Tom Kha Gai – Thai Chicken Coconut Soup is one of the most popular Thai dishes. Galangal root, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves are infused in a coconut milk broth, with chicken, mushrooms and hot chilies. The aromatic soup makes a delicious main course served alongside steamed rice.
It took me almost 3 months of being in Thailand before I finally took a cooking class. I’ve cooked food with Thai flavors many times since falling in love with the cuisine on our first stay in the country 4 years ago.
It’s something totally different though, being taught about all the essential local ingredients and how to make the popular dishes I’ve learnt to love in an authentic way.
One of my favorites is Tom Kha Gai – an aromatic chicken soup with coconut milk. I’ll be honest and admit that it wasn’t love at first sight. When I had the choice of ordering either a rich, creamy curry or a thin, slightly anemic looking soup – somehow curry (or stir fries) always won.
Then I learnt that when Thais eat Tom Kha Gai as a main meal it’s always with steamed rice. Somehow I needed that knowledge to finally have my first bowl of this Coconut Chicken Soup. And I haven’t looked back since. That amazing balance of sour, savory, salty tastes and a little natural sweetness from the coconut milk can be truly addicting.
Although we go out to eat a lot, we tend to stay close to home so we can bring Olivia to bed soon after supper. Unfortunately, none of our regular close-by eateries have Tom Kha Gai. This was just one of the reasons I chose Tom Kha Gai from the choices of Thai soups to learn in the cooking class. Now I can make it at home anytime I want.
Aside from chicken and coconut milk, the essential ingredients of Tom Kha Gai include lemongrass, galangal root and kaffir lime leaves, which are infused in the coconut milk broth.
These are regular soup staples here and really easy to get a hold of for me in Thailand. The markets and even the small corner store sell them usually in a set with fresh chili peppers.
I was a little hesitant writing about Tom Kha Gai, because those ingredients aren’t common in North America. You would most likely have to go to an Asian grocery store to get your hands on lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves.
And then I saw that you can buy the exact same ingredients set that I get here in Thailand, also on Amazon!! It sounds a little strange buying fresh produce from Amazon, but this galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves set has very high ratings and the comments point out the freshness of the ingredients they receive.
Yay! Thai ingredients for all!
One more note about the galangal, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves. Those aren’t really eaten (maybe the galangal) but only there to infuse the broth with their aroma. However, usually they are still served. If you don’t want to eat ‘around’ inedible things in your bowl, they are also fairly easy to remove before serving.
If you are familiar with Tom Kha Gai, you may be surprised at the use of onions and tomatoes in my recipe. Most other recipes I read online don’t include these two, but that’s how I learnt it in the cooking class and every bowl I’ve ever ordered at local restaurant came with onions and tomato. Maybe it’s a Chiang Mai specific version?
They are not joking with tomatoes and onions here, either. There are huge chunks of both floating in the soup. You can definitely adjust to your taste and cut them smaller, or leave out the tomatoes and onions all together. Mushrooms are also optional.
The recipe as written makes 2 main course servings together with steamed rice, or 3 soup course servings.
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 6 thin slices galangal root
- 4 kaffir lime leaves, stem removed
- 2 sticks lemongrass, crushed and halved
- 7 ounces (200g) chicken, thinly sliced bite-sized pieces (I use thigh meat)
- ½ cup (40g) oyster mushroom, torn
- ½ onion, quartered or sliced (optional)
- 1 tomato, cut into big chunks (optional)
- 4-6 fresh hot chilies, crushed
- 2-3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 sprigs cilantro, chopped
- 2 sprigs spring onion, chopped
- 1-2 limes, juice
- In a stock pot bring the chicken broth and coconut milk to a boil on medium heat. Add the galangal slices, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass sticks and simmer for at least 5 minutes to infuse the broth.
- On low heat (less than a simmer) add the chicken pieces, mushroom and onion and poach for a few minutes. Add the tomato chunks and keep poaching until the chicken is done (test a piece by cutting it in half).
- Stir in the chilies and fish sauce and take off heat. Stir in cilantro, spring onion and lime juice. Start with 1 lime, add more to taste. Add more fish sauce, if you want a saltier/more savory flavor.
- Serve Tom Kha Gai with steamed rice as a main course or by itself as a soup course.
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