Anne-Louise Brown

Tom kha gai is a fresh and fragrant coconut chicken soup. Click for more photos

How to make tom kha gai

Tom kha gai is a fresh and fragrant coconut chicken soup. Photo: Harrison Saragossi

The heady scent of galangal and kaffir lime defines Thai cuisine, and a favourite national dish is the delicious and creamy chicken soup, tom kha gai.

Chef Katrina Ryan, a Neil Perry acolyte and owner of Brisbane cooking school The Golden Pig, has a passion for Asian food. Once a household takeaway staple, Thai cuisine is being cooked more and more in Australian homes, and the process of creating beautiful Thai dishes is one Ryan aims to simplify.

She loves this soup because “it is so simple, warming and fragrant and the fresh lime lifts the creaminess of the coconut”. Better still, it takes about 20 minutes to cook, making it the perfect midweek meal. So ditch the takeaway menu and try making this delicious soup at home. Or watch Ryan in action on Saturday, July 5 at her Good Food Month cooking class.

Katrina Ryan's top tips for making tom kha gai

Cooking time: Don't cook it for too long, just enough to infuse the aromatics, and remove it from the heat as soon as the lime juice is added so it tastes fresh. Some chefs squeeze the lime into the bowl and pour the soup on top.

Palm sugar: Palm sugar is made from the sap of the date palm and is a staple ingredient in Thai cooking. It is often sold in solid blocks and hard palm sugar can be easily softened by pounding in a mortar and pestle. It can be found in the Asian food section of most supermarkets.

Galangal: From the same family as ginger, galangal is a distinct Thai flavour. Although it looks a bit like ginger, it tastes different and is much harder. Galangal cannot be eaten, instead its flavour is infused into food. It can be sourced at Asian grocers.

Coconut cream: This recipe uses coconut cream as it provides the depth of flavour and creaminess required. Coconut milk is too watery. If the soup is too creamy for your liking simply add a little water.

Chopping: It is important not to chop up the lemongrass, galangal and lime leaves too small. They are meant to remain in the bowl after eating the soup. You don't want small bits in the mouth with each mouthful.

Katrina Ryan's tom kha gai


2 cups chicken stock

2 cups coconut cream

2 coriander roots

2 small hot red chillies (with seeds)

2 stalks lemongrass

10 slices peeled galangal

3 kaffir lime leaves

1 tsp sea salt

3 tbsp fish sauce

3 tbsp palm sugar

1 chicken breast, thinly sliced

1 tomato, cut into wedges

3 tbsp lime juice

A handful of Thai basil leaves


Heat the stock with the coconut cream in a small saucepan.

Wash the coriander root thoroughly and scrape with a knife. Chop all the white part and about 1cm of the green stem. Discard the rest.

Using a mortar and pestle, pound the coriander roots and chillies to crush well. Add them to the soup.

Strip back the lemongrass until clean and smooth. Bash the white end with a pestle to loosen the hard core. Discard the core and slice the white part diagonally. Discard the thin green stalk.

Cut the skin off the galangal and slice into 3mm thick slices. Put the lemongrass and galangal slices in a mortar and pestle and bruise lightly to release the flavour but not break the pieces up. Add them to the pot.

Tear and scrunch up the lime leaves to release the perfume and add them to the pot as well.

Add the salt, fish sauce and palm sugar to the pot.

Slice the chicken breast thinly across the grain.

Bring the soup to a simmer and add the chicken.

When the chicken is cooked (about two to three minutes), add tomato and the lime juice.

Serve with extra chopped chilli on the side and garnish with Thai basil leaves.

Serves 4

Katrina Ryan will be hosting a cooking class, The Art of Making Authentic Thai Curries, on Saturday, July 5 as part of Good Food Month. See