Tom kha gai, gai dom kha or tom khaa kai is Thai chicken coconut soup. Primarily sour, the tang is balanced by the sweetness of the coconut cream and the saltiness of fish sauce. According to She Simmers, the name of the dish translates to chicken (gai) cooked (tom) with galangal (kha).
But Thai chicken coconut soup is more than the literal translation of the name of the dish. While chicken and galangal are integral components of the soup, so are coconut cream, lime juice, fish sauce, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves.
And, like many soup dishes in Southeast Asia, Thai chicken coconut soup is not meant as a starter but as a main dish eaten with rice. If you’re not Southeast Asian and you’re not used to the tradition of eating rice and soup together, serve Thai chicken coconut soup as a starter and it’s still delicious by itself.
Tom kha gai is traditionally cooked with bone-in chicken. The long simmering draws out the flavors from the chicken bones to create a rich broth. However, chicken fillets AND good-quality chicken broth can be substituted to get the same effect.
A few notes about the ingredients. Galangal is a rhizome that looks like ginger but has smoother skin and a citrusy flavor and aroma. In regions where fresh galangal is not available, minced galangal in jars can be substituted.
Kaffir lime leaves are leaves of the kaffir lime tree. If you can’t get them fresh, dried kaffir lime leaves are sold in Asian groceries.
Once you have your ingredients, you can make tom kha gai.
Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Gai)
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 2 to 3 stalks lemongrass (light colored portion only), thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon minced galangal
- kaffir lime leaves (they come in pairs; I used three pairs), lightly pounded
- 8 to 10 boneless chicken thighs (about 800 grams), cut into strips
- fish sauce to taste
- 3 finger chilis sliced
- 6 cups chicken broth preferably home made
- 4 cups coconut cream (use fresh or find substitutes)
- 6 tablespoons (or more) lime juice
- Heat the cooking oil in a pot. Saute the lemongrass, galangal and kaffir time leaves until aromatic.
- Add the chicken strips to the pot. Season with fish sauce. Cook, stirring, until the meat is no longer pink.
- Add the chilies.
- Pour in the chicken broth. Season with more fish sauce if the broth is unsalted.
- Cover the pot and simmer the soup for 20 minutes.
- Pour in the coconut cream. Bring to a simmer once more (allowing to reach boiling point will make the coconut cream curdle).
- Turn off the heat. Stir in the lime juice. Taste. Add more fish sauce, if needed.