Tom Kha Gai (Chicken Coconut Soup)

Tom Kha Gai on your table in 30 minutes!

Tom Kha Gai is one of the easiest, quickest, yet most FLAVORFUL soups you will ever taste!  It is light yet creamy, sweet yet tart, salty and citrusy and bursting with layer upon layer of fantastic flavor. This Tom Kha Gai recipe is naturally gluten free and can be made vegetarian and vegan as well.    Its rich, complex broth is made with coconut milk, lemongrass, ginger or galangal, garlic, chiles, lime juice, fish sauce and cilantro along with tender chicken and mushrooms. It can be served as a main course or appetizer, with or without rice, reheats beautifully and is belongs on your table TODAY!   

Top view of Tom Kha Gai authentic recipe in a bowl

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Tom Khai Gai

This Tom Kha Gai, otherwise known as Chicken Coconut Soup is one of favorite soup in the world.  The world I tell you.

Every special occasion – college graduation, birthdays, lung transplant anniversaries, etc., its tradition to celebrate at my favorite Thai restaurant.  After a decade of ordering Panang Curry and Pad Thai and sampling everyone else’s dishes, I still remained faithful to my Panang Curry, nothing else tempted me.  Then one fateful day, some of our friends ordered Tom Kha Gai and my world was changed forever.  I cannot believe I missed out on this heaven in a bowl for so long!

No pictures can do this Tom Kha Gai justice, so I hope you trust me when I say if you like Asian food, you are going to love this soup.  Please make this Tom Kha Gai soon – you don’t want to miss out on this soothing, comforting heavenly tradition any longer!

What Does Tom Kha Gai Mean?

Tom Kha Gai is a popular Thai soup known for its intense galangal, coconut aromatic flavor.  The literal translation is “boiled galangal chicken” but can be broken down as:  TOM means SOUP or BOILED/COOKED, KHA means galangal root and GAI means chicken.

Galangal is part of the ginger root family and looks and tastes quite similar, but with a more intense, peppery, pungent flavor.

side view of authentic Tom Kha Gai recipe in a bowl with rice

Tom Kha Gai Recipe

There are SO many reasons to love THIS Tom Kha Gai Soup recipe. Here are just a few:

  • Pantry Ingredients: I’ve included easy-to-find ingredients so you don’t have to make a special trip to the Asian market BUT this Tom Khai Gai still tastes authentically delicious.
  • Minimal prep:  just chop your chicken and veggies!
  • Customizable: use whatever veggies you have on hand or make it the best clean-out-the-fridge soup.
  • One pot wonder: both your protein and veggies cook in one pot which means only ONE POT to clean!
  • RESTAURANT delicious: complex layers of flavor achieved not only be the ingredients but by the method of cooking the chicken IN red curry.
  • Balanced flavors: this Tom Kha Gai is tangy, savory, sweet and salty dance of perfect proportions.
  • Quick: this coconut chicken soup takes less than 30 minutes to make from scratch but tastes like its been simmering for hours!
  • Less expensive:  make a whole pot of Tom Kha Gai for the same price of a bowl at a restaurant!
  • Easy to Double: you can double or triple this coconut chicken soup recipe for meal prep, make ahead or freezer meals.
  • Great leftovers: this Tom Kha Gai tastes even better the next day and reheats beautifully.
  • Freezer friendly: this Coconut Curry Chicken freezes fabulously well for make ahead dinners.
Top view of a bowl of gluten free Tom Kha Gai with a bowl of rice and cilantro garnishes

What is Tom Kha Gai Soup made of?

Tom Khai Gai consists of warm coconut broth infused with lemongrass, red curry, galangal, and basil, with thinly sliced tender chicken, mushrooms and red bell peppers.  Its bright and refreshing,  both light and rich at the same time, and its layers of tantalizing spices are mesmerizing.

I’ve researched authentic Tom Kha Gai recipes, many of which call for galangal and other exotic ingredients that are hard to come by in the United States, BUT I want everyone to be able to make this tantalizing coconut chicken soup, so I’ve included instructions on how to make Tom Kha Gai with easy-to-find ingredients OR with exotic ingredients.  I think you’ll find, however, that your Tom Kha Gai will taste every bit as complex, authentic and delicious with the pantry substitutions – winning.

