Tom Kha Gai (Coconut Milk Chicken Soup)
Tom Kha Gai (Coconut Milk Chicken Soup) is an incredibly flavorful tangy and spicy traditional Thai coconut milk chicken soup infused with galangal and other fragrant Thai herbs and aromatics. It’s ready in 35 minutes, incredibly warming and comforting, and the ultimate tasty bowl of creamy chicken and mushroom soup heaven!
Spicy, sour, salty, slightly sweet with an intoxicatingly fragrant creamy coconut milk broth infused with galangal and other Thai herbs, and full of tender chicken pieces and mushrooms. Yup, that sums up this delicious Thai Tom Kha Gai soup perfectly!
I first tried this coconut milk chicken soup during a trip to Bangkok in 2018. Since then, I’ve been obsessed with it and ALL of its delicious flavors! I’ve recently tweaked the original recipe I shared with you in August 2018, so thought I would bump it back up to the top of the blog now that warm and cozy soups is what we all want during the chilly weather season.
Doesn’t it look glorious and make you want to dive right in?! Well, it does for me because whenever I make it, I can smell its alluring sweet fragrance throughout the house. The enticing aromas from the pot of simmering lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and peppery sweet galangal in coconut milk is completely irresistible! 😍
But I encourage you to wait until you drizzle a bit of chili oil over your bowl of this glorious soup. It adds a great kick and tastes 100% divine when you stir it into the warm bowl of soup that feels like spicy creamy coconutty soupy love! ❤️
While the prep work takes a couple of minutes, it is worth it because the soup actually takes only about 20 minutes to cook! Bonus? The flavors tend to intensify over time so leftovers are even more tasty! Hurrah for all my meal prep lovers! 😉
Note: This post was originally published in August 2018. I’ve since then updated the recipe to make it more delicious, and added improved photos, measurements, and more. I hope you enjoy!
Why This Recipe Works
- It’s easy to make in one pot and ready in 35 minutes.
- Fragrant and strong Thai herbs infuse the broth with an incredible amount of flavor in a short period. They make the soup taste like it’s been simmering on the stovetop for hours when in reality there’s a short cook time.
- It’s make ahead and meal prep friendly. The soup holds up really well in the fridge, and can be made ahead on a Sunday to enjoy for a few meals during the week. It’s also freezer-friendly to boot!
- The chicken pieces cook very quickly and are incredibly juicy and tender due to thinly slicing the thighs into small pieces.
- Seasoning the broth at the end allows the flavors to shine through. The freshness of the lime juice and salty notes from the fish sauce round out all the aromatic flavors.
What Is Tom Kha Gai?
Literally translated, tom kha gai means “boiled galangal chicken”. It’s a coconut milk based spicy and tangy soup with fragrant Thai herbs and aromatics like lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, and of course galangal – also known as blue ginger. It’s traditionally made with chicken, but can be made with pork, beef, shrimp, or tofu if preferred. While being a deliciously creamy soup, it is light on the palate and naturally gluten-free and dairy-free.
The Thai herbs (lemongrass, galangal, makrut lime leaves) are used to infuse the broth with flavor but not usually eaten in Thailand.
Many modern or westernized versions of this soup will call for straining these herbs out of the broth. However, in Thailand and in this version of tom kha gai, they are left in the broth to allow the flavors to intensify over time. A Thai person will simply pick out these herbs when eating or leave them at the bottom of their bowl.
- Chicken: I used boneless and skinless chicken thighs as they add more flavor to the broth and don’t dry out as easily. However, you can use boneless and skinless chicken breasts if you prefer to keep things lean.
- Mushrooms: I used Taiwanese Hsui Tseng mushrooms which are similar to oyster mushrooms. But you can use any type of mushrooms you love and have easy access to. Some great mushroom options are shimeji/enoki, king oyster or oyster mushrooms, cremini, straw, white champignons, and brown button.
- Galangal: The star ingredient of this soup! While it’s similar to ginger in appearance, it is pinkish and pale in color. It has a unique citrusy and peppery flavor and a sweet floral aroma. Look for galangal in a Thai grocery store or Asian supermarket.
- Makrut (Kaffir) Lime Leaves: These fragrant leaves add a citrusy sweet flavor and fragrant aroma to the soup. They’re usually torn into pieces and added to flavor the broth, but left at the bottom of the bowl and not eaten.
- Lemongrass stalks: A lemony and peppery Thai herb that comes in the shape of slender long batons. Look for them in a Thai grocery store or Asian supermarket.
