With the deep warmth of ginger and the instant heat of bird’s eye chilies (or Thai peppers), this spicy sesame ginger chicken noodle soup is like central heating in a bowl. It stars tender chicken in a garlicky broth that’s enriched with sesame oil, rice wine and palm sugar.
“Almost every culture has its own variation on chicken soup, and rightly so – it’s one of the most gratifying dishes on the face of the Earth.“Yotam Ottolenghi
That’s the opinion of chef and cookbook author, Yotam Ottolenghi, who’s regularly raved about as one of the 21st century’s most influential professional cooks.
His praise for the dish is understandable. Even though there are more global variations than you can wave a spoon at, chicken soup has an age-old reputation for one specific quality: it’s good for you.
After each taste of our fortifying riff on this classic concept, don’t be surprised if that health-boosting thought keeps on coming back to you.
Here’s why. Having marveled at how well the chili, sesame, ginger, and garlic goes with the chicken, the savvy, food-loving friend I shared this with had one repeated comment, ‘This has got to be so good for us!’
Sesame ginger chicken noodle soup is wonderfully warming
With its evenly balanced blend of powerful, insistent flavors, this wholesome soup is energized by two very different sorts of heat.
First, there’s a mellow, lingering, slow burn that permeates the golden broth. It’s a determined, underlying warmth that’s fueled by generous amounts of thinly sliced fresh ginger.
Then there’s an upper layer of flavor with a far more immediate, fiery heat. Powered by finely chopped bird’s eye chilies, it gives our soup a bright, flame-like vibrancy.
Put the two heat sources together, and you have a winning combo that gently soothes and pleasantly startles you – both at the same time.
The headlining, toasted sesame oil
Toasted – yep, toasted – sesame oil has a richly nutty savor that’s distinctive enough to add its aromatic smokiness to the bold flavors of your broth.
But this amber-colored oil also highlights the milder, delicate taste of the chicken by performing a sort of culinary double act.
It first appears as a flavorsome oil for frying the chicken over a low-ish heat before you poach it in your broth. A little of it then resurfaces in a completely different role – as a creamily smooth, garnishing condiment for your finished soup.
This dual flavoring role is what makes toasted sesame oil such a prominent player in your soup’s deeply satisfying complexity of tastes. And that’s why it is definitely – and I mean definitely – worth the effort to track down the fuller flavored toasted variety – as opposed to the ‘regular’, un-toasted sort.
Choosing your chicken
Hands down, my recommendation is to use free-range, skin-on, bone-in thighs. That choice will reward you with levels of flavor that can hold their own among your broth’s robust tastes. Bone-in heightens the meat’s flavor as it cooks. And once the bones have done that essential job, you’ll remove and discard them before serving the soup.
Choosing skin-on thighs produces similar, high-flavor rewards, only more so. The fat content of the skin is packed with exactly the sort of tastes your looking for – and certainly want to preserve.
To achieve that grand result, I peel the skin from the cooked thighs, chop it very finely, and return all that glorious flavor to the meaty broth for a few minutes of final simmering.
A crowning sprinkle of sliced scallions – way more than decoration
Once they’re thinly sliced into long, self-curling strands, the scallions aren’t just there as a good-looking topping for your soup.
They will add a completely contrasting, crisply cool, fresh texture. And as for flavor, they’ll bring in a bright, slightly sharp, peppery tang that sits so well alongside the bold intensity of the broth.
Spicy Sesame Ginger Chicken Noodle Soup
- 8 fresh red bird’s eye chilies finely chopped, seeds and all. The ones I used were each about 2 inches long and 1/3-inch thick.
- 2 ½ pounds bone-in, skin-on free-range chicken thighs that weight gave me eight thighs – just grand for a rule of thumb that allows for 2 thighs per person
- 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil plus 1 tablespoon as a garnishing condiment
- 3 ½ ounces fresh whole skin-on ginger root sliced into rounds about 1/8-inch thick, skin and all
- 6 cloves garlic peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 scallions or spring onions, medium-sized. Stems removed. Keep as much of the crisply fresh green parts as you can, and then slice the scallions – white and green parts – into long strands about 1/8-inch wide.