What is the difference between Tom Yum and Tom Kha?

I love both Tom Kha Gai and Tom Yum but for very different reasons.  Tom Kha Gai is made with fragrant, rich and creamy coconut milk with tender chicken.  Tom Yum, however, is made with seasoned broth, shrimp and is considered a hot and sour soup.   I choose Tom Kha Gai when I want a warm, comforting soup, and Tom Yum when I want a spicy, awaken-the-senses soup.

Tom Kha Gai Recipe Ingredients

The ingredient list for Tom Kha Gai looks lengthy, but I promise the soup comes together very quickly!

  • coconut oil:  you may sub olive oil.
  • galangal:  if you can find it (available at most well-stocked Asian markets) or substitute with ginger.
  • Thai red curry paste:  can be found in the Asian section of any grocery store.  The premade paste is comprised of finely ground coriander, peppercorns, Kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves, cilantro, shallot, garlic, and fresh chiles – all combined for you for dynamic flavor.
  • red pepper flakes:  add 1/4-½ teaspoon depending on how spicy you want your soup.  You can always add more later.
  • garlic:  I use 5 garlic cloves but you may use more or less depending on your garlic love.
  • chicken: I use chicken thighs because they are inherently more juicy  but you are welcome to use chicken breasts if you prefer.  Cut the chicken into thin strips so it soaks up all the flavor. The chicken is easier to cut if partially frozen.
  • chicken stock:  has more flavor than chicken broth but you may substitute broth if it’s all you have on hand.
  • bay leaves:  are used in combination with other ingredients to mimic fresh kaffir lime leaves which can be hard to come by without a special trip.
  • lemongrass:  is essential to this This Tom Kha Gai, so don’t skip it!   It adds a complex slightly sweet, pungent, and lemony taste.  Lemongrass can usually be found in the produce section of your grocery store, otherwise specialty produce stores like Sprouts and Whole Foods carry it.  I’ve included a section below on how to work with lemongrass.
  • dried basil:  a must!  I use dried basil for its concentrated flavor but you may use fresh if you prefer.  You will need 3X the amount.
  • coconut milk: My favorite brand of coconut milk is Chakoah.  It is FAR creamier and more flavorful than any other brand.  Some grocery stores carry Chakoah, otherwise you can find it at some Asian markets or Amazon.  You don’t need to use full-fat coconut milk just be aware your Tom Kha Gai will not be nearly as creamy without it.    If you must use light coconut milk, I suggest whisking it with 1 tablespoon  cornstarch to help thicken it up.
  • fish sauce: I promise fish sauce will not be detectable or make your Tom Kha Gai taste fishy – even though it smells fishy!  It is needed, however, to infuse the Tom Kha Gai with its nutty, rich, savory, salty flavor.   If you’ve never used fish sauce before, it can be found in the Asian section of any grocery store.
  • lime juice:  you may use ¼ cup bottled lime juice or the juice of approximately two limes.  You may want to add more to taste at the end of cooking. 
  • brown sugar:  balances the savory, citrus tones.
  • vegetables:  I use the mushrooms and bell peppers which are common in Tom Kha Gai but you may substitute with your favorites.
  • cilantro:  garnish with plenty of cilantro for its bright, zesty, earthy taste.
top view of a pot of easy tom kha gai recipe

How to Use Lemongrass?

Lemongrass is one of my favorite ingredients and absolutely essential to this Tom Kha Gai Soup.  I use it in my Lemongrass Chicken and Vietnamese Noodles, so if you’ve never worked with lemongrass before, don’t be intimidated!

So what exactly is Lemongrass?

Lemongrass lives up to its name – it is perennial grass that grows in tropical climates with a pungent, lemony taste. It is widely used in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine and as a medicinal herb in India.

How do I choose Lemongrass?

When selecting lemongrass at the store, look for stalks that are firm but slightly pliable rather than soft and rubbery or dried out and brittle.  Look for stalks that transition from pale yellow at the base to bright green in the husks and avoid stalks with leaves that are starting to brown.

How do I Use Lemongrass?

Lemongrass can be used for different purposes.  The tender white core is traditionally chopped or ground for marinades, curries or stir fries.  The stalk of lemongrass is used to release its flavor in soups and stews like this Tom Khai Gai Soup.

How do I Chop Lemongrass?

