Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tom Ka Gai (Thai coconut soup with chicken)

or Tom Ka Kai, is a soup that is very very popular in Thailand and pretty much anywhere that embraces their cuisine. Most people new to Thai food are first introduced to Pad Thai Noodles (sweet/spicy rice noodles with crushed peanuts on top) and then to this soup. It is the perfect balance of sweet - spicy - savory - and sour.

 I read dozens of recipes of how to make this soup. I read the very traditional ones that use Galanga, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves- these all add flavour to the soup and are pretty, but they are inedible and nearly impossible to find, not to mention expensive. I read the non traditional ones which used easy to find, but strange ingredients like soy sauce, turmeric, lemon juice or vinegar. Ick.

So I began to play around and shoot for something in the middle. We love this recipe! It is far from traditional but anyone would recognize it for what it represents and it is easy to make. So, with that in mind, take it for what it is and then tweak it to make it your own.

2 cans coconut milk
2 cups chicken broth
2 cloves garlic, pealed and slightly smashed but whole
fresh ginger (see below)
One lime and True Lime packets (see below) or 3-4 limes
2 -4 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
4 Tablespoons fish sauce (see below)
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 t. Cayenne pepper or finish with Thai sweet chili sauce or sriracha
Chopped cooked chicken
rice or noodles

In a large pot combine together the cans of coconut milk and the chicken broth. Start to heat gently taking it to just a simmer. Add in the garlic, I leave the pieces whole and fish them out before serving. The ginger - fresh ginger root keeps in your freezer for months. Buy a nice big root and peel it. Chop off a good sized chunk and then ziplock and store the rest in the freezer. I retrieve mine from the freezer and chop off a chunk, I add about 1 Tablespoon of it finely grated and then throw in the chunk of what ever is left. I fish this out and throw away before serving. Next is the lime and the packets:
These are completely optional, but I always keep them in my cupboard to add extra lime flavor to fajittas, margarita chicken, my water, etc. I buy one lime and cut it in half, half is squeezed into the broth and then the piece is thrown in to be removed later. The other half is cut into slices and used to garnish the bowl at the end. For the additional lime flavor I also add two or three of these packets to the soup. You could intead just buy two or so extra limes and squeeze the juice and float the rind in it.

Chop up about 1/2 a bunch of cilantro. I add 2 or more tablespoons to the soup while it cooks and I save the rest to top the bowls just before serving.

Add 4 Tablespoons of fish sauce.

Yes, it smells awful to most people other than myself. Yes, you really do need it. It will keep in the fridge for ages (not like it can really go bad) and is a flavor that you just can't substitute. I know, you are thinking you already own soy sauce. Don't do it. Get some fish sauce, trust me.

Fish sauce is almost always used in conjunction with sugar. If you have a problem with sugar or just don't like your food too sweet - this is where you start tasting as you go. Try your soup now and see what you think. Sometimes just the coconut milk can be sweet enough for some people. Add one tablespoon of sugar and let it dissolve, see if you can tell the amazing difference that it adds. If you are brave enough, add another tablespoon. Here is a good place to stop if you are satisfied with the sweetness, we like ours a little more on the sweet side so I will usually add a third tablespoon unless I plan to top of the soup with Thai sweet chili sauce. If you are using that for your heat, then stop after 2 T. of sugar.

The heat is an important element to Thai food and the balance. However, some people have small kids and like to adjust this accordingly. I use 1/4 t. cayanne pepper while the soup is cooking, and that works for my 9 year old as well as my hubby. I will add a bit of hot to mine after dishing it up into the bowl. You can use Thai hot sauce or sriracha to add heat after it is served if desired.

Finally is the chicken, or shrimp, or mushrooms or ..... I like to cook chicken separately and add at the end to just warm it up. I also like to add cooked shrimp at the end. You can cook the chicken in the broth if you are willing to keep it at a low simmer for longer and check extremely well to make sure it is cooked all the way through. 

Serving: In a deep bowl place cooked rice or noodles and spoon the soup over the top. Garnish with fresh cilantro, a squeeze of lime juice and a little hot sauce if desired. Enjoy!!

No comments:

Post a Comment