Tom Kha Gai is a coconut milk based Thai soup that has the delicate infused flavours of galangal, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves. “Tom” means to boil, “Kha” means galangal and “Gai” means chicken.
This soup is my all-time favourite. Whenever I have a dinner party, this is the soup I serve and it never fails to impress. I don’t know why I don’t cook it more often, as it is quick and easy to prepare once all the ingredients are on hand.
Shopping for the ingredients
Galangal is really a necessity for this soup. I have seen some versions of this soup substitute it with ginger but then it isn’t Tom Kha Gai.
Galangal looks similar to ginger but is a pinkish colour. In Australia, Galangal is easily available in Asian Grocery Stores, weekend Food Markets, or most good Fruit and Vegetable Shops.
Kaffir Lime Leaves
These unique doubled leaves are found in the same place as the Galangal.
Freeze the leftover leaves for next time. Use them as you would a bay leaf for adding flavour to rice or Asian soups or curries. They can also be shredded very finely and added to fish cakes or to top a baked fish.
Red Chilli Paste
This paste comes bottled and should have no more than 3 ingredients – chillies, vinegar or oil and salt. It can also be added to meatballs, stews, pasta sauces, marinades, scrambled eggs, Asian salad dressing, etc. It would be a good addition to my Zucchini Salad, Lentil and Mushroom Bolognese Sauce, Egg Muffins or Pumpkin Hummus recipes.
If you can’t find Red Chilli Paste, then grind up one whole chilli, seeds and all, for each teaspoon of paste.
I use the milder long red chillis to ensure I am able to taste all the wonderful subtle flavours in this soup. Others may prefer the smaller and hotter bird’s eye variety.
Use the full fat, not be the lite version, and check that Coconut Extract or Coconut Cream is the only ingredient.
Beware of white lined cans as the lining may have BPA in it. Unfortunately you won’t know this until you open the can, though sometimes it will say, “BPA-free lining”. In Australia, Ayam is a good brand.
This sugar is usually sold in packaged cubes in Asian Grocers or the Supermarket. It has been harder for me to find lately so I now use coconut sugar because I always have it in my pantry.
This is my favourite part of the chicken as it saves so much time not having to cut away the fat from the thighs. They are also more moist than the breast meat. Of course you can use whichever part of the chicken is your favourite.
Bruising or crumpling helps to release more flavour from the food. To bruise, simply press down on the food with the back part of a large knife, or use a meat mallet, but don’t get carried away here :). Crumple the kaffir lime leaves by screwing them up in your hand as if a piece of paper that you are about the throw away.
Take care to only simmer this soup as boiling could separate the coconut milk.
Traditionally this soup is served with all the infusing ingredients left in, however I’ve found the eating experience easier if most are removed before serving. Add a fresh kaffir lime leaf on top to add some colour.