Along with tom yum goong, tom kha gai (ต้มข่าไก่) is one of the most famous Thai dishes.
In Thailand, tom kha gai (ต้มข่าไก่) is eaten more like a curry instead of a soup, paired with a plate of rice and spooned onto your rice before eating it.
In this blog post I’m going to share with you a step by step tom kha gai recipe, the way you will find it in Thailand.
The ingredients for this tom kha gai recipe (ต้มข่าไก่) are quite simple, but it’s the method of preparation, especially for the coconut milk that is the important part.
The ingredients you’ll need are widely available at any local market throughout Thailand, but I also noticed that you can get all the ingredients are Asian supermarkets throughout the US and Europe, and even some of the ingredients like coconut milk and kaffir limes leaves are available online.
If you love coconut milk, you’ll love tom kha gai (ต้มข่าไก่).
Galangal (kha ข่า) is one of the most important ingredients in any tom kha gai recipe (ต้มข่าไก่). The kha in the name of the dish in Thai, actually means galangal – so it’s very important, and there’s really no substitute for the galangal.
It has an earthy spice flavor, and many people compare the taste to ginger, however it’s actually quite different in taste and feel. Galangal is included in many Thai curries and soups, and when used in small quantities, it provides a subtle kick of flavor.
When you cook with galangal, you don’t normally eat the actual pieces of galangal, but instead it’s boiled in the soup to releases its wonderful essence of flavor, and then you either throw it away before eating, or leave it on the bottom of the bowl of soup.
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Coconut milk (น้ำกะทิ)
The base of any tom kha gai (ต้มข่าไก่) is coconut milk (น้ำกะทิ kati), and you couldn’t make this amazing Thai soup without it.
Since I made this recipe in Thailand, I was able to use freshly squeezed coconut milk. If you have an opportunity to use fresh coconut milk, the flavor will be by far the best.
However, if you can only get cans or boxes of coconut milk, this recipe will still work well. My preferred coconut milk is Aroy-d in the box, not the can. I’ve found it to have the best flavor and be the most similar to fresh coconut milk.
Another key ingredient for making this tom kha gai recipe are kaffir lime leaves (bai makrut ใบมะกรูด).
Similar to galangal, you don’t actually eat the kaffir lime leaves, but you boil them in the soup and they release their wonderful citrusy zest of flavor.
Like nearly all Thai soups and curries, this dish contains Thai red bird chilies. You can really use as many as you like for this recipe, but I would suggest about 5 – 10, or however many you like.
Tom kha gai (ต้มข่าไก่) is not like southern Thai gaeng som, which is supposed to be extremely spicy. Instead it’s typically a very mild dish in Thailand.
Tom kha gai (ต้มข่าไก่) is almost always made with chicken, sometimes bone in or boneless (I’m going to be using boneless chicken for this recipe), and often mushrooms are another main component.
I like to use oyster mushrooms (hed fang เห็ดฟาง) because they are nice and meaty and soak up so much of the delicious flavor from the coconut milk, but you can use whatever mushrooms you can get you hands on.
Finally, to give your tom kha gai (ต้มข่าไก่) a sour component, lime juice (manao มะนาว) is the beautiful final fresh touch to this recipe.
Little Thai limes or key limes are typical for this tom kha gai.
Stirring coconut milk
One thing I’ve learned while living in Thailand and cooking Thai food is that coconut milk is a very delicate ingredient (especially fresh coconut milk).
Whenever you make a recipe that makes use of coconut milk, you need to stir it gently, and keep stirring it in the same directional flow (I’ve explained why better in the video).
If you stir coconut milk too fast and rough it will sort of start to clump or curdle, similar to the way cream or milk does when you boil it. So just remember to treat your coconut milk gently and stir it slowly and steadily without boiling it too hard.
