Monday, September 19, 2016

Tom Kha

No, the CC hasn't lost his marbles. He knows that the soup is uniformly referred to as tom kha gai in the US except that the soup is not a soup and the "gai" (chicken) is basically optional.

It's really a family of stews at the heart of it.

For starters, there is neither the concept of "soup" nor that of "courses" in Thai cooking. A rich dish such as this would be served with rice and it would be a blowout meal (because of its richness.)

The tom roughly suggests a soup or a stew and the kha refers to galangal. Substitutions are pointless since galangal is the main feature.

Secondly, it's really a meta-dish in the sense that the basic stew is prepared first and then other stuff added. You can have tom kha tao-hoo (with tofu) , tom kha hoi (with shellfish), tom kha talay (with mixed seafood), etc.

The dish is all about the aroma, and you have an insanely umami-laden broth with a mildly sweet, savory, sour broth and a solid kick on the back-end.

The CC will provide a recipe with a mild variant that he once had — it had a slight amount of pandanus (screwpine).

Superb in every way.


3 cups coconut milk
3 cups chicken broth (substitute with water)
1 stalk lemongrass (sliced on a bias)
10 pieces of sliced galangal
2 chillies
1 piece pandanus
2 cilantro roots
3 kaffir lime leaves
1 tbsp palm sugar

fish sauce

12 pieces chicken (sliced against the bias into thin slices)
1 cup straw mushrooms
2 shallots (sliced lengthwise)
1-2 lime(s)
1/3 cup cilantro leaves

Note: The chicken is cut into very small pieces. It's poached in the broth. This preserves its tenderness because it's barely cooked through.


Smash the lemongrass, galangal, and cilantro roots gently in a mortar and pestle. Add them to the coconut milk, broth, chillies, pandanus, palm sugar, and kaffir lime leaves. Bring to a boil. Simmer very gently at a low heat for 12-15 minutes.

Add fish sauce to taste (this provides the salt.)

Taste it. It should be intense, faintly sweet and fragrant. It will become tart once you add the lime later.

(Technically, you can strain it at this point but that's not the Thai way.)

You can stop the process here if you like. (Remember it's all about the smell and it dissipates so don't wait too long.)

When ready to serve with jasmine rice, bring once again to a boil. Turn off the heat. Add the chicken, mushrooms, shallots, and lime. Let it sit for 3-4 minutes.

Serve with the cilantro leaves on top.

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