Tom Ka Gai (Thai Chicken Coconut Soup)
Back in September of 2012 I hosted a dinner party and thought it would be a good idea to post some of the recipes from the party on my blog. They are some of my favorite recipes. If you missed that party you can find that post here. Unfortunately, because they are buried somewhere in the middle of that post no one ever sees them. I am going to repost each one in a separate post because every good recipe deserves a post of its own. Here is my version of Tom Ka Gai, AKA Thai Chicken Coconut Soup. I really love this soup. I love this soup so much it makes my eyes roll back in my head. This fun effect is just one of the reasons I choose to make it for dinner parties. The other reason is that it is easy to prepare and you can make it ahead of time. The hardest part of this recipe is gathering all the ingredients. I often find them in the high-end supermarkets, but you can’t always count on it. A trip to the Asian market is usually in order. Before I get to the soup, I am going to go over each one of the main ingredients. If you are already familiar with them feel free to skip this part. I don’t want you to get bored. Galangal Root Galangal root is the ‘ka’ in Tom Ka Gai. It is also sometimes called ‘Laos root’. I sometimes find this at Whole Foods, but usually end up getting it at the Asian Market. It is a rhizome not unlike ginger in appearance, but it is much larger and very woody. So woody in fact that it can be a little difficult to slice. You can also find it frozen (not bad) or dried either whole or in powdered form (forget about it). You only need a little and it usually comes in a big piece. If you have any leftover I advise you to cut it up into a few chunks and freeze it for later.
Kaffir Lime Leaves Here is another item that you can sometimes find in the large upscale markets. They are also known as ‘bai magrood’ or ‘kieffer’. Like galangal, it is ok frozen, but terrible dried. Sometimes these are even hard to find in the Asian markets. I solved this problem a few years ago when I found a kaffir lime tree at Orchard Supply Hardware of all places. It’s doing very well in a pot on my balcony and supplies me with more leaves than I could ever use. Another source for these trees is Four Winds Growers (they sell trees online and deliver). The fragrance of these leaves is incredible. They bear very small fruit that have little or no juice but have great rind for zest. If you like limes you will find other uses for this wonderful tree. Infused kaffir lime vodka anyone?
Lemon Grass Lemon grass has gone very mainstream, so it is pretty easy to find. It is also relatively easy to grow if you are so inclined. If you want to try growing your own, get a couple of stalks with some nice woody ends and put it in water until it sprouts roots; then plant it in some soil.
Thai Chilies These are pretty easy to find and/or grow. They also freeze very well. I always have a bag in my freezer. They are very hot so you need to be careful when you are cutting and chopping them. Like all chilies, seeding them will tame the heat a bit.
One of the other things to note about this recipe is that the ingredients that flavor it are not really edible. The galangal, lemon grass, and kaffir leaves are too intense, tough or woody to eat. You have two options. One is to just make an announcement at dinner instructing your guests (that don’t know better) to avoid eating the lemon grass and galangal. Option two is to simmer the soup with the flavoring ingredients, then strain them out before adding the chicken and mushrooms. It is not quite as authentic that way, but there are no 911 calls to worry about. Either way you decide to prepare it, I hope you enjoy it.
- 2 13.5 oz. cans coconut milk
- 6 thin slices of galangal root, lightly crushed
- 2 stalks lemon grass, lower ½ only, trimmed into 1 inch pieces, slightly crushed
- 5 fresh kaffir lime leaves, torn in half
- 1 whole chicken breast, boned, skinned and sliced into bite size pieces
- 4-5 white mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 4 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ¼-1/2 cup lime juice (to taste)
- 1 teaspoon, red curry paste
- 2 green Thai chilies, chopped
- ¼ cup cilantro leaves
- Combine one can of coconut milk with the galangal, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. * Add chicken, fish sauce and sugar and cook (stirring occasionally) until chicken is cooked throughout. Stir in the other can of coconut milk and curry paste and heat until boiling. Remove from heat, and add lime juice and chilies a little at a time, tasting it as you go. You don’t want it too spicy or too sour. Adjust seasoning, adding more sugar or fish sauce, to get that perfect balance of salt, sweet, hot and sour. You can heat this before serving and plate it individually or in a tureen or soup pot. Garnish with the cilantro leaves just before serving.
- *If you are going to strain the soup add both cans of the coconut milk and simmer gently for about 20 minutes before straining and adding the remaining ingredients.