my kitchen

tom kha gai! say it with me!

November 10, 2012

Back in the day I frequented a Thai restaurant in Billings, Montana called The Thai Orchid (fairly certain it no longer exists). They had a dish called Angel Wings, fried chicken wings stuffed with a pork/crispy noodle mixture. They were insanely delicious. I’ve actually only ever seen them on a menu at one other Thai food place in Atlanta, Georgia–Annie’s Thai Castle. (A rather dubious name, I know.) Also, probably no longer exists. Fuck it… I need confirmation.

OK, so if you happen to find yourself in the wilds of Billings, Montana and want to try angel wings you’re out of luck. If you’re in Atlanta the good news is that Annie’s Thai Castle is still providing many happy endings. The bad news is that Angel Wings are not on the menu which kind of makes me wonder if I didn’t imagine this phantom dish.

Now that I think of it, I have a very funny story about Annie’s Thai Castle. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll save it for another post.

OK, after some research I have confirmed that Angel Wings exist–if you happen to be in Berkeley, California (or Emeryville) you can visit Bangkok Thai Cuisine. Their version is minced chicken instead of pork. Also, what an amazing website! God, come to think of it I have a lot of Emeryville stories. Well, not exactly stories but fond transcendental memories that separate my mind from my body at 650 miles per hour. I digress.

It’s weird that I rarely ever attempt any cuisine east of Turkey. I’m not sure why this is as I tend to be kind of fearless in the kitchen.

I decided it was time to put down the stick of butter and try one of my second all-time favorite Thai dishes Tom Kha Gai or coconut chicken soup. I researched recipes on the interwebs but ended up creating an aggregated recipe in my head. Every recipe has its own nuances–differing here and there–but there’s usually a few constants. One thing is certain, this dish is not possible without a few key ingredients: galangal root, lemon grass, Thai chilis and Kefir lime leaves.

My commute consists of a twice daily stroll through Boston’s Chinatown. I’ve seen some interesting things, so I thought it wasn’t completely implausible to find what I needed because you know China = close enough to Thailand. Unfortunately, I only found lemon grass. A pound was .79¢. Lemon grass is kind of amazing. If you have never used it, it resembles something you could possibly get kinky with in the bedroom–like a fragrant jockey’s whip. (If you’re into that sort of thing. I am not.)

In lieu of a Thai market I ended up finding what I needed on Amazon. My “kit” came with everything I needed and was shipped fresh priority mail. The only disappointing component was the Chilis. (There were a few yucky past-their-prime peppers mixed in.) When I opened the box all I could think was, “wow, smells like a Thai restaurant!”



  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • galangal root
  • lemon grass
  • chilis
  • chicken (I used a leftover roast chicken carcass)
  • mushrooms (use an interesting variety)
  • Jasmin rice (for serving)

I started with my chicken carcass leftover from the previous evening.

I added about 2 quarts of water and placed the stock pot over medium heat for about 45 minutes–enough to separate the meat from the carcass. After separating the stock from the chicken I added the liquid back into the stock pot and let it reduce over medium heat for about 30 minutes.

I sliced about (8) 1/8″ thick sections of galangal root. The lemon grass I cut into 2″ lengths and smashed with the handle of a butcher knife. I deveined the leaves and tore them into small pieces–you will not believe how good these smell. I also crushed up the Thai chilis.

After my chicken stock was ready I added the coconut milk, mushrooms and my Thai ingredients.

I waited to add the chicken until near the end to keep it from becoming rubbery. I let the coconut milk, chicken stock and Thai ingredients commingle on medium-low heat for a good 45 minutes. (Yeah–this was not a quick meal.) By now my kitchen is smelling ridiculous.

I served my Tom Kha Gai over Jasmin rice and squeezed a bit of fresh lime over the dish. I was really surprised by how delicious this turned out. A couple of things that might have enhanced my version is Fish or Oyster sauce and perhaps some Thai chili paste. I also somehow omitted onion–not sure how this happened. I also left the galangal root and lemon grass in the bowl as a garnish. If you are serving for guests you would probably want to remove; however, I’ve noticed some Thai restaurants will leave in a piece or two.

This could easily be made vegetarian substituting vegetable stock and tofu.

Let me know what you think and/or if you have suggestions!


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