato chips. Serve immediately with lime wedges, Chile paste, and sweet soy sauce.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Heather Akers
    Heather Akers
  • Pat Tanumihardja
    Pat Tanumihardja
  • Janet Katz
    Janet Katz
Born in Indonesia and raised in Singapore, I'm a food and travel writer, author of "Farm to Table Asian Secrets" (Tuttle Publishing, 2017) and "The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook" (Sasquatch Books, 2009) . My Asian Instant Pot cookbook will launch in May 2020. Find simple Asian-inspired recipes on SmithsonianAPA.org/picklesandtea.