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Thai Chicken and Coconut Milk Soup (Tom Kha Kai)

This Thai classic is a staple on Thai restaurant menus, and one of the easiest dishes to prepare in the whole Thai repertoire. The only trick is finding the lemongrass, kafflr lime leaves, and galanga root that normally go into it. Serves 6 as a first course

SKU 488 - recipe


  • 1 1/2 quarts chicken stock
  • 3/8 cup dried Kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, chopped
  • 3 thick slices dried galanga root
  • 6 heaping tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh ginger
  • 3 hot green chilies, halved and seeded (preferably jalapeno)
  • 3/4 cup chopped cilantro stems and roots, washed carefully
  • 3/4 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, half-frozen
  • salt to taste
  • 2 1/4 cups medium-thick coconut milk (see box)
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon nam pla (bottled Thai fish sauce)
  • finely chopped scallion and cilantro leaves for garnish


  1. Place the chicken stock in a heavy-bottomed pot over high heat. Add the Kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, galanga root, ginger, green chilies, and cilantro stems and roots. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until reduced to about 3 cups. Press occasionally on the solids with a wooden spoon to release flavor.
  2. Working with a sharp knife, cut the chicken breasts into broad slices, as thin as possible. Salt lightly, and reserve in refrigerator.
  3. When broth is reduced, strain into a measuring cup. Press on the solids in the strainer with a wooden spoon. Place the coconut milk in the soup pot over moderate heat. Slowly stir in the reduced broth. Cook over moderately high heat, but do not allow to boil (otherwise the coconut milk will separate). When the soup is just below the boiling point, add the chicken slices. Remove from heat after 30 seconds (or when the chicken is just cooked through).
  4. Just before serving, mix together the lime juice and sugar in a small bowl. Blend in the fish sauce. Pour mixture into hot soup, season to taste, and garnish soup with a little bit of chopped scallion and cilantro leaves.
  5. Optional step: If your soup has curdled a bit (which the Thais don't mind) or if you'd like a fluffier texture in the soup, place the soup in a blender at high speed for 30 seconds before you add the chicken. Then return to pot, add chicken (step 3, above), and proceed as recipe directs.