“A soothing that calms the soul”, is how my friend described what Tom Kha Gai is like, as he reminisced about his childhood memories and so graciously shared his mother’s recipe with me.
Tom Kha Gai is a soup made of chicken (Gai) cooked (Tom) in coconut milk which has been infused with galangal (Kha), lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves.This dish is simple and easy to prepare and most of the ingredients can be easily found at your local Asian specialty market. They usually sell them in quantities greater than what you will need, but know that these ingredients freeze really well and can be readily available for the next time you want to make soup or a curry. If you cannot find galangal at a store near you, you can use ginger as a substitute. Unfortunately, there is no substitute for the kaffir lime leaves.
Galangal (kha ข่า) is one of the most important ingredients in any tom kha gai recipe (ต้มข่าไก่).
It has an earthy spice flavor, and many people compare the taste to ginger. Galangal is included in many Thai curries and soups, and when used in small quantities, it provides a subtle kick of flavor. You don’t normally eat the actual pieces of galangal, but instead it’s boiled in the soup and releases its wonderful essence.
One 1-inch piece of galangal, peeled and cut into paper thin, coin sized pieces
10 kaffir lime leaves or 1 Tablespoon lime zest and ¼ cup lime juice
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1½ pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
8 ounces oyster mushrooms, stemmed, caps cut into bite-size pieces
5-6 Thai red chilies (more or less, depending on your heat preference)
One 13.5-ounce can coconut milk
1 Tablespoon lime juice
2 Tablespoons fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
1 teaspoon palm sugar
2 stalks fresh lemongrass, tough outer layers removed
Cilantro leaves with tender stems, lime wedges, steamed jasmine rice, for serving
Chili oil, for serving (optional)
Using the back of a knife, lightly smash lemongrass; cut lemongrass into 4” pieces. Bring lemongrass, galamgal, lime leaves, and chicken broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer until flavors are melded, 8–10 minutes. Strain broth into clean saucepan; discard solids.
Add chicken to the strained broth and return to a boil. Reduce heat, add mushrooms, and simmer, skimming occasionally, until chicken is cooked through and mushrooms are soft, 20–25 minutes. Once the chicken is cooked through, throw in the smashed chilies and remove the pot from heat immediately. Mix in the coconut milk, lime juice, fish sauce and sugar. Stir in the cilantro leaves and taste. Add more lime juice and fish sauce, if necessary.
Divide soup among bowls. Serve with lime wedges and teamed jasmine rice as an entree.
One pound of deviened and shelled shrimp can be substituted for the the chicken.
You can also use white button, cremini, and oyster mushrooms. Any meaty, mild-flavored mushrooms will do. Portobello mushrooms are fine flavor- and texture-wise, but even with the gills carefully scraped off they still turn the broth into an unappetizing shade of gray. Do not use shiitake; the flavor is way too strong for this. Also, DO NOT use any kind of dried mushrooms because they will change the flavor profile of this dish quite drastically, and not in a good way.