Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thai Coconut Chicken Soup (Tom Kha Gai)

I first tasted Tom Kha Gai, or coconut chicken soup, when I visited Thailand ... many years ago. Learning to make it still ranks as one of my favorite cooking experiences, ever. My husband, who by the way is notorious for not cooking, and I both signed up for a morning cooking class at the small boutique hotel we called home in Phuket. What a surprise we had to find out that only one other student had signed up for the class. We had the head chef, a sous chef, and three assistants to help us make our Thai lunch. The sous chef helped us at every step, while the head chef checked and adjusted the seasoning when we finished each dish. The assistants helped us with chopping and preparing ingredients. With all that help, everything we made that morning turned out delicious!

This particular soup is made with coconut milk. At the Thai cooking class, assistants cracked open a coconut and extracted the milk from the meat by shredding the meat, then pressing water through the shredded coconut. The process for one coconut took about 20 minutes, and yielded only 1/4 cup  coconut milk. I have to admit I thought then that I'd never make this soup myself ... until I asked the chef how they ever made enough soup for the restaurant when it took so long to make the coconut milk. He laughed, and said we use this! That's when he held out a can of coconut milk, it was even the same brand I use in the US. Here's my version of this soup. I enjoy it most often when the cold season lingers on past it's welcome. It's then, as I sip this soup, that I recall warm days on a Phuket beach enjoying this soup.


1 tsp olive oil
1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms
1 can straw mushrooms (or use an additional 1 cup of cremini mushrooms)
2 keffir lime leaves, minced (optional)
a 1 inch piece of lemon grass, minced (optional)
12 ounces cooked, cubed or shredded, chicken breast or thigh meat (gai)
1 can baby corn
1 can light coconut milk
1 quart low sodium chicken stock
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 tsp chili sauce, or to taste
1 tsp fish sauce
up to 1 tsp salt


Heat olive oil in a large heavy bottomed stock pot over medium heat. Add the cremini mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes, until the mushrooms begin to lose their liquid. Add the straw mushrooms, if using, along with the keffir lime leaves and lemon grass. Stir to combine and cook for an additional minute. Add the chicken, corn,  coconut milk and chicken stock, combine and bring to almost simmering. Season the soup by adding about 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice, the chili sauce, and fish sauce. Add more lemon juice, if needed. Adjust the seasoning by adding salt, if needed.

Stealthy Cooking Tip: Fish sauce is salty, so you may not need additional salt in this recipe. Taste before adding!

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