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Thai-Style Coconut and Chicken Soup

4 Servings

45 minutes

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Tom kha gai is a Thai soup rich with coconut milk but balanced with chili heat and lime, plus the tropical flavors and aromas of galangal, lemon grass and makrut. Chicken and mushrooms give the soup substance without dulling the aromatics. In Bangkok, chef Piched Kaewhem taught us how quickly and easily tom kha gai comes together. We set out to develop a recipe modeled on the Thai classic, but using readily available ingredients. We opted for lime zest in place of makrut leaves and ginger instead of galangal—imperfect substitutions, but good enough to make a flavorful, fragrant broth. A couple tablespoons of store-bought Thai roasted chili paste—called nam prik pao—brought savory background notes. But the coconut milk was a challenge. We tried many brands of canned coconut milk and got mixed results—from watery brews to curdled messes. Ultimately, we made our own coconut milk by blending dried coconut with water and straining the puree; we then fortify it with canned coconut cream (a more consistent product than canned coconut milk) and coconut water. If you like, serve jasmine rice alongside.




Don’t mistake cream of coconut for coconut cream. The former is a syrupy, sweetened mixture typically used in desserts and cocktails. The latter, a higher-fat version of regular coconut milk, is what you want. Coconut cream is sold in cans and aseptic packages of varying sizes. A 13½- to 15½-ounce can is fine here, or even three 5.4-ounce cans. A few tablespoons more or less of coconut cream won’t matter.

45 minutes


  • cups unsweetened shredded coconut

  • 3

    cups warm water


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Angie P.
January 15, 2024
I read the comments before making and used 1 can light coconut milk and 1 can of water instead of making my own. I used Chinese chili paste, skipped the mushrooms and used black pepper but will try white next time. I served with white rice and jalapeno slices because I can never find serrano chilis.
Nicholas D.
January 10, 2024
Great soup...
I made it as written, but added ramen noodles at the end. I also subbed a bell pepper in place of mushrooms because we don't care for them. Next time, I will likely use a can of coconut milk in place of the shredded coconut. Overall, the soup was really tasty. I will definitely make again.
Yardena A.
January 1, 2024
As good as in restaurants
Definitely worth the effort, which is actually fairly minimal. Made exactly as written.
Lynn P.
December 26, 2023
Should have known better....
I made this twice -- the first time not following the directions, and the second time mostly following the directions... and I learned my lesson. Follow the directions as closely as possible because Milk Street knows what they are talking about. I have never found anything objectionable about canned coconut milk, so that's what I used the first time. I didn't have coconut cream on hand and had hoped there was enough cream in the coconut milk. There wasn't. What I made was a rather insipid version compared to my second go at it. I still fudged a little on version 2 -- I didn't have any coconut water, so I just used the dried coconut first to make the milk, and a second time to make the water which, to me, was a fine workaround. All I could find this time of year was lemongrass in a tube which worked out just fine. I even added an extra squirt to my bowl because I love the taste so much. I couldn't find red Thai chili paste, but I had red Thai curry paste on hand, so that's what I used both times and probably used more than the recipe called for. This is a yummy recipe and I'll definitely make it again & again.
Tony L.
October 23, 2023
Great soup
I loved the fact of making your own coconut milk which I found easy to do and a lot better than the can. Great soup and will save the recipe for company.