My daughter Mandy is sick this week. She has the sniffles, a cough – the whole “winter is here” package. Unfortunately, she has a busy work schedule, so there is no time to waste. Mandy’s condition calls for chicken soup intervention.
Chicken soup has been a famous cold remedy since forever and there has been much written about what true therapeutic qualities it could possibly possess. The hot steam rising from a bowl of chicken soup can clear the head. The fat in rich chicken stock can coat and sooth the throat. And the ingredients in chicken soup offer healthful nutrients. But, I think we can all agree that the biggest benefit of a nice bowl of homemade chicken soup is the TLC that comes along with it.
In our house, a bowl of chicken soup might not be the typical chicken stock, carrots, onion and noodles. It is more often Tom Khaa Gai (sometimes spelled with slight variations), a classic Thai soup made with chicken, coconut milk and herbs. This word in Thai means “boiled galangal”, a Thai root that is like a citrusy, soapy version of young ginger. Galangal is used often in Thai cuisine and it adds a particular authentic flavor to dishes. It is readily found fresh in Anchorage.
I lived in Thailand when I was a young girl and certain flavors still haunt me. We would most often have in the morning for breakfast a half of papaya sliced and squeezed with lime and sprinkled with herbs. We ate fresh fish often. And, one dish that was repeated over again was chicken soup, Thai-style.
I have an old Bangkok YWCA cookbook in my collection from my childhood. Half of the book is in English and half is written in Thai (presumably so the cook could communicate with the lady of the house). I love the old fashioned hand-drawn illustrations and some of the encyclopedic descriptions of Thai fruits and other indigenous ingredients. But, oddly, the recipes are pretty bland and westernized, typical of many cookbooks from that era.
The go-to book for Thai cuisine on my shelf is Thai Food written by Australian chef and restaurateur David Thompson. Thompson’s writing is clear and his coverage of Thai cooking and recipes is comprehensive. I decided to try his recipe for chicken soup.
Thompson’s recipe calls for palm sugar, a specialty ingredient perhaps not worth seeking out unless you have other needs for it. Palm sugar is made from palm or coconut rather than sugar cane.
I made this soup in a snap. Mandy ate one bowl, and she is now already feeling better. It’s a miracle!
You can rethink your own house-blend therapeutic chicken soup. The options are many (Mexican-style chicken soup or Greek lemon and chicken soup are two off-the-cuff examples).
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 cup coconut milk
- ½ cup coconut cream (not sweetened)
- Pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon palm sugar (or regular sugar)
- 2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed
- 3 red shallots, peeled
- 2-3 bird's eye, or other small hot chilies (plus extra for garnish, optional)
- 1 knob galangal, peeled and sliced
- 3 kaffir lime leaves (optional)
- 3 ounces chanterelles, straw or other mushrooms, torn
- 2 small boneless and skinless chicken breasts
- 2-3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 lime
- 1 small bunch coriander (cilantro), destemmed
- In a medium saucepan, combine the stock with the coconut milk and cream. Bring the mixture to a boil, add in the salt and sugar, and reduce the heat to a simmer.
- Crush together the lemongrass, shallots, and chilies using a mortar and pestle or a food processor. Add this paste to the stock, along with the galangal and lime leaves. Simmer for a few minutes, and then stir in the mushrooms and chicken.
- Turn down the heat and continue to simmer until the chicken is cooked through.
- In a serving bowl, mix the fish sauce, 1 tablespoon of lime juice, any extra chilies, and some of the coriander. Ladle some of the chicken pieces into the bowl. Add as much liquid as you like.