- Ginger: While traditional tom kha is made with galangal only, I like the warmth that fresh ginger infuses the broth with.
- Red Onion: Or you can use 3-4 thinly sliced Asian red shallots instead.
- Fresh Red Chilies: I used plenty of Thai Bird’s Eye red chilies to add some heat to the broth. Use less chilies to make the soup milder, or omit completely if you’re not big on heat.
- Tomato: To add a hint of tang and sweetness to the coconut milk broth.
- Coconut Milk: I recommend using full-fat coconut milk for the best creamy texture. Light coconut milk will make the broth too thin and less flavorful.
- Bird’s Eye Thai Dried Red Chilies (optional): These small chilies are very hot. Omit for a milder broth.
- Coconut Sugar: I use a Malaysian style coconut sugar (known as ‘gulapa kelapa’) which comes in the form of hardened disc, similar to palm sugar. You’ll need to finely shave it with a knife so that it dissolves easily into the broth. Alternatively, you can use palm sugar, or granulated white or light brown sugar.
- Limes: For freshly squeezed lime juice. Avoid using the store-bought bottled variety if you want the best flavors.
- Thai Chili Powder (optional): Or use crushed red pepper flakes. Feel free to omit if you’d like to make the soup milder.
Full ingredient list and amounts are in the recipe card below.
How to Make Tom Kha Gai
- Pound the garlic and chilies. Use a mortar and pestle to pound them into a coarse paste. (If you don’t own a mortar and pestle, mince the garlic and lightly bruise the chilies with the back of your knife instead.)
- Sauté the onion, garlic and chilies. I recommend using a large stockpot or Dutch oven for the soup. You can also use a large wok. Sauté in oil until the onion has slightly softened and the aromatics are fragrant.
- Build the soup. Pour in half of the coconut milk and add the Thai herbs. Stir to combine and bring to a slow simmer for a few minutes.
- Cook the mushrooms and tomato. Pour in the rest of the coconut milk, and add the veggies and water. Cover and let everything simmer for a few minutes.
- Cook the chicken. Uncover and stir in the chicken pieces. Simmer for a few minutes until just cooked through.
- Add spices and seasonings. Switch off the heat and stir in the Thai dried chilies, coconut sugar, fish sauce, kosher salt, Thai chili powder, and lime juice. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed.
- Stir through coriander. Do this after removing the pot from the heat.
Serve! Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle the remaining coriander on top. Don’t forget to drizzle with a bit of chili oil too for an extra kick!
You can enjoy tom kha gai on its own, or serve it with some warm steamed white rice and lime wedges for squeezing like they do in Thailand.
Full detailed instructions are in the recipe card below.
- Don’t cook the chicken for too long. Thinly sliced pieces will take only 4-5 minutes to cook through in the coconut milk broth. Anything longer will cause it to start to overcook and dry out.
- Adjust the salty, sour, spicy, and sweet elements to taste. Use more or less fish sauce, lime juice, fresh red chilies, Thai dried red chilies, chili powder, and sugar depending on your preference. Everyone’s taste buds are different.
- Leave out the coriander if you’re not a fan. It adds great flavor for those who don’t mind it. But there’s already plenty of flavor in this soup from the other herbs and aromatics, and the broth won’t be lacking if it’s omitted.
- Don’t strain the broth. While you can simmer the soup with the onion, aromatics, and herbs first, then strain it and discard the solids before adding the chicken and mushrooms, I prefer not to because leaving them in allows the soup to build more flavor. You can easily pick them out while eating or leave them at the bottom of the bowl.
Substitutes for Special Herbs in Thai Cuisine
If you have difficulty tracking down the culinary herbs called for in this recipe or can’t get to an Asian supermarket or Thai grocery store, listed below is are suggestions for ingredient substitutes.
- Galangal. Try finding galangal paste or galangal powder in your local supermarket. If using the paste or powder form, you can add some lime zest or makrut lime leaves to deliver a similar citrusy and piney flavor. Alternatively, only use the ginger called for in this recipe. It might not taste like traditional tom kha gai since galangal is the key ingredient in this soup. But it’ll still taste delicious.
- Lemongrass. Most supermarkets have lemongrass paste available. However, I find that some brands of lemongrass paste are mild in flavor. You may want to use more than the equivalent of the 4 stalks of fresh lemongrass in the recipe if you use lemongrass paste. Another good option would be lemongrass powder.
