Tom Kha Gai

tom kha gaiLiterally “soup of galangal and chicken” this Thai favorite, served simply ladled over jasmine rice, is meal in a bowl. Like most Thai dishes it strikes a balance of sweet and sour, savory and bitter. It can be made quite spicy but need not be to taste delicious. A few words about ingredients that may be unfamiliar: galangal is rhizome similar to ginger. Most Asian markets carry it but if you can not find fresh galangal, use powdered or, as a last resort, ginger. Lemon grass is a tall perennial grass native to Asia. Again, most Asian markets carry it fresh. Lemon rind is an alternative. As I discussed in a recent post, coconut milk is not the liquid inside a coconut but is extracted from grated coconut meat, either fresh or desiccated. You can find canned coconut milk in most supermarkets but I strongly recommend making your own so that you have both thick and thin milks. Finally, straw mushrooms are traditionally used in tom kha gai—they are available canned—but ordinary white mushrooms taste fine even if they do not look quite as good. Incidentally, you could make this into tom kha pla but substituting white fish for the chicken or tom kha goong with shrimp. I even found online what is said to be the Thai prime minister’s recipe for tom kha salmon.


  • 2 stalks fresh lemon grass
  • 1½ cups chicken stock
  • 1½ cups thin coconut milk
  • 1-inch piece of fresh galangal, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
  • 2 green chilies, whole, optional
  • 1 large chicken breast, 8 to 12 ounces, cut into smallish bite-sized cubes
  • 4 medium mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. Thai fish sauce
  • Chopped fresh red chilies to taste
  • 1 scallion, white and tender green parts, sliced thinly at an angle
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 Tbsp. shredded kaffir lime leaves, optional


Trim off the ends of the lemon grass stalks and cut off 2-inch pieces from the bottom and chop finely. Cut the remaining lengths of stalks into 2-inch pieces and bruise with the side of a large knife. Combine the chicken stock and thin coconut milk in a suitable saucepan and add the lemon grass, galangal, pepper corns, and whole chilies. Bring to a boil then simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain into a bowl, wipe out the saucepan, then return the broth to it.

Simmer the chicken and mushrooms in the broth, stirring occasionally until the chicken is cooked through, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in the thick coconut milk and return to a simmer. Remove from the heat then mix in the lemon juice and fish sauce. Garnish with the chopped red chilies, scallion, cilantro, and kaffir lime leave. Serve immediately ladled over hot jasmine rice

To make coconut milk

Put 1 cup of unsweetened desiccated coconut into the jar of a blender (a food processor does not work as well) and pour in 1¼ cups boiling water. Allow to stand for a few minutes then blend on high speed for about 30 seconds. Pour into a strainer over a bowl. Squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the coconut. This is called thick coconut milk. Return the coconut to the blender and repeat the process with another 1¼ cup of boiling water. Strain into a second bowl. This is the thin coconut milk. If a recipe does not specify which to use I simply mix them together. To get coconut cream, let the thick milk sit until it separates. The cream is what forms on top.

Whatever you do not use right away will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. Warm a bit in the microwave to recombine before using.


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