Tom Kha Gai was one of the first Thai recipes l learned how to make back in college. This fragrant chicken coconut soup has a lovely balance of many flavors: spicy, savory, sour, and slightly sweet. The wonderful flavors come from the combination of a variety of ingredients: galangal root, Kaffir lime leaves, garlic, lemongrass, lime juice, fish sauce, chili paste and coconut milk. The coconut milk adds a level of creaminess without making the soup heavy. This Thai dish and a few others were taught to me by an incredibly talented Thai chef who was in the United States on a temporary work visa. Over the course of a few lessons, she taught me this dish along with several others, but unfortunately her visa expired and she had to return to Thailand. I am forever grateful to have met her and to have learned from her the basic foundations of cooking Thai food.
Over time, I made some modifications to this recipe. Instead of the traditional straw mushrooms that most Thai restaurants use in this soup, I added brown beech mushrooms. You can’t find fresh straw mushrooms in the US, only canned versions, and I find that the beech mushrooms are similar in size to the straw mushrooms and have a similar texture. Also, I marinate the chicken pieces and poach them prior to adding them to the soup, which gives the chicken a tender and velvety texture. It is an extra step, but I think it is well worth it in the end. Enjoy!
Tom Kha Gai
Serving Size: 4
8 ounces of boneless chicken breast, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon of Mirin
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
8 ounces of Brown Beech mushrooms, trimmed and washed
1-2 teaspoons of Thai chili paste*
1 tablespoon of minced fresh lemongrass
1 clove of garlic, minced
3 cups of homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
6 Kaffir lime leaves, divided
3 two-inch lemongrass stalks, bruised with back of a knife
5 slices of galangal, 1/4″ thickness
3 tablespoons of fish sauce (add more to taste), Red Boat or Three Crabs brand
2 teaspoons of organic sugar
1 1/2 cups of Thai coconut milk**
2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice and extra lime wedges for serving
Sea salt to taste
Red jalapeño slices
Thai bird chili slices, optional
Cilantro sprigs for serving
1. In a small bowl, add the sliced chicken and Mirin. Stir. Sprinkle the baking soda all over the chicken. Stir. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Don’t over marinate to ensure a perfect texture.
2. Add a quart of water in small pot. Add 1 tablespoon of Kosher salt. Bring to a boil. Add the mushrooms. Boil for 1 minute. Using a spider strainer, remove the mushrooms and transfer to a bowl.
3. Bring the same water back to a boil. Add the marinated chicken, reduce heat to a simmer and poach for 1 minute. Turn off heat and set aside.
4. Heat a 2-quart pot to a medium-high heat. Add the chili paste, garlic, and minced lemongrass. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the chicken stock, add 3 Kaffir lime leaves and bring to a boil. Strain the stock and return stock to the pot.
5. Add the lemongrass stalks, galangal, the fish sauce, sugar and coconut milk. Bring to a simmer. Add salt to taste.
6. Strain the poached chicken and add it to the soup along with the mushrooms and simmer for 1 more minute. Add the lime juice, 3 Kaffir lime leaves, a few slices of the red jalapeño, and the Thai bird chili (if you like it really spicy).
7. Ladle in individual bowls with a couple sprigs of cilantro. Serve with extra lime wedge.
*You can find Thai chili paste at your local Thai or large Asian supermarket. Make sure you purchase Thai chili paste in soy bean sauce.
**Thai coconut milk is available in the Asian food isle at you local supermarket.