- Makrut (Kaffir) Lime Leaves. Dried makrut lime leaves should be available in most grocery stores and supermarkets. Feel free to use them if you can’t find the fresh makrut lime leaves. Alternatively, substitute with the zest of two Thai limes along with a quarter teaspoon of lemon thyme.
Compared to other soups with dairy, tom kha gai freezes pretty well. Coconut milk holds up slightly better in the freezer than soups with heavy or single cream. To freeze, transfer the soup to freezer friendly containers once completely cool and freeze for up to three months. Thaw overnight in the fridge, then reheat in a pot on the stovetop for a few minutes over medium-high heat until hot throughout.
Tom kha gai is a soup known for being spicy and tangy. However, it also has salty and sweet notes from fish sauce and sugar. The different flavors complement each other well and are perfectly balanced in this soup. However, my version of this soup is quite spicy due to cooking the soup in a bit of chili oil along with the canola oil. The heat also comes from the addition of several fresh red Thai Bird’s Eye chilies, Bird’s Eye Thai dried chilies, and Thai chili powder. If you’d like to make this soup milder, simply use less of (or omit) these spicy ingredients.
Tom kha gai is gluten-free. However, I recommend checking the ingredients label for the particular brand of fish sauce you’re using. Some fish sauces may contain hidden wheat ingredients. Most are gluten-free, but it is always a good idea to double check if you are making this for anyone who is gluten intolerant.
- Use a different protein. Thinly sliced pork fillet (tenderloin), shrimp/prawns, salmon cubes, and even beef skirt or flank steak would work well. Remember to simmer the protein until just cooked through to prevent the meat from becoming tough. If using shrimp/prawns or salmon, add while the broth is simmering at a low pace or the texture will become rubbery and chewy.
- Make it vegetarian/vegan. Use a block of cubed firm or extra firm tofu in place of the chicken. Also use vegan fish sauce or soy sauce instead of fish sauce.
- Make it mild. Use two tablespoons of canola oil to cook the soup and omit the chili oil. Also omit or use less of the fresh red chilies, Thai dried red chilies, and Thai chili powder.
- Serve over noodles. Cooked flat wide rice noodles like the ones used for pad thai (3-5mm) or pad mee korat (1mm), or rice vermicelli would taste amazing with this soup!
More Asian Soups & Noodle Soups
- Thai Spicy Pork Rib Soup
- Thai Glass Noodle Soup
- Spicy Udon Noodle Soup with Chicken and Mushrooms
- Khao Soi Gai (Northern Thai Coconut Curry Soup with Chicken)
- Spicy Curry Laksa
- Or browse the entire Thai and Soups & Chowders recipe collections.
MADE THIS RECIPE? If you make this recipe, leave a comment and review it below with a STAR rating! I always appreciate your feedback. Take a photo and be sure to tag it with @thatspicychick on Instagram and hashtag it #thatspicychick and I’ll be sure to share.Print
Tom Kha Gai (Coconut Milk Chicken Soup)
A spicy and tangy coconut milk chicken soup infused with galangal and other fragrant Thai herbs. Tom Kha Gai is an easy to make traditional Thai soup and is a weeknight dream meal when served with a bed of warm steamed rice.
- Prep Time: 15
- Cook Time: 20
- Total Time: 35 minutes
- Yield: 6 1x
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Simmer
- Cuisine: Thai
- Diet: Gluten Free
- 10 Garlic cloves – crushed
- 5 – 16 fresh Red Chilies (Bird’s Eye preferred), to taste – roughly chopped
- 1/2 Red Onion – thinly sliced
- 1 medium Tomato – cut into wedges
- 2.5-inch piece of Ginger – peeled and thinly sliced
- 2.5-inch piece of Galangal – peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 Lemongrass stalks – bottom woody part and upper tough parts of the stalk chopped off and outer skin removed and discarded, then thinly sliced at an angle
- 8–10 Makrut Lime Leaves – destemmed and broken into four pieces each
- 5–6 leafy sprigs Coriander (Cilantro) – roughly chopped
- 150 grams / 5.3 ounces Mushrooms (any kind – see notes*) – rinsed and pat-dried
- 454 grams / 1 pound Chicken Thighs (or breasts), boneless, skinless – cleaned and pat-dried, excess fat trimmed, and thinly sliced into bite-sized pieces
- 5 TBLS freshly squeezed Lime Juice (approximately the juice of 4 small Thai limes)
- 1 TBLS Canola Oil (or any neutral flavored cooking oil)
- 1 TBLS Chili Oil (optional – pure chili oil without flakes/seeds)
- 2–4 Bird’s Eye Thai Dried Red Chilies (optional), to taste
- 25 grams / 0.8 ounces (1/2 disc) Coconut Sugar, to taste (substitute with palm sugar, or 2 TSP granulated white or light brown sugar if unavailable)
- 2 TBLS Fish Sauce, to taste
- 1.5 TSP Kosher Salt, to taste
- 1–2 TSP ground Thai Chili Powder (optional), to taste
- 800ml / 27 ounces (2 large cans) Coconut Milk (full-fat preferred)
- 200ml / 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon Water
- To Serve (optional): Reserved coriander, drizzle of chili oil, steamed rice, lime wedges for squeezing
- Prepare the fresh ingredients: Crush the garlic with the flat side of your knife and roughly chop the fresh red chilies. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and pound into a coarse paste. Prepare the red onion, tomato, ginger, galangal, lemongrass, coriander, makrut lime leaves, and mushrooms as indicated in the ‘Ingredients’ section. Clean and pat-dry the chicken thighs and trim off any excess fat. Thinly slice into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Squeeze the limes in a lemon/citrus squeezer and reserve the juice in a small bowl or bottle.