- 1 cup Shaoxing rice wine
- 1 heaped tablespoon palm sugar I used the type of hard palm sugar that comes in domes about 2 inches across, and reckon that one of those is equal to a heaped tablespoon.
- 1 cube chicken stock
- 6 cups water
- 2 heaped teaspoons ground sea salt
- 5 ounces dried vermicelli rice noodles
Cooking the sesame and ginger soup
- Heat 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil in a big skillet set on a medium-high heat. I used a heavy-based, 12-inch skillet that was big enough to hold all the chicken thighs in a single layer.
- Let the oil heat until its surface starts to shimmer, then add the chicken thighs skin side up. Take a little care so as not to heat the oil so much that it begins smoking – that’s just way too much heat for toasted sesame oil and for the chicken.
- Drop the heat to low-medium, and let the thighs sizzle away – skin side up – for 4 minutes or so.
- You want to get a pale – and I mean pale – golden color on the underside of the thighs. Once that happens, carefully turn the thighs over and let them fry skin side down for another 4 minutes on that low-medium heat. You want the skin to stay on the thighs, so don’t move them about in the skillet – just let them sizzle gently and stay whole.
- As the thighs fry, you’ll probably find the oil foams a lot – that’s grand because it shows the oil is not too hot. You’ll also see that a fair amount of thighs’ fat has melted out into the sesame oil – perfect. That’s exactly what you want.
- Once you’ve got that pale golden color on both sides of the thighs, remove them with a slotted spoon and set them aside on a big dinner plate. Try and leave as much of the fatted oil as you can in the skillet – that’s where the ginger, garlic, and chilies are heading now for some hot-and-fast frying.
- Turn the skillet’s heat back to medium-high and let the oil come back up to that shimmer point. Now stir in the sliced ginger. You want to stir fry the ginger on that medium-high heat for about 2 minutes – just until it picks up a little golden color. Now add the chilies and the garlic and keep stir frying the lot for another 2 minutes.Then remove your skillet from the heat. Good. That’s all the frying done. Time now for some broth-based poaching.
- Set a big saucepan – easily big enough to hold all your soup’s ingredients except the noodles – on a high heat and add everything from your skillet – the ginger, garlic, chilies and all the oil – yep, all the oil.
- Quick as you can, stir in the water, Shaoxing rice wine, palm sugar, chicken stock cube, and salt. Give the pan a few good stirs as it comes up the boil – you want to stir enough so that the palm sugar and stock cube get dissolved into your broth.
- As soon as the pan starts boiling, drop the heat to low. Now add the chicken thighs skin side up in a single layer, together with all the juices from their plate. Cover the pan and let it simmer gently – and I mean gently – for 35 minutes so that the thighs cook right through as they poach in the broth. Nearly done.
- Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and turn off the pan. Let the chicken cool enough so you can handle it. Once that happens, pull the skin off the thighs, chop it finely and return it all to your broth. Now use your fingers to carefully pull all the meat off the thighs’ bones.
- Try not to shred the meat, but rather pull it away in chunky pieces. Add all the meat the meat to your broth and turn the heat to hight until the pan just starts bubbling. Right now, I like to check the broth for saltiness. Adjust according to your taste.
- Give the pan a gentle stir, drop the heat to low and cover the pan. It’s done. You just need to keep the soup on that low heat – so it stays nicely hot for serving while you sort out the noodles.
Cooking the rice noodles
- This is really quick and easy – just follow the pack’s instructions.
- That usually means you set the noodles in a medium size pan and completely cover them with boiling water. Let them sit in the water for two minutes with a few stirs to separate them. They’re ready.
Serving your sesame and ginger chicken noodle soup
- Big, warmed soup bowls are the way to go here.
- Divide the noodles between the bowls. Now ladle the soup over the top of the noodles – so each bowl gets its fair share of chicken. I like to first fill each bowl about half full of the gingery garlic broth, then add the chicken so that it sits closer to the top of the bowl.
- Now lay some strands of the scallions on top of each bowl.