September 19, 2010

Tom Kha Gai

Tom kha gai has been among my very favorite soups since the time I first encountered it, about 20 years ago in a family-owned Thai restaurant in Oklahoma City.   I've made a few versions of it over the years, based on combining elements from various cookbook versions and doing some fine-tuning of my own.  The version below is the one I'm making these days.   I made a big batch of this up yesterday, in order to take it to a work pot luck later this week.  It freezes great, so I've got 7 quarts of it frozen and ready to go.  I'll take it out of the deep freeze on Tuesday night in order to have it ready to go into a crock pot and heat up for Thursday lunch.

For best results, go with actual chicken stock, as opposed to going with canned chicken broth.  Better yet, go with the version below, which is specific for Thai recipes.  It's more work, but the effort and time spent will pay off in a much better soup.

Thai Chicken Stock

yield:  approx. 6 cups of stock
2 1/2-3 lbs chicken parts (wings + thighs or leg quarters)
1          large onion, sliced
1          1 1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled, sliced into coins and bruised
1          lime leaf
1          lemongrass stem, bruised
5          cilantro sprigs, stalks bruised
1          teaspoon crushed black peppercorns
1/2       teaspoon salt

Boil the chicken pieces in 8 cups of water.  Skim off the foam floating along the surface.

Add the onion, ginger, lemongrass, lime leaf, cilantro and seasonings.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to low simmer and simmer, half-covered, for about one hour.  Remove from the heat.

Once cooled, strain off any fat on the surface and then strain the stock into one or more containers.  The broth can be used immediately, refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days or frozen for several months.  Fat will have risen to the tops of the refrigerated containers, so it can easily be skimmed off when you want to use the stock.  For convenience, you might want to store the stock in 1- or 2-cup portions for use in various recipes that call for chicken stock or broth.

Tom Kha Gai (Thai chicken soup)

Yield:  about 3 quarts of soup
2       cups canned coconut milk
2       cups Thai chicken stock
1 1/4 cups water
2       red chilis, seeded and finely diced
3       lime leaves, chopped
1      1-inch piece of galangal, peeled and slivered
1      lemongrass stem, sliced
4      tablespoons fish sauce
2      tablespoons lemon juice
1      teaspoon sugar
1      boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into slivers
4      oz. mushrooms, thinly sliced
        cilantro leaves to garnish (if desired)

In a small saucepan, warm the coconut milk over gentle heat.

Combine the chicken stock, water, chili peppers, lime leaves, galangal and lemongrass in a larger saucepan.  Heat them until simmering.

Stir the warmed coconut milk into the pan with the chicken stock, then add the fish sauce, lemon juice and sugar.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.

Bring the soup back to a full boil, then drop in the chicken slivers a few at a time, stirring as you do so, so they remain separate.  Cook about two minutes, then add the sliced mushrooms.  Stir, cook another 2-3 minutes.

Serve (garnished with cilantro leaves if desired).

Galangal is a root, related to ginger but somewhat different in flavor and much, much tougher.  It can be found in Asian groceries, either as fresh root, or in dried and powdered form.  Some people don't favor the tough texture, so make sure you slice it very thin for this recipe.  If you prefer, or if you can't locate galangal, you can substitute a 3/4 inch piece of ginger in the recipe above.

Slivering chicken is pretty easy if you cut the chicken breasts while they are fully or semi-frozen.  Simply put the chicken breast in the freezer an hour or so before you plan to cut it up.  You should find that the partly-frozen chicken breast is much firmer than a thawed, raw chicken breast, and thus much easier to thinly slice.  Plus, the fat comes off much more easily. 

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