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Tom Ka Gai

Tom Ka Gai Recipe - I always loved the days my high school cafeteria had tom ka gai on the menu. There’s something so comforting and satisfying about it—it’s smooth, clean, and subtle … a wonderfully quiet break from other “louder” dishes. Although the name credits only one herb, this soup thrives on the trinity of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal. Chicken is the usual suspect, but I have made this soup with fresh clams and it was like the tasty Thai sister of New England clam chowder!

Serves: 4
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Do-ahead Tips: Make the stock and cook the chicken in advance.
Tom = Boil, soup; Ka = Galangal; Gai = Chicken
Tom Ka Gai Recipe


  • 2 cups Chicken stock, unsalted
  • 1 lb Chicken thighs, boneless, skinless, bite-sized pieces
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1½ cups Coconut milk
  • 1 stalk Lemongrass, bottom half only, smashed and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 10 slices Galangal, sliced into thin rounds
  • 5 Kaffir lime leaves, torn into chunks
  • 2–3 Thai chilies, crushed just until broken
  • 1½–2 Tbsp Fish sauce
  • 1 tsp Palm sugar, finely chopped, packed
  • 5½ oz Straw or oyster mushrooms, bite-sized pieces
  • 2–2½ Tbsp Lime juice
  • For garnish Chopped cilantro and/or green onions
  • For serving Jasmine rice (optional)

How to make Tom Ka Gai

  1. In a medium pot, add the chicken stock, chicken thighs, and salt; simmer gently for 15 minutes, loosely covered, until the chicken is fork tender.
  2. Add the coconut milk, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, Thai chilies, 1½ Tbsp of the fish sauce, and palm sugar. Simmer for 3–5 minutes to infuse. Note: The lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves are traditionally left in the soup, but are not meant to be eaten. You can remove them after this step or inform your guests not to eat them.
  3. Add the mushrooms and cook for another 1–2 minutes to soften. Remove from the heat and stir in 2 Tbsp of the lime juice. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more fish sauce and/or lime juice if needed.
  4. Garnish the soup with chopped cilantro and/or green onions. You can pour the soup over rice, add rice to the soup bowl, or enjoy the soup on its own. This soup is usually mildly spiced, but you can break up the chilies to release more heat.
You can make a quick-fix chicken stock without adding any extra cooking time. Use chicken drumettes instead of chicken thighs and cook them, in water and salt as per the instructions, along with some of the aromatics you normally use for stock. The bones in the chicken will turn the water into stock by the time the meat is tender. You can also buy bone-in thighs, debone them, then crack the bones and throw them in to simmer with the chicken.

Tom ka gai
The Infusion Lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves
The Liquid Chicken stock, coconut milk
The Nuggets Chicken, mushrooms
The Seasoning Fish sauce, salt, lime juice, palm sugar
Flavour Profile Salty with a soft acidity; sweetness is very subtle.