Tom Kha Gai (Thai Coconut Chicken Soup)


Tom Kha Gai

I think the trick to making this soup is to use Galangal root, not ginger. Tom Kha Gai literally translates to Chicken Galangal Soup. Some of these ingredients may require a trip to an Asian market. Namely, the lemongrass, Kaffir lime leaves, Thai chilies, and Galangal root. My local Whole Foods carries all of these.


  • 1 quart chicken stock (homemade is best)
  • 3 shallots, sliced
  • 3 Thai chilies sliced lengthwise, seeds removed
  • 2 cans coconut milk
  • 10 Kaffir lime leaves, stems cut away, pieces hand torn
  • 4 stalks lemongrass (bottom white 6 inches or so), bruised with flat edge of knife and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
  • 1 ½ Tbsp palm sugar
  • 3 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 3 inch piece Galangal root, sliced thin
  • ½ tsp Coriander seeds
  • 3 limes
  • 1 cooked chicken breast hand shredded
  • 6 oz crimini mushrooms
  • 1 can straw mushrooms, drained and rinsed
  • 1 Tbsp chopped cilantro, plus a few sprigs for garnish
  • Sriracha sauce or other chili paste (optional)


Heat chicken stock over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and add shallots, Galangal, Thai chilies, Kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass. Simmer for at least 15 minutes to infuse the spices. At this point you can either strain or not. The ingredients added thus far will continue to add flavor, but are not necessarily palatable in the final product. Keeping them comes at the cost of avoiding them when you eat. I think they’re worth it. Ideally you can put all of these in a sachet so they continue to flavor the broth, but never end up in the final bowl.

Once the broth is done add in the chicken, mushrooms, coconut milk, fish sauce, palm sugar, chopped cilantro, and any pieces you chose to keep from the broth. Juice the limes one at a time to taste. Add more chilies if you need more heat or use Sriracha to give you more control of the spice level. The soup should have a balance of salty, sweet, and sour. To adjust to your taste, add or subtract fish sauce (saltiness), palm sugar (sweetness), and lime juice (sour). The coconut milk also has a natural sweetness in addition to creaminess, so adjust to your taste. I actually use a little less than 2 cans, but it does add that restaurant-style richness.

To garnish, add some short, fresh cilantro stalks. I don’t care for them, but some people like halved cherry tomatoes and the added color makes it look really nice. You could also use strips of red bell peppers. Serve with Jasmine rice either on the side or right in the bowl. Yields about 6 servings.

Tom Kha Gai Bowl

If you’re unable to find the more exotic ingredients, here are some substitutions:

  • Galangal root ≈ Ginger root
  • 10 Kaffir lime leaves ≈ 5 Bay leaves, zest of 2 limes
  • Thai chilies ≈ Sriracha sauce or another chili pepper, ½ tsp at a time
  • 1 ½ Tbsp Palm sugar ≈ 2 tsp Brown sugar
  • 3 shallots ≈ 2 cloves garlic, 1/2 red onion
  • Mushrooms ≈ Any fresh mushrooms—no dried!—except for shitakes

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