ADVENTURES IN DOMESTICITY: Thai Coconut Chicken Soup (Tom Kha Kai)

Late last year, I purchased a Thai cookbook that turned out to lack several classic Thai recipes, including anything pertaining to rice or noodles. Turns out the book was a modern take on Thai cuisine, which meant certain staples such as pad thai were nowhere to be seen. The good news was that it wound up being a pretty decent cookbook, but I still needed a go-to source for classic Thai stuff. After much research, I opted for an oversized and photo-heavy book called Thailand: The Beautiful Cookbook. I mean, how could I go wrong? IT’S A BEAUTIFUL COOKBOOK.

Anyway, the reviews on Amazon were all very enthusiastic about this cookbook; so I decided to put it to the test. With the help of Lisa Timmons behind the camera, I tackled this book’s coconut chicken soup (Tom Kha Kai), which is not only one of my favorite soups of all time, but also something I made from the previous cookbook. It would be the perfect way for me to compare the two cookbooks (I also made pad thai, but that’ll be in another video).

Nevertheless, check out our video above, and if you want to know how the two soups stacked up, follow the jump!

I don’t imagine that this will be relevant to too many people (I can’t imagine that any of you are deliberating between Modern Thai Cuisine and Thailand: The Beautiful Cookbook), but I would say that the latter soup has the edge. First off, it was easier to make – both in terms of processes and necessary ingredients. Secondly, it pretty much worked “out of the box,” meaning that the recipe was by and large successful without much tinkering. The previous version turned out to be aggressively sweet; so much so that it actually ruined the entire soup. That being said, the Modern Thai tom kha kai was significantly richer and more complex in flavor (sweetness be damned), and that cannot be overlooked. The Thailand: The Beautiful Cookbook version was just a shade too limey, and with the sweetness of the soup, it certainly infringed on coconut limeade territory. However, the addition of some extra coconut milk certainly helped.

Hmm… maybe these two soups were on equal footing. More importantly, this tom kha kai was delicious, and already, my cookbook purchase has been well worth it. (With any luck, I’ll do a post about the book’s Waterfall Beef recipe, which is nothing short of super awesome).

Of Note With The Above Recipe:
In the video, you’ll notice I cut the lemon grass into pieces first and then smashed them with a mallet. Don’t do this. Smash the stalk first, then slice. Also, be sure to only smash a few times, not pulverize. Otherwise, you’ll wind up like I did with so many small pieces of tough lemon grass floating around that you’ll have to actually strain the soup. Not good. Learn from my mistakes.

5 replies on “ADVENTURES IN DOMESTICITY: Thai Coconut Chicken Soup (Tom Kha Kai)”

  1. Google “Thai Coconut Chicken Soup” and there are many versions. All sound delicious.

  2. Tom kha is probably my favorite soup on earth and I’ve perfected my recipe for it over the years. In fact, it’s so good now that my friend requests me to make that for his birthday every year. A couple of thoughts: using all coconut milk seems a little heavy for me. I usually cut the coconut milk with a little chicken or vegetable broth. It still tastes very rich but at least it’s a little lighter and actually ends up with a more rounded flacor. But speaking of light, never NEVER use light coconut milk when making it. SO not worth the lower calories/fat. Another thing I’d recommend is cooking the chili paste in with the soup to release some of the flavors throughout. Also, since you weren’t feeling the chicken (and I usually am not either), let me recommend using shrimp next time. You can just throw them in right at the end, boil a couple of minutes till cooked and voila. It’s delicious, trust me. Then add the lime juice, taste for salt/sweet/sourness, adjust, and serve. Final point: definitely garnish with chopped cilantro next time. It’s the perfect finish.

    I love reading your adventures in domesticity and am impressed with what an adventurous and ambitious cook you’ve become. I think the main thing missing in your technique is that you don’t taste as you go. Once you start doing that, all your delicious creations will be raised to the level of insane scrumptiousness.

    1. I agree about cooking the chili paste in the soup. That’s how the other recipe works, and like I said, it’s a more complexly flavored soup. And I will def use that shrimp idea. I have tons of shrimp stock too that might work well in it; although, I do like a thick coconut soup consistency.

      As for tasting as I go along, I usually do do that, esp with soup. I don’t know why I didn’t this time. :/

  3. Yummm…one of my all time favorites. I also am not a fan of straight Coconut Milk and use a considerable amount of chicken broth or stock to thin it out. Over the years I have modified and simplified my own recipe to use the soup as a base for a one pot meal. My current favorite boil in Costco Cilantro/Lime Chiken Wonton’s or Chiken Potstickers.

  4. B-side, email me for recipes any time. My parents grew up in thailand, had a thai restaurant in la for a few years, and now have an orphanage there. My mom is retired and now teaches thai cooking classes to raise $ for charity. Her phat thai is the best in the world (and ive been to thailand a dozen times). We are actually chinese so i can throw that down along with sushi and other japanese food and am an expert at persian cuisine.

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