Tom Kha Gai (“ต้มข่าไก่”) is a Thai dish with wonderful flavour complexity that is surprisingly easy to prepare. Tom (ต้ม) means “cooked”, Kha (ข่า) means “galangal” and Gai (ไก่) means “chicken”. We show here how to cook this most popular form of the dish, but the chicken can of course be omitted or replaced with vegetable products of your choice.
We know of few dishes for which so many different ways of preparation exist. Today we are showing a rather purist version, in which we place particular emphasis on controlling the flavours. Both cookbooks and the internet are full of recipes in which spicy ingredients such as chillies and lemongrass are left in the finished dish, even though they are not meant to be eaten. This may look pretty and make for fancy photos, but it makes little sense to us.
Tomatoes and/or curry pastes are sometimes added as well, but we don’t want either in our Tom Kha. Less is more here, we think.
Please note that this dish can be eaten as a soup or with some rice, both being common. Of course, if you choose to add rice, your portions will be much more substantial.
First we prepare our aromatics:
The galangal does not need to be peeled and is cut into rough slices. Tap the lemongrass a few times with the back of a knife to release the aromas, then cut the stalk into a few pieces. Roughly chop the onion (or shallot). If you only want a slight spiciness, use no more than one chilli. However, our recipe also gives you control over the degree of spiciness with more chillies.
We recommend tearing the kaffir lime leaves in half and removing the stem. You will already be able to smell how much more aroma they give that way.
Now for the cooking:
We now add all our prepared aromatics to the liquid.
We now let this mixture simmer gently over medium-high heat for at least 10 minutes. We deliberately do this without a lid so that some of the liquid evaporates and the flavours intensify through the reduction. Test the taste – if you want more intensity, just give the process a little more time. In our case, it took a good 15 minutes until the aroma of all the seasonings in the liquid was perfect to our taste.
Now add the coconut milk and bring the whole thing to a gentle simmer again.
Again, we give this mixture at least 10 minutes to allow the flavours to blend. Taste again and again until you have found the right seasoning. If the spiciness is sufficient for you, simply remove the chillies.
During this time, you can wash the chicken thoroughly and cut it into bite-sized pieces of your liking along with your mushrooms.
Now for the control: As soon as our coconut milk broth has reached the desired taste, we remove all aromatics. You can do this with a spoon or simply pour the broth through a fine sieve.
For us, this is a very important step. Firstly, the taste will no longer change in an undesirable direction and secondly, we want to enjoy our finished dish later without having to sort out leaves, chillies and lemongrass or accidentally biting into them.
Then we first add the mushrooms to the broth and let them simmer gently in it for 5 minutes.
After these 5 minutes, we also add the meat and let it cook for another 6 minutes. It doesn’t need and shouldn’t simmer any much longer than that to stay particularly moist. If you are unsure, take a small piece out and cut it open to see if it is just cooked through.
Now season with fish sauce and the juice of about half a lime and salt gently if necessary. Our broth was already salty enough.
Your Tom Kha Gai is now ready. Before serving, just add coarsely chopped fresh coriander and keep the whole thing just warm.
You will be amazed at how incredibly aromatic this dish is!
And may the taste be with you.
Ingredients (for 4 people):
500 ml chicken stock (alternatively vegetable stock).
500 ml coconut milk
Approx. 5 slices galangal
1 stalk of lemongrass
4 – 5 kaffir lime leaves
2 shallots or 1 onion
1 – 4 small red chillies (to taste)
400 g chicken breast
400 g mushrooms of your choice (e.g. button mushrooms, oyster mushrooms)
1 ½ – 3 tbsp fish sauce (to taste)
Juice of ½ – 1 lime
1 bunch of fresh coriander