Thai Chicken Galangal Soup (Tom Kha Gai)

Tom Kha Gai (Thai Chicken Galangal Soup) by

As much as spices are an integral part of Southeast Asian cuisine, there is one ingredient - so abundant, so hairy on the outside, yet so sweet – that falls into curries and soups as much as it falls onto heads.  A unifying ingredient that can tame and enrich any dish - the creamy, smooth, white milk of the coconut. 

In Thailand, coconut milk is splashed or poured into a variety of dishes, the latter in the case of Tom Kha GaiTom means soup, Kha means galangal, and Gai means chicken, so Tom Kha Gai means Chicken Galangal Soup.  Why no mention of coconut milk?  I guess the look of the dish speaks for itself:

Tom Kha Gai (Thai Chicken Galangal Soup) by

Tom Kha Gai is a Thai-style (and Lao-style) chicken soup cooked in coconut milk, which has been infused with the aromatic herbs of Southeast Asia, mainly galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves.  The pale-white color of the broth may give the appearance of blandness, but the rich coconut milk complements the flavors of these common Southeast Asian spices, and takes the spicy edge off galangal, and another important spice – Thai Bird’s Eye Chili

It’s an example of a formula found throughout the region.  Create an original dish, then create a second by adding in coconut milk.  From Tom Yam Gai to Tom Kha Gai in Thailand, or from Asam Laksa to Siam Laksa (Nyonya Laksa) in Malaysia, coconut milk can transform a dish into something entirely new.

what are the ingredients for tom kha gai - spices & herbs of galangal, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, cilantro, birds eye chili pepper

Tom Kha Gai is usually served with bone-in chicken pieces to produce a more flavorful broth.  But for a cleaner presentation, you can first prepare the broth by simmering the bone-in chicken pieces, then remove the chicken from the pot, shred the meat into bite-sized pieces, and add them back in.  An even quicker way is to use a good quality concentrated chicken stock, preferably low sodium.  On my especially lazy days, I skip preparing the broth all together, and just go heavy on the spices, before throwing in shredded pieces of boneless chicken breast.  A much quicker version for a weekday dinner.  

Have the Thai soup with a bowl of steamed rice, or if you are looking for a stand-alone dish, you can add in rice noodles and more vegetables.  What kind of vegetables?  That’s my next recipe - Tom Kha (Thai Vegetable Galangal Soup).

Tom Kha Gai (Thai Chicken Galangal Soup) by

Tom Kha Gai - Thai Chicken Galangal Soup by Season with Spice 
Serves 3-4

1/2 chicken – cut into parts
4 cups water
2 inches of greater galangal – peeled and cut into thin discs
2 stalks lemongrass – outer layer removed, ends trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
2 cloves garlic – crushed
1 1/2 cup coconut milk
A handful of baby corn - halved lengthwise
1 cup of oyster, straw, or button mushrooms - halved
2 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)
1 tsp raw sugar or brown sugar (optional)
4 fresh kaffir lime leaves, torn and bruised lightly or Dried Kaffir Lime Leaves
2-3 bird’s eye chilies, or 1 fresh serrano red chili - halved lengthwise
2 tbsp lime juice
Sliced red chili peppers and cilantro for garnish

1. In a pot, add in the water and chicken. Bring to a boil, then turn fire to low and cover. Simmer for 45 minutes or until chicken broth is ready.
2. Take out the chicken pieces from the soup, remove the bones, and add the meat back in. Also add in lemongrass, galangal and garlic with half a cup of the coconut milk. Bring to a boil again, then turn fire to low and simmer for another 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.
3. Add in mushrooms, baby corn, fish sauce and sugar. Bring to a boil again, then turn fire to low. Add in the chilies, kaffir lime leaves, and rest of the coconut milk. Simmer on low fire for another 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.
4. Squeeze in lime juice, taste, and adjust seasonings (fish sauce, sugar, lime juice). Serve soup into individual bowls and add garnishing.

1. For a shortcut, you can skip Step 1 and use a good quality concentrated chicken stock instead. Or skip the chicken stock altogether and use water instead, but add in more lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves. For either shortcut option, just add in the boneless chicken pieces to the soup in Step 2
2. Young and tender galangal is preferred as the taste is sweeter, and edible in the soup. But if you can only get matured galangal, just chop it roughly (since it is too dense to slice thinly).
3. For a creamier version of Tom Kha Gai, just add in more coconut milk or cut down on the water.