For the Tom Kha Gai:
- Sauté the onion, garlic, and chilies: Heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil and 1 tablespoon of chili oil (if using) in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the red onion and sauté for 1-2 minutes or until slightly softened. Add the smashed garlic chili paste and continue sautéing for 30 seconds or until fragrant.
- Build the soup: Pour in half (400ml / 13.5 ounces) of the coconut milk, and add the galangal, ginger, makrut lime leaves, and lemongrass. Stir to combine and bring to a gentle simmer for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the mushrooms: Add the remaining coconut milk (400ml / 13.5 ounces), mushrooms, tomato wedges, and (200ml / 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon) water.
- Simmer: Give everything a good stir, then cover the pot and let simmer for 10-12 minutes.
- Cook the chicken: Uncover and reduce the heat to medium. Add the chicken pieces and stir to combine. Simmer for 4-5 minutes, until the chicken has just cooked through.
- Stir in dried chilies and seasonings: Switch off the heat and stir in the Thai dried chilies, coconut sugar, fish sauce, kosher salt, Thai chili powder, and lime juice. Taste and adjust the seasonings by adding more fish sauce, lime juice, or sugar if needed.
- Stir through coriander: Remove the pot from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of the chopped coriander (reserve some for garnish).
- To Serve: Ladle the soup evenly into bowls and garnish with the remainder coriander and a drizzle of chili oil (if using). Enjoy on its own, or serve with warm steamed rice and lime wedges for squeezing if desired.
- Mushrooms. I used Taiwanese Hsui Tseng mushrooms which are similar to oyster mushrooms. But you can use any type of mushrooms you love and have easy access to. Some great mushroom options are shimeji/enoki, king oyster or oyster mushrooms, cremini, straw, white champignons, and brown button. Slice or chop larger mushroom pieces (button, king oyster, shitakes, etc.) into smaller pieces.
- Thai herbs/aromatics. Galangal, lemongrass, and makrut (kaffir) lime leaves can be found in a Thai grocery store or Asian supermarket.
- Mortar and pestle. If you don’t own one, mince the garlic and lightly bruise the chilies with the back of your knife instead.
- Storage and leftovers: Store leftovers in a sealed airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Reheat over medium-high heat in a pot on the stovetop for a few minutes until hot throughout.
- To freeze: Once completely cool, transfer to freezer friendly containers and freeze for up to three months. Thaw overnight in the fridge, then reheat in a pot on the stovetop for a few minutes over medium-high heat until hot throughout.
- Straining the broth: While you can simmer the soup with the onion, aromatics, and herbs first, then strain it and discard the solids before adding the chicken and mushrooms, I prefer not to because leaving them in allows the soup to build more flavor. Your call here, but I don’t recommend this because you can easily pick them out while eating or leave them at the bottom of the bowl.
- See ‘Variations’ section in post if you’d like to customize this Tom Kha Gai for specific diets or make it with a different protein.
- Serving Size: 1 bowl
- Calories: 447
- Sugar: 11.1g
- Sodium: 1207.2mg
- Fat: 32.9g
- Saturated Fat: 23g
- Unsaturated Fat: 6.1g
- Trans Fat: 0g
- Carbohydrates: 17.8g
- Fiber: 3.4g
- Protein: 20.3g
- Cholesterol: 71.1mg
Keywords: tom kha gai, coconut milk chicken soup, thai coconut milk soup
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