Thursday, June 7, 2018

Thai Tom Kha Gai - Chicken Coconut Soup

One of my neighbors posted in our local network group that she had some leftover goodies from making Thai food, specifically Fresh Thai chiles, Galangal, Lemongrass and Kaffir leaves. I raised my hand and received them from her and then did a little shopping to buy what I needed - luckily I was only missing a few dollars worth of ingredients to make Tom Kha Gai soup. If  you haven't had this soup, it's a delicious, slightly spicy coconut soup that usually has mushrooms and chicken. It's nice because of the contrasts of the citrus (lime, lemongrass and kaffir (lime) leaves) to the fat in the coconut milk to the heat. The acids in the citrus immediately get your mouth watering and the soup is very satisfying, perhaps more in winter but I like it year round.


The recipe I have I garnered a few years ago online - unfortunately I didn't add a link so I'm not sure who to attribute it to - I found it while thinking about a similar soup we made at my last cooking job at Indigo Coastal Grill (as I recall we offered a Thai inspired seafood stew that used something similar to this recipe only with seafood instead of chicken - we did take some shortcuts like using sambal paste instead of chiles but I think this recipe is more authentic). I've made some adjustments to the original recipe but the basics are there - for authenticity you should search for and find: either dried thai chiles or or fresh red thai chiles; galangal (Thai ginger), kaffir lime leaves, coconut sugar (trust me on this) and some good fish sauce (I have and use Three Crabs as my preferred brand - it's cheap and very flavorful). You can substitute much of these ingredients with something more local but every substitution will take you further from the authentic flavors. Everything on this list can be found at our local farmers markets (Buford Highway Farmers Market has everything but Your Dekalb Farmers Market has most of the items)

Clockwise: kaffir leaves, lemongrass, sliced galangal, red Thai chillies minced, button mushrooms, lime juice

Left-to-Right: fish sauce, coconut oil, 2 cans coconut milk, coconut sugar (chicken stock in back)

Thai Tom Kha Gai (Thai Coconut Soup)

Serves: 4


  • 1/2 tablespoon organic coconut oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon Thai dried chiles, finely ground or 3 fresh red thai chiles finely chopped) - add more of the fresh if you like the heat but a little goes a long way
  • 1 cup organic low sodium chicken stock
  • 2 cans full fat coconut milk
  • 2 inch piece of Galangal (Thai Ginger, you can use regular ginger but this is more accurate in flavor), skin on and thinly sliced
  • 2 stalks lemon grass, sliced diagonally into 3-4 pieces and slightly bruised/flattened with butt of a knife (just the white part)
  • 8 fresh kaffir lime leaves
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 chicken breasts, very thinly sliced (think about what will fit in your soup spoons)
  • 1.5 cup white button mushrooms, sliced (or a can of straw mushrooms)
  • 2 fresh limes, juice only
  • 1/2 tablespoon coconut sugar (honey will work too, but coconut sugar will taste the most authentic)
  • fresh cilantro and scallions for serving (garnish)


  1. Melt the coconut oil in a soup or stock pot over medium-high heat or in a wok, then add the ground/chopped chiles and stir for 1-2 minutes until you can smell the chiles.
  2. Pour in the coconut milk and bring to boil. Add the chicken stock, galangal, lemon grass, kaffir leaves, fish sauce, and chicken and simmer for 10 minutes until the chicken is cooked through (why you slice them thin).
  3. Add the mushrooms, lime juice, and coconut sugar and simmer for another 5 minutes until the vegetables are tender but not mushy.
  4. Serve into four bowls with fresh cilantro and scallions sprinkled on top as a garnish.


As I've already noted, the roots and herbs used add a lot to this dish - I'm pretty heavy handed in their use - the bad thing is that most are inedible so you have to fish around them in the bowl. Some people do a fine julienne so they can be eaten but I don't believe that's typical in Thailand. I also add more lime than I think most people are used to but I do love lime. I'll sometimes add extra chiles if I want it hotter (for instance, during winter months).

Juice of two limes
You want to have everything ready to go before you start cooking (in French cuisine it's called "mise en place" - to put in place or everything in it's place). This is a fast dish that's mostly assembly instead of something you cook over a length of time - this contributes to the freshness of the soup. You will also want to stand over this dish and not walk away as it's easy to overcook things or allow the coconut milk to boil over.
For the coconut sugar - it comes in a cylinder-shaped cake. Carefully open the tied end under the outer rapper an push some of the sugar out of the bag on your cutting board. Carefully shave off enough for the recipe with your chef knife.

Shaved coconut sugar
You should end up with something that looks similar to this.
 Bowl of Homemade Tom Kha Gai

Let me know if you have any comments or questions.

-- John

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