You simply chop of the bottom of the stalk, peel off the outer layer and chop into thirds to fit into your pot.  Let the lemongrass simmer with your soup then remove it when the soup is done – then taste the magic!

top view the best tom kha gai soup recipe

Can I make Tom kha Gai Recipe with Ginger? 

Galangal is literally in the name of Tom Kha Gai, so can it be made without it?

Galangal tastes much like ginger with the complexity of pungent, pepper pine undertones.  So basically, it is ginger on steroids.  I have successfully made this coconut chicken soup, however, by substituting the galangal with ginger and adding bay leaves and pepper.

If making a trip to the Asian market is easy for you, then go with the galangal, but you will NOT be disappointed if you use the ginger instead.

How to Make Tom Kha Gai

  • Saute curry for more flavor.  Tom Kha Gai is very simple to make.  First, we want to bloom our curry power, which is essentially frying it in oil to unlock the flavor along with red pepper flakes and garlic. 
  • Saute chicken in the curry.  Next, we add our chicken so it can be seasoned by the red curry paste and doesn’t just taste like bland, boiled chicken.
  • Add soup ingredients and simmer.  Now its, time for the stock.  Simply add the chicken stock, bay leaves, ginger, lemongrass, basil, salt and pepper and simmer the soup for 10 minutes to unlock the flavor.
  • Add the rest. Stir in coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, mushrooms, and red bell pepper.  Simmer just a couple minutes until bell peppers are crisp tender. 
  • Remove lemongrass.  When ready to serve, ladle out lemongrass stalks, bay leaves and ginger/galangal chunks.    
  • Garnish.   Top individual bowls with fresh cilantro, green onions, fresh basil and fresh lime juice to taste.
up close of a bowl of easy tom kha gai with chicken and coconut milk

What To Serve with Tom Kha Gai Soup?

In Thailand, Tom Kha Gai is actually eaten more like a curry instead of a soup in which you add rice to your bowl then spoon the soup on top of it.  I personally haven’t been served it this way but I always love the addition of rice to any soup.

As far as toppings, the more, the better!  I love fresh, citrusy cilantro, earthy, fresh basil, sharp green onions, spicy Thai red chiles and even crushed peanuts.  The beauty of making your own Tom Kha Gai, is you can make it perfect for YOU!

At Thai Restaurants Tom Khai Gai Soup is served as an appetizer, which means, you get to pair it with any of your Thai favorite main courses such as:

Can I Make Tom Kha Soup Vegan?

Absolutely! To make vegan Tom Kha Gai:

  • Replace the chicken stock with vegetable broth
  • Replace the fish sauce with soy sauce
  • Omit the chicken completely or replace it with one pound firm cubed tofu

HOW LONG IS TOM KHA GAI GOOD FOR?

The flavors of this Tom Kha Gai only improve with time, so it makes fantastic leftovers.

Tom Kha Gai should be stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator.  When properly stored, the soup is good for 3-5 days.

a bowl of tom kha gai soup with mushrooms, bell peppers and green onions

HOW DO I REHEAT TOM KHA GAI?

  • Crockpot: add Tom Kha Gai to the crockpot, cover and heat on low for 1-2 hours.
  • Stove: transfer Tom Kha Gai to a soup pot or sauce pan (depending on volume) and and heat over medium low heat, stirring occasionally until heated through.
  • Microwave: transfer individual servings of coconut chicken soup to a microwave-safe dish, cover with a microwave-safe lid or paper towel.  Microwave for 2 minutes, stir, then continue to microwave for 30-second intervals, if needed.

CAN I FREEZE TOM KHA GAI SOUP?

Yes!  Unlike many cream based soups, Tom Kha Gai freezes well because there is not any dairy.  I don’t care for the texture of the mushrooms when frozen, however, but you can just pick those out.

To freeze:

  1. Let soup cool completely.
  2. Add Tom Kha Gai to freezer safe containers or freezer size bags and squeeze out any excess air to prevent freezer burn before sealing..
  3. Freeze for up to 3 months.
  4. When ready to eat, let soup defrost in the refrigerator overnight.
  5. Warm individual servings in the microwave or warm on the stove until heated through.

