This is for my sister-in-law! Along with numerous people around the world, she loves Tom Kha Gai! I think the love developed during her first trip to Thailand a couple of years ago. And like any true love, absence only makes the heart grow fonder! So, on my last trip back home, she asked me to make it – which I did. I am not so sure though if it was all that good….. but since she hadn’t eaten it for quite some time (and the memory of what the real thing tastes like, might have gotten a bit blurred in the meantime), I don’t think she really noticed. At least she was polite enough to seemingly eat it with pleasure.
But I have since honed my skills at making this iconic creamy coconut soup, from what I believe to be the best Tom Kha Gai recipe I could get my hands on. I am about to share that with you.
What goes into Tom Kha Gai?
The “kha” in the name of the dish, means galangal in Thai, making it the most important ingredient in any Tom Kha Gai recipe. The root delivers a taste so unique, that there is really no substitute for it.“Gai” means chicken, so that is obviously very important too when making Tom Kha Gai. You also can’t really make it without coconut milk.
The soup is made of tender strips of chicken cooked in coconut milk, which has been infused with galangal, stalks of lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Mushroom and chilies are added as well, and the soup is seasoned with lime juice and fish sauce. It is topped off with coriander leaves.
How do you make Tom Kha Gai soup?
The rustic – and perhaps more traditional – way of making Tom Kha Gai is from chunks of chicken with bone and skin on, and sometimes also chicken innards and feet, slow-cooked in water until tender. It takes about 45 min.’s. This results in a very rich broth, that serves as the base for the soup. Mushroom, spices, and herbs are thrown in, and the soup is cooked for another 5 – 10 min.’s. Coconut milk is added, heated gently, and the pot is then removed from the heat. The taste is finally adjusted with lemon juice and fish sauce, and sprinkles of coriander leaves at the top. It makes a very flavourful, yet less creamy soup.
Nowadays, it is more common to use chicken breast without skin and bone, which is reflected in the recipe below. Since there is only little flavor in skin- and boneless chicken, the main taste comes from the chicken broth, fish sauce, and herbs. Thus, it is better to first infuse the broth with the herbs and spices, then add the coconut milk, and the chicken last. Cook at relatively low temperature to avoid boiling the life and color out of the herbs. But also to prevent curdling of the coconut milk, and the chicken from being overcooked with the texture being rubbery as a result.
It is up to you, which cooking method you prefer. The recipe below presents the detailed directions for the latter version that is most frequently used now.
Some recipes use palm or coconut sugar, but I find it to be unnecessary as the natural sweetness of the coconut milk is enough. I have also left white onions and tomatoes to be optional. I don’t think either belongs in Tom Kha Gai, but some people like to include it. And if that is how you prefer it, feel free to add it in.
When making Tom Kha Gai, hold back a bit of the fish sauce and lemon juice until you have tasted it, to avoid it getting too sour or salty. You can always add more, but it is hard to remove it once it is added to the soup.
How do you eat Tom Kha Gai?
Serve this simple, yet marvelous tasting Thai dish, with jasmine rice or as shown here with red rice.
Tom Kha Gai is considered a very mild dish in Thailand. If you are not that accustomed to spicy food and love coconut milk – I am sure the soup is going to be counted amongst your favorite recipes.
Tom Kha Gai - chicken coconut soup
- 150 gr. chicken breast
- 6 dl liter chicken broth
- 4 dl coconut milk
- 150 gr. straw or oyster mushrooms
- 1 large slice of galangal (appr. 1 cm.)
- 1 stem of lemongrass
- 3 red chilies (add more, if you like it spicy)
- 3 kaffir lime leaves
- 1 cup coriander leaves
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 3 tbsp lime juice
- Optional: white (sweet) onion, tomato and sugar
- Step 1 Clean and cut the lemongrass into 2 cm. pieces, and smash it with the back of a knife. Do the same to the chilies. Clean the galangal, cut it into thin slices and pound it lightly in the mortar to help release the flavors.
- Step 2 If you are using straw mushrooms, clean and cut them in half. If you are using oyster mushrooms, and they are very big, you can divide them into smaller pieces.
- Step 3 Remove the stems from the kaffir lime leaves. Pound them slightly in the mortar. Clean the coriander leaves and cut them roughly.
- Step 4 Juice the limes and set it aside for later.
- Step 5 Bring the broth slowly to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves, and leave it simmering for a few minutes allowing the herbs to infuse the broth.
- Step 6 Add the mushrooms, chicken and coconut milk. Adjust the heat to keep it simmering – but not at any point to a rapid boil. Stir regularly to ensure the chicken gets evenly cooked. If you want more liquid, you can add more water or coconut milk.
- Step 7 When the chicken is cooked, throw in the chilies and remove the pot from the heat.
- Step 8 Add the lime juice and fish sauce. Stir and taste. Add more if necessary. The taste should be quite sour at first, then salty second, and sweet at last.
- Step 9 Garnish with coriander leaves and serve immediately with jasmine rice.