Here’s the video recipe:
(If you can’t see the video, watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmfstZEB0F8)
Thai tom kha gai recipe (วิธีทำ ต้มข่าไก่)
Time: About 30 minutes all together
Recipe size: Serves 3 – 4 people, about 2 big sized bowls full
Cooking utensils: medium sized saucepan
Flavors: Creamy and rich
Eat it with: A plate of rice and a few other Thai dishes as well
- 400 grams (I used 2 chicken breasts)
- 6 cups coconut milk (If you use a can or box of coconut milk, you might want to add some water to make it less thick)
- 1 thumb chunk of galangal
- 3 stalks of lemongrass
- 1 big white onion (or 2 small white onions)
- 2 tomatoes
- 6 kaffir lime leaves
- 200 grams of oyster mushrooms (I used 2 big handfuls)
- 5 - 10 Thai chilies
- ½ teaspoon salt (to taste)
- 4 tablespoons of lime juice
- small bunch of cilantro
- First take a thumb sized chunk of galangal, cut off the stems, and cut the root part into thin slices. It can be a little tough, so you might have to hit the top of your knife with your palm.
- Next grab your lemongrass, slice off the bottoms, pull off the outer skin layer, and then slice it diagonally into about 1 inch strips. This is just going to help release its amazing fragrance.
- Turn on your stove to medium heat, and add about 3 cups (or ½) of the coconut milk to a medium sized saucepan. Put the pot on the heat and immediately toss in the sliced galangal and lemongrass.
- As your coconut milk begins to heat, move back over to your cutting board and slice up the chicken. I used 2 chicken breasts for this recipe. Slice the chicken into medium sized chunks - they can be kind of big in size.
- Just before the coconut milk comes to a boil, add the chicken, and then add the other remaining 3 cups of coconut milk. Now, turn down the heat to a medium low, as you don’t want the coconut milk to heat too fast or burn.
- Prepare your Thai chilies by peeling off the stems and then just slice them diagonally. Go ahead and add them directly to the soup.
- Give the soup a quick stir, and then add about 200 grams of oyster mushrooms (it was about 2 handfuls for me).
- Your coconut milk should not boil, but just maintain a nice low heat. Because coconut milk is so delicate, when you stir, be sure to move your spoon in 1 direction only, otherwise you run the risk of the coconut milk getting too shaken and it will start to curdle. Be gentle with the coconut milk.
- Move back over to your cutting board and peel and slice 2 small white onions into thick wedges (if your onion is really big, just use 1). Immediately toss the onions into the soup.
- Next, cut your tomatoes in the same way as your onions, into thick wedges. Wait until your tom kha gai (ต้มข่าไก่) is just about to boil, and then add the tomatoes.
- Take the kaffir lime leaves, break them with your hand, and toss them directly into the soup. Breaking the kaffir lime leaves is going to release their flavor.
- Now add about ½ teaspoon of salt to begin with (taste to add more)
- Mix your tom kha gai slowly and gently, for about 5 - 10 minutes, making sure it doesn’t come to a full boil - and if it does - turn down the heat to even lower. You want the chicken, onions, tomatoes, and other ingredients to be fully cooked, but you don’t want to overcook the coconut milk.
- After about 5 - 10 minutes of cooking, go ahead and turn off the heat completely.
- Go back to your cutting board, slice up a handful of fresh cilantro, and add it to the soup. Give it a quick stir, and the cilantro will cook enough from the already hot soup.
- The final step is to juice a couple of limes into a separate bowl and then add about 4 tablespoons of lime juice to the tom kha gai (ต้มข่าไก่). Again, just give it a quick and gentle stir, and it’s ready to be served.
- Make sure you do some taste-testing to make sure it’s salty and sour enough. You may need to add a little extra salt or lime juice to get the flavor you want.
Tom kha gai is such a simple yet marvelous tasting Thai dish, and it’s sure to be a favorite when you make this recipe and serve it to friends and family.
Dish yourself out a plate of freshly steamed rice, and then take spoons of tom kha gai, combine it to your rice, and enjoy.