Chicken meatballs are served with rice noodles, vegetables and condiments in a basic stock to make a craveable Bakso Ayam.
Bakso gained prominence in the United States when President Barack Obama mentioned his fondness for it while at a state dinner in Jakarta. Spending time in Indonesia as a child, Obama recalled the dish fondly with the headline statement, “Bakso, nasi goreng… semuanya enak!” (“Meatball soup, fried rice… it’s all delicious!”)
Fundamentally, this is a chicken meatball soup with noodles. Bakso translates into “meatball” (or refers the soup containing them) and is a format found all over the streets of Indonesia featuring a variety of meats and styles from beef, chicken (ayam) or a blend of the two, usually satisfying Muslim dietary restrictions.
These meatballs might be odd to Western tastes, which may be calibrated more to Italian versions of soft, spicy ground pork or beef. Here a significant amount of cornstarch or tapioca flour and egg white is used as a binder with ground chicken, yielding an almost plastic, deliberately spongy consistency closer to a commercial hot dog. The flavors are still good but the texture may be off-putting to some, and may not stand up well reheated as leftovers.
The soup base here is a basic homemade chicken stock, intentionally kept simple as a vehicle to carry the other additions, but feel free to enhance the broth as needed. Cooked rice noodles, seasoned vegetables and the ubiquitous sambal chile paste are added along with the meatballs and boiled eggs for protein.
Aside from the meatballs, broth and possibly noodles, the other additions and condiments can be suited to taste or convenience. Add wontons, tofu, chiles, fresh herbs or fried shallots with spicy sauce to preference. Or serve the bakso on wooden skewers as simple street food with a dipping sauce.
14-oz pkg rice noodles
4 c chicken stock
2 baby bok choy
1 rib celery
4 cloves garlic
1-in. piece ginger
2 T soy sauce
For the meatballs:
1 lb ground chicken
1 egg white
2 cloves garlic
1 T sugar
5 T cornstarch
1 Cook the eggs until hard-boiled, and remove the shells when cool enough to handle. Set aside.
2 Prepare the meatballs: Mince the shallot and garlic and lightly sauté in oil until browned, about 5 min. Combine with the rest of the meatball ingredients and mix until well incorporated (add a little cold water, if necessary). Form into roughly tablespoon-sized balls (makes about 12-18) and gently boil in water until firm and cooked through, about 5-7 min. (The meatballs will float when done.)
3 Cook the noodles according to package directions. Warm the stock up to a near boil.
4 Mince the garlic and grate the ginger, and mash both into a uniform paste. Sauté in a pan with a little oil until fragrant, about 30 sec. Roughly chop the bok choy and thinly slice the celery; add both to the pan with soy sauce, and sauté until softened (about 1 min more).
5 Assembly: Add noodles and cooked bok choy to each bowl. Top with hot stock, and add meatballs and boiled eggs cut in half. Finish with chopped cilantro and sambal oelek.