Thai chicken coconut soup
Thai chicken coconut soup or Tom kha kai
I learned to cook this soup at the Maliwan Thai Cooking School in Bangkok. It is a simple, aromatic and very elegant soup. It is a great starter recipe for your introduction to traditional Thai cooking.
Where to buy authentic Thai ingredients
If you don't have a South East Asian community in your area, you can purchase many of the ingredients online at importfood.com. For this recipe you will need the following Thai ingredients :
Cilantro or coriander root
If you cannot find cilantro root, you can substitute chopped cilantro stems. These roots are not eaten, but used whole to flavor dishes. You simply eat around the root when you find it in your soup.
The same family as ginger, but more potent and with a distinct flavor. Ginger is not a great substitute, but if you can't find galangal, you don't have much of a choice. Use about 50% more ginger than the stated galangal amount called for in a recipe. Galangal also is used to flavor food and is not meant to be eaten. So when you run into a big chunk of it in your soup, eat around it. Galangal freezes well.
Lemongrass is generally more available than galangal in the U.S. The best place to purchase lemongrass is in Asian markets, where it is generally fresher and less expensive. Do not substitute dried or powdered lemongrass. It is not a very good product. Lemongrass also freezes well. Lemon grass is often used whole to flavor dishes, but is not always meant to be eaten. When lemongrass is young and fresh, it can be finely chopped and incorporated into a dish.
Kaffir lime and leaves
There is no great substitute for fresh kaffir lime leaves, but in a pinch you can use regular lime zest. Dried kaffir lime leaves are not nearly as fragrant as fresh. Kaffir lime leaves also freeze well. Kaffir leaves are not eaten, but used like bay leaves to flavor dishes. A single Kaffir leaf looks like two leaves stacked one on top of the other. When a Thai recipe calls for a kaffir leaf, it is referring to only one of the two stacked leaves.
Bird's eye chilies
These red and green Thai chilies are very hot, rating almost as hot as a habanero chile. Serrano chilies are not quite as hot. So depending on your affection for heat, you could substitute either serrano or habanero chilies. Bird's eyes are found in most Asian markets, and they also freeze well. In a pinch you could also use dried chile flakes as a substitute. The number of chilies you use in a dish is determined by your personal preference for heat.
I highly recommend Aroyo-D coconut milk that is packaged in a BPA-free box. When I was in Thailand, the three Thai chefs I worked with all used Aroyo-D coconut milk, unless they were making fresh coconut milk. Note, the thickness of Aroyo-D's coconut milk is considered "coconut cream" in Thailand. When a recipe calls for coconut milk, Thais add water to thin down the milk. Do not use "Lite" coconut milk. It costs the same as regular coconut milk, has poor flavor and often includes additives. You are better off buying regular coconut milk and adding water to suit your personal taste.
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Tom kha kai herb bundles
Tom kha kai is a very popular soup in Thailand. The open-air markets sell pre-bundled Tom kha kai herbs containing kaffir leaves, lemon grass, coriander root and galangal all bundled together. Tom kha kai is kind of Thai fast food.
Mis en place and seasoning to personal preference
Like many Thai dishes, this soup cooks very quickly. The keys are: 1) Preparing all of the ingredients in advance, and 2) Seasoning to your personal preference. Start by using half of the lime and fish sauce the recipe calls for, taste and adjust the seasoning.
You can add pieces of cabbage, cauliflower, potato or carrot to this soup.
- 1 cup coconut milk
- ½ cup chicken broth
- 1 thumb-size piece of galangal, sliced (about 10 grams)
- 1 3-4" piece coriander root, gently bruised with a knife
- ¼ cup of lemongrass, white part only from about 2 stalks, hard outer peel removed and sliced on the diagonal into 1" pieces
- ½ pound chicken breast, sliced on the diagonal
- 2 ounces straw or oyster mushrooms, chopped into bite-size pieces ( about ½ cup)
- 6-10 bird's eye chilies, slightly bruised
- 3 kaffir leaves, torn
- 2 T Thai fish sauce, approximately
- 2 T fresh lime juice, approximately
- 1 pinch sugar
- Cilantro leaves for garnish
- Hot chili oil for garnish (optionals)
- Mix coconut milk and chicken broth in a pot and heat until it just starts to boil. Immediately turn temperature down to medium-low. Add galangal, coriander root and lemongrass. Simmer until fragrant.
- Add sliced chicken breast and cook for about 1 minute until half done. Add mushrooms and simmer for 2 - 3 minutes until chicken and mushrooms are cooked.
- Reduce heat to low and add chilies, kaffir leaves and season to taste with fish sauce, lime and sugar.
- Garnish with cilantro, a few drops of hot chili oil. Serve with jasmine rice.
THIS SERVES WELL WITH