Tom Kha Gai

Student teaching has ended and I am on my way to being a gainfully employed teacher. I miss my students very much but the last quarter of school means more free time and I am not complaining. Let the cooking commence!

I had a hankering for this classic Thai dish for a while and seemed perfect on a rainy spring afternoon. I order it often at restaurants but had never made it at home. Turns out its super easy and my recipe came pretty dang close to restaurant good. Best part was it took 20 minutes!

I adapted the recipe from this fabulous version.

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Tom Kha Gai: Chicken Coconut Milk Soup with Lemongrass 

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups (24 fluid ounces) chicken stock (In a squeeze bouillion is okay..)
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces across the grain
  • 3-4 heads of baby bok choy
  • ½ lb (8ounces) fresh or canned straw mushrooms (drained) (crimini or oyster mushrooms work too!)
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 5-6 fresh bird’s eye chilies (more or less depending on your heat preference) (I used 1 thai chili for this recipe)
  • 2-inch piece of fresh galangal, sliced thinly crosswise (Fresh ginger works too!)
  • 4-5 fresh kaffir lime leaves (Use lime zest as a substitute)
  • 4-5 limes
  • ¼ cup fish sauce (but have more ready)
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1½ cups (12 fluid ounces) full-fat coconut milk
  • Nam Prik Pao (Thai chili jam) (Optional! I used Vietnamese chili paste instead)
  • ½ cup thai basil leaves, chopped
  • 2-3 cups of cooked jasmine rice

Instructions:

  1. If making rice, start cooking it in a pot or rice cooker.
  2. Put the chicken stock in a wide and shallow saucepan (to ensure fast evaporation), bring it to a boil, and reduce it over medium-high heat.
  3. Halve (or quarter) the mushrooms into bite-sized pieces; set aside.
  4. Cut the lemongrass stalk into 1-inch pieces and smash them with the side of a large Chinese cleaver, a pestle, or any heavy object lying around in the house; set aside.
  5. Do to the chilies what you just did to the lemongrass; set aside.
  6. Remove the stems and the tough veins that run through the middle from the kaffir lime leaves, and tear them up into small pieces. You can also bruise them a little. Set aside.
  7. If using lime juice, instead of kaffir lime leaves, zest now and set aside. Juice 2 limes; set aside. (You may need more; you may not. It’s better to have more than you need than not enough.)
  8. Put the coconut milk into a 4-quart pot, followed by concentrated chicken stock, kaffir lime leaves (or lime zest), lemongrass pieces, and galangal (or ginger) slices.
  9. Bring the mixture slowly to slightly below a simmer, allowing the herbs to infuse the liquid for about a minute.
  10. Keeping the temperature steady, add the mushrooms and the chicken to the liquid; adjust the heat to maintain the temperature. The liquid should never at any point come to a rapid boil. Don’t worry; at 160°-180°F, your chicken will be thoroughly cooked.
  11. Stir gently to ensure that the chicken is evenly cooked. (If you want more liquid, add more plain water or unconcentrated broth.
  12. Once the chicken is cooked through, throw in the smashed chilies and remove the pot from heat immediately.
  13. Add the chopped bok choy
  14. Add the juice of 2 limes and the fish sauce to the pot, stir, and taste. Add more lime juice and fish sauce, if necessary. The soup should be predominantly sour, followed by salty. The sweetness comes from natural sugar in the coconut milk.
  15. Stir in some of the cilantro leaves and serve your tom kha gai with steamed jasmine rice as an entree.
  16. Offer basil, cilantro, lime wedges and Nam Prik Pao (or chili sauce) as a garnish.
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