Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Gai)

I’ve been in a Thai food mood lately, as evidenced by last month’s Green Papaya Salad recipe. The flavors that are ubiquitous in Thai cooking – namely coconut, fish sauce, lemongrass, and lime – make for excellent summer eating.

Tom Kha Gai is a soup that often takes a backseat to its hot-and-sour sibling, Tom Yum. Both share several ingredients, but today’s recipe also contains coconut milk, which gives the soup a smooth flavor and tends to be a bit more filling, too. I first developed this recipe in partnership with my friends Brent and Heather for their blog, That Paleo Couple, and liked the results so much that I added a tweaked version to Paleo Takeout in 2015. The recipe you find below is what appeared in the book.

As its translated name (“Chicken Galangal Soup”) implies, this soup is best experienced with galangal, a rhizome (underground root) that is most similar to ginger. Ginger will work in a pinch, but consider buying dried galangal if you don’t have access to the fresh variety; dried galangal keeps well and works great in soups like this Tom Kha Gai. Same goes for kaffir lime leaves, which are easily reconstituted in warm water.

Thai Chicken Coconut Soup - Tom Kha Gai (Gluten-free, Paleo, Primal, Whole30)

  • Servings: 4 as a side, 2 as a main
  • Difficulty: Easy

Soup Base:
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
6 fresh or dried kaffir lime leaves, roughly torn, or grated zest of 1 lime
2 stalks lemongrass, white parts only, thinly sliced

2 inches galangal or ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 lb total), thinly sliced
1 (14 oz) can full-fat coconut milk
6 oz mushrooms (straw, enoki, shiitake, oyster, or white; see note below)
1 tbsp fish sauce
juice of 1/2 lime (1 tbsp)
1 tsp coconut palm sugar or honey (optional)
sea salt to taste (about 1 tsp)

To Garnish:
large handful of fresh cilantro, stems included, chopped
Thai Chili Oil (see note below)

1. Combine the soup base ingredients in a stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and gently simmer for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to marry. Strain and discard the solids, returning the broth to the stockpot.

2. Add the chicken to the broth and bring to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until just cooked through, about 4 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk and mushrooms and simmer until the mushrooms are tender, about 2 minutes, then add the fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar. Taste and add salt and more fish sauce and lime juice if desired. Serve garnished with cilantro and Thai Chili Oil.

** To make chili oil, add 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (or a couple chopped dried bird’s eye chiles) to 2 tbsp avocado oil and heat over low heat until the oil turns red, about 3 minutes. Be careful not to brown the chiles, which will cause the oil to become bitter.

** If using shiitake mushrooms, remove the stems before cooking—they are too tough to eat.

** Optional ingredients to consider when adding the mushrooms: Chinese cabbage, bell pepper, and carrots.

18 thoughts on “Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Gai)

  1. UNSUBSCRIBE ME reeseonlineventuresllc@gmail.com

    On Tue, Aug 1, 2017 at 8:03 AM, The Domestic Man wrote:

    > Russ Crandall posted: ” I’ve been in a Thai food mood lately, as evidenced > by last month’s Green Papaya Salad recipe. The flavors that are ubiquitous > in Thai cooking – namely coconut, fish sauce, lemongrass, and lime – make > for excellent summer eating. Tom Kha Gai is a s” >

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  2. Made this tonight but without fresh mushrooms (wish I’d had some and will next time) or chili oil. Amazing flavors, so complex! Russ, how did you get the creamy white and golden colors pictured? My color was more murky, less bright and sunny. First time using lemongrass or fish sauce. I’m a convert!

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    1. Hi Susan, glad you liked the dish! The color you see in the photo comes from the chili oil – it paints the surface with a lovely mix of yellows and reds. I definitely recommend it next time!

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      1. Thanks Russ, I thought that might be the case. I’ll do that next time, but I’m spicy heat sensitive, so maybe I can use peppers like espelette or ancho if I can find them in flake form. Yours is gorgeous!

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  3. I made this soup tonight and it was absolutely delicious! The best Thai dish I’ve made so far in my life haha.

    I added a teaspoon more fish sauce and about a teaspoon more lime juice (my personal taste) and also added thinly cut red peppers and courgette when I added the mushroom.

    Then I garnished with coriander and sliced spring onion … heaven!

    Liked by 1 person

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