Monday, February 11, 2008

Tom Kha Gai: Aromatic Hot and Sour Soup with Coconut Milk

I think the hardest thing about making Thai food at home may be finding the ingredients. You can find some things at your local grocery store. It’s a whole lot easier if you have a local Thai/Viet market, but even then, things may still be unavailable (like the time kaffir lime leaves were unavailable for months here in Portland).

When I visit my local Thai market, I like to purchase extra quantities of herbs and store them for future use. Here are some examples:
  • Galangal looks kinda like ginger. Its fibers are denser, making it harder to grate. It’s usually found refrigerated in a large tub of water. Once I get home with it, I will slice it into semi-thick slices, wrap them in plastic wrap in usable portions, and then throw them into a Ziploc bag in the freezer. They keep almost forever that way.
  • Lemon grass can usually be found in any well-stocked supermarket, making it easy enough to pick up any time I need it. However, if there is a particularly fresh looking batch, I’ll purchase a lot. They freeze beautifully. I recommend trimming before freezing.
  • Kaffir lime leaves (aka makrut) also freeze beautifully. I bought my own tree, but it’s not mature enough to give many leaves. Luckily mom brought down a gallon-sized Ziploc bag this last summer. I just threw them all in my freezer.
  • Chilies also freeze well. I just throw them in the freezer whole and grab as many as I need.
  • Coriander roots are hard to find, even at my local Asian markets. I grew some last year just to harvest the roots, but that wasn’t enough for more than 2 or 3 dishes. When I find it at the Thai store, I will buy every last bunch. Amazingly they can be frozen! Cut them with about 2 inches of stem attached and clean them well. Dry them well before freezing, otherwise they will get freezer burn. I also like to press them into that special blue freezer wrap by GLAD to keep out extra air. A proper food sealer would be even better (Hubby, this is a hint to you, if you are reading).
One of the best and easiest examples of cooking with Thai herbs is hot and sour soup with coconut milk. It’s aromatic, spicy, and sour with just a hint of sweetness. Wonderful for these cold winter days here in Portland. Even though this soup is a cinch to make, I like to start it after lunch and let it simmer for about an hour. Then I’ll let it sit until dinnertime to allow the flavors to meld. I don’t add the chicken until I’m ready to serve.

Tom Kha Gai
Feeds 4
  • 1 x 14 oz can regular or lite coconut milk
  • 2 stalks lemon grass, whites only, slightly crushed
  • 2 inch x 2-inch piece of galangal, cut into thick slices
  • 4 or 5 Asian shallots, peeled and cut in half (or 1 large French shallot in wedges)
  • 10 kaffir lime leaves, crushed between your fingers to release aroma
  • Thai chilies to taste, cut lengthwise
  • 3 ½ cups chicken stock (or two 14 oz canned broth, low sodium recommended)
  • 2-3 tbs fish sauce, more taste
  • 1 to 2 tbs brown sugar, to taste
  • 3 to 4 tbs fresh lime juice, more to taste
  • oyster mushrooms, shredded (about ½ cup to 1 cup)
  • 2 roma tomatoes, seeded and cut into thin wedges (optional)
  • meat from 3 or 4 chicken thighs (or two breasts), sliced
  • cilantro for garnishing
Put the coconut milk, lemon grass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and shallots in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Allow to boil for about 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth, fish sauce, brown sugar and lime juice. Once it comes to a boil again, turn down the heat to low and allow it to simmer uncovered for at least 30 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes, or until the soup comes back up to a simmer. Adjust the seasonings by adding more lime juice, fish sauce or sugar to suit your taste. Lastly, add the chicken and tomatoes, give the soup a quick stir, and allow to simmer for a final 10 minutes. I really insist that you do not stir the soup during this time, otherwise, the meat will harden. Just let it poach undisturbed. Once the chicken is cooked through, you’re done! Allow it to cool a little before serving. I find it’s hard to enjoy the flavors when the soup is so hot, it burns my tongue. Serve garnished with cilantro leaves. If I serve this as a main meal, I usually put out steamed rice or sticky rice to make it heartier.


Manggy said...

That's a pretty full freezer! Chilis also do great dried of course :)
I will have mine with shrimp please ;)

dp said...

Manggy, I like mine with shrimp as well, but Sonny won't eat shrimp (yet).

I have a particular affinity for cryo-storage :-) Actually, here in Portland it is just harder to find stuff than it was when we lived in SF. So I stock up when I can. And I hate to throw stuff away.

tigerfish said...

You know. It might be easier to find Thai ingredients in US than in Taiwan! Unless there is a specialty store nearby. I could not even find lemongrass easily in Taiwan. When I was in California, I can easily find them in Asian supermarkets.

dp said...

tigerfish, that's surprising! Well, when you find it, you can buy a whole bunch and keep them in your freezer.

When I lived in SF, there was s green grocer a couple blocks from my apartment. It was a vietnamese couple, and I could pick up all kinds of good stuff there. And their stuff was mostly local, from the Vietnamese farmers. I really miss that place!

Thip said...

Hi dp,
I bought my own makrut too. It has no leaves right now--due to winter.
I love cooking Thai food at home too. Your tom-kha-gai looks yummy. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey just Stumbled accross you on iFoods and love the photos? Do you work for a cook book or something? Problem is I am sitting here in the office and now I am starving

dp said...

Thip: thanks for stopping by. My tree also has no leaves at the moment. I didn't bring it inside, but I did put a Wall-o-water around it. Hopefully it will spring back to life when the weather warms up. If I didn't kill it, it'll still take a couple of years to give enough leaves to use on a regular basis.

anonymous: That's a great compliment. I wouldn't cut it being a professional. This blog is pure hobby. I'm just happy if I get one or two pictures that look appetizing enough to eat! LOL

Mandy said...

the freezability of these herbs are really good news to me. I don't go to the Asian grocery often,now I know I can buy more and freeze them for later use.