Tuesday, May 01, 2012

tom ka gai my way

Hey, look! It's my one-hundredth post! I am sure you enjoy that!

Fresh and lovely.
Tom ka gai translates oh-so-very-loosely as chicken coconut soup, and typically contains ginger, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, fish sauce, and chili in addition to the chicken and coconut milk. If you haven't had tom ka gai, you've missed out on a good thing - make some or get some now, or in a pinch, get hold of a can of coconut milk and just swig that baby. Of course I'm serious.

My favorite version of this soup (from Siam Orchid, the place with that surly waitress) contains fresh tomatoes, which are unusual for this but temper the super-fire-hot chili just enough to make the next spoonful doable. The amalgamation I have come up with here is pretty close to my favorite - but I have a bonus for you! A vegan version - tom yum - to follow in a day or two! I made both soups tonight to accommodate every eating habit in the house. I am that thoughtful (sometimes).

Smash the lemongrass stalk with the broad side of your favorite, giant knife blade before adding it to the stock.
Spicy food reminds me of that SNL skit that involves super-fire-hot chili requiring a release form to order it. If you can find a video of that skit, send it to me! I'll trade you for one of my seventy-thousand lemongrass plants!

tom ka gai my way

STOCK:
1 TBSP olive oil
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1" piece fresh ginger, smashed, roughly chopped (sometimes I peel it, too)
1" piece fresh turmeric, smashed, roughly chopped (ditto on the peeling deal)
2 chicken breast halves, skin on, bone in, rinsed, dry-ish
1 gallon water, or to fill the pot
4" piece fat lemongrass, dry leaves removed, smashed
3 or 4 little chilies
2 kaffir lime leaves from the Indian market
1 TBSP salt

SOUP:
1 TBSP olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2" piece fresh ginger, minced
1/2" piece fresh turmeric, minced
2 tsp red chili paste (more or less to taste - 2 tsps requires a release form from John Belushi's ghost)
6" young lemongrass stalks, sliced (you want the tender part close to the roots)
1 cup sliced, fresh shiitake
1 or 2 TBSP fish sauce (Rufina Patis from the Philippines is my fave - it's salty as hell, taste it as you add it - but use any thin style fish sauce)
1 cup fresh tomato, cut into big pieces
4 green onions, cut into 1" pieces
juice of four limes
1 can coconut milk
a handful fresh cilantro, roughly chopped


To make the stock, heat the olive oil to med-high in a large soup pot and sauté the garlic, ginger, and turmeric for a couple of seconds. Add the chicken breasts - actually, if you prefer thighs, use those - and brown quickly, turning all around, for a minute or two.

Add the water to fill the pot, and then add in the rest of the stock ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through.

Remove the chicken to a plate and let cool a bit. Strain the stock into a giant Rubbermaid bowl (so you can pick it up in a few minutes without burning your hands) and set aside.

In the same pot (I don't clean it, what for?), heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic, ginger, and turmeric for just a few seconds - no burning. Stir in the chili paste (you'll have to smash it around), and then pour in the stock.

Now we're cookin'. That's Jeff Schweers' spoon, by the way. He gave it to me when he left the neighborhood to become famous.
Bring the soup to a boil. While it's getting there, pull the chicken off of the bones with a pair of tongs and add it to the pot. Add in the lemongrass, shiitake, and fish sauce. Reduce heat and simmer for two or three minutes.

Add in the tomatoes, green onions, lime juice - you need a bunch of this to balance the hot and sour tastes - and coconut milk. Add the cilantro just before serving.

Everything's better with coconut milk in it (even you).
Taste, and add more fish sauce or lime to taste. Serves six hungry people, or two people for three days, twice a day.

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