Our neighborhood Thai restaurant closed on December 31st, victim to a(nother) heartless New York City landlord.
It left us without our weekly supply of tom kha gai—and at the start of National Soup Month, no less.
Tom kha gai, literally “chicken galangal soup,” is a spicy and sour hot chicken soup with coconut milk.
In Thailand, most tom kha gai/kai recipes include coconut milk, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, Thai chili peppers, cilantro (dill weed in Laotian versions), straw mushrooms (or shiitake or other mushrooms), chicken, fish sauce and lime juice.
Fried chiles are sometimes added, for a smoky flavor as well as texture, color, and heat—just a touch so they don’t overwhelm the other flavors.
Other versions substitute seafood, pork or tofu for the chicken. We adapted this recipe from the Long Grain restaurant in Camden, Maine.
The soup is very easy to make. The challenge for people who don’t live near Asian markets is to find some of the ingredients. We’ve suggested substitutes.
Don’t want to chase after ingredients? Don’t like ginger or lemongrass? Try this recipe for Spicy Sea Bass Chowder With Coconut Milk.
RECIPE: TOM KHA GAI, THAI CHICKEN & COCONUT MILK SOUP
Ingredients For 6 Servings
1 1” piece ginger root, peeled
10 kaffir lime leaves (substitute 1 tablespoon lime zest and ¼ cup lime juice)
6 cups chicken broth
1½ pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1” pieces
8 ounces shiitake, oyster, or maitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps cut into bite-size pieces
1 can (13.5 ounces) coconut milk
2 tablespoons fish sauce* (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
1 teaspoons sugar
2 stalks fresh lemongrass, tough outer layers removed (substitutes†)
Garnishes: sliced chiles or chili oil, chopped cilantro, lime wedges
1. LIGHTLY SMASH the lemongrass and ginger with the back of a knife. Cut the lemongrass into 4” pieces. Bring the lemongrass, ginger, lime leaves and broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce the heat and simmer until flavors are melded, 8–10 minutes. Strain the broth into clean saucepan; discard solids.
2. ADD the chicken and return to a boil. Reduce the heat, add the mushrooms, and simmer, skimming occasionally, until chicken is cooked through and mushrooms are soft, 20–25 minutes. Mix in the coconut milk, fish sauce, and sugar.
Tom kha gai, Thai coconut soup.  Photo by Evan Joshua Swigart | Wikimedia.  A more elegant presentation from DC Cuisine.  Lemongrass: top, with the outer leaves, which are removed (center).Photo courtesy Keirsten’s Kitchen.
3. DIVIDE the soup among bowls. Garnish with cilantro; serve with chili oil and lime wedges.
MORE FOR NATIONAL SOUP DAY
Different Types Of Soup: A Soup Glossary
The Different Styles Of Soup: Bisque, Broth, Chowder, Consommé, etc.
Drizzled Soup Garnishes
Start A Soup Club
Soup In A Tea Cup
How To Finish Soups In A Blender
How To Puree Soup With An Immersion Blender
The History Of Soup
*Your supermarket probably carries the Thai Kitchen brand. It’s inexpensive and functional; but if you’ll be using fish sauce frequently, spring for one of the better brands from Thailand or Vietnam.
†There is nothing like fresh lemongrass. Trim the outer leaves and the bottom (see photo above) and use the first six inches of the base. You can buy fresh lemongrass online and you may find frozen lemongrass locally, which is almost as good. Dried lemongrass is as pale a substitute as dried basil, parsley and other herbs. You can steep any leftover lemongrass, including the trimmed tops, into a delicious herbal tea. To substitute: Zest from 1 lemon = 2 stalks lemongrass. You can also use fresh lemon verbena, lemon balm or lemon leaves.