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up close of tom kha gai recipe with a spoon

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TOM KHA GAI (Coconut Chicken Soup)

Tom Kha Gai is one of the easiest, quickest, yet most FLAVORFUL soups you will ever taste! It is light yet creamy, sweet yet tart, salty and citrusy and bursting with layer upon layer of fantastic flavor. It is naturally gluten free and can be made vegetarian and vegan as well. Its rich, complex broth is made with coconut milk, lemongrass, ginger or galangal, garlic, chiles, lime juice, fish sauce and cilantro along with tender chicken and mushrooms. It can be served as a main course or appetizer, with or without rice, reheats beautifully and is belongs on your table TODAY!
Servings: 6 as an appetizer/ 2-4 as entree;
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound chicken thighs cut into thin strips
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 3 bay leaves **OMIT if using galangal and not ginger**
  • 1 3-inch piece galangal or ginger sliced into ½ pieces(no need to peel)
  • 3 stalks lemongrass *
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper **OMIT if using galangal and not ginger**
  • 1 13 oz. can, can quality coconut milk (I like Chaokoh)
  • 2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3-4 tablespoons lime juice to taste
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • Asian chili sauce to taste
  • lemon juice to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Garnish

  • cilantro
  • green onions
  • fresh basil
  • lime juice

Instructions

  • Heat 1 tablespoon coconut oil over medium high heat. Add red curry paste, red pepper flakes and garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add chicken and saute until opaque but not cooked through.
  • Add chicken stock, bay leaves (if using ginger), galangal or ginger, lemongrass, basil, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low; cover and gently simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Stir in coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, mushrooms, and red bell pepper. Simmer a couple minutes until bell peppers are crisp tender.
  • When ready to serve, ladle out lemongrass stalks, bay leaves and galangal/ginger chunks.
  • Taste and add additional salt, pepper, lemon juice and Sriracha to taste.
  • Garnish individual bowls with fresh cilantro, green onions, fresh basil and fresh lime juice.

Notes

*Lemongrass is usually located next to the fresh ginger. To prepare lemongrass, cut the bottom tough end off and remove the tougher outer layer. Cut stalks into sections small enough to fit into your pot. You will remove them before serving.

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58 Comments

  1. Kat Lawrence says

    I missed this soup and was craving really good Thai. This was better than I remember from my favorite restaurant. You are an amazing chef and inspirational as well. Thank you so much for sharing your gift.

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much for your super thoughtful comment Kat! I’m honored you’re enjoying my recipes and I’m so pleased this soup was a hit!

  2. Ei says

    Really tasty. Nice layering of flavors. I threw whatever vegetables I could find in the fridge and served it over ready-made udon noodles. I will, however, decrease the amount of lime juice next time.

    • Jen says

      Thanks so much, and I love the idea of serving it over udon noodles!

  3. Beth says

    This looks so tasty! What could I sub the chicken for instead of tofu, if I wanted to make it vegetarian? Would chickpeas work?

    • Jen says

      Hi Beth, you can absolutely sub tofu. I would use extra firm tofu and drain it first by placing the tofu in a pie plate, topping with a heavy plate and weighing it down with 2 heavy cans (to release water). Set aside for 10 minutes then saute and add back to the soup at the end of cooking. If using chickpeas, add with the broth. Enjoy!

    • Christina pappan says

      Jackfruit is a great sub, soaks up flavor and has hearty texture

  4. Stefanie says

    Amazing recipe! Thanks for sharing! I used soy sauce instead of fish sauce and it was perfect.

    • Jen says

      You’re so welcome Stefanie, I’m so pleased it was a hit!

  5. Eric Reinhardt says

    Great and easy recipe – the results were outstanding! My only deviations from it were: two pickled little Thai red chilies in place of the red-pepper, (seeds removed) and green bell pepper, because that’s what I had. Red bell pepper would certainly add a lot of visual appeal, so I’ll be sure to use one next time.

    • Jen says

      Thanks so much for your awesome review Eric, I’m so pleased it was a hit!

  6. Dee Horvath says

    This was very tasty! Impressed with the hacks they work! 🙂 Thank you!

    • Jen says

      Thank you Dee, I’m so pleased it was a winner!

  7. Denis says

    This was amazing, thank you. I randomly chose a recipe for a class and now I have a an additional favorite soup and will be making it again!

    • Jen says

      I love hearing that, thank you Denis!

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