Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tom Kha Kai (aka Thai Chicken Soup)

I could've swore I posted this here a long time ago, but I guess not. Well, better late than never, I suppose...

Anyone who knows me, or has ever been cooked for by me, knows that, man, I really love Thai food (anything with an Asian feel to it, really.) And I tell you what, I love me a giant bowl of Tom Kha Kai.

Being that this is a soup, there's any number of ways to do it. Here's my way:

(Those chunks of chicken-nugget-looking things are the galanga)

What we have here is the following:

Thai bird chilis
Kaffir lime leaves
Scallions (white parts)
Sea salt
Black pepper
Brown sugar
Fish sauce

Specific amounts, you say? Recipe? Why, I have no idea what you're talking about; I just eyeball the amounts. If it looks right, it is right. And if it's not right, I'll know it when I taste it, and adjust accordingly (I'm generally, though not always, of the opinion that recipes are for cookbook authors and culinary scaredy-cats).
So, cook this down in a little bit of oil, just until soft, you don't want to brown it. Next, add some coconut milk and chicken stock (I used the low sodium kind for this) and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes. (For the total volume of soup, I used approx. 32 oz. each of coconut milk and chicken stock, and added a little less than half each for this part.)

Afterwards, strain out all of the liquid into another container, dump the veggies, and return the liquid to the pot. Add the rest of the coconut milk and chicken stock, taste and add more salt, pepper, brown sugar, fish sauce accordingly, then add the diced (raw) chicken.

(Helpful tip: chicken, beef, etc., is so much easier to slice and dice when it's partially frozen!)

I think I used about 1 1/2 lbs. or so for this batch. Chop up some mushrooms of your choice- I used fresh oyster mushrooms, but most anything will do- and add those to the pot. Add in some bamboo shoots- I was lucky enough to have some fresh, thinly sliced and slivered ones on hand, and used about a pound. I'm sure water chestnuts would be delicious, but I didn't have any this time (except for that one small can down in the basement, but I didn't feel like bothering with it). Also, at this point I added a couple tablespoons of crack (aka MSG) because I really like the stuff. Apparently, though, some people have issues with it. I'm glad I'm not one of those people. Let simmer until the chicken is cooked all the way through, and then dish it up, adding copious amounts of cilantro and Thai basil as a garnish-

Although, I think copious means something different for me than it does for other people- I practically have a salad on top of mine:

This was the first time I've used Thai basil with this soup; before, I'd always just gone with cilantro (mainly because when I used to make this for myself before, I didn't have easy access to the Thai basil). I highly recommend it. This particular batch was Out. Standing. Fairly easy to make, and make consistently good. Pad Thai, for me, is always hit or miss- sometimes great, usually just ok. But every time I make this, it always ranges from Very Good, to I Want To Marry Whoever Made This. Substitutions generally work well, too. Where I used Thai bird chilis, if you can't get those, you could definitely go with crushed red pepper. I don't know of any fresh substitutes for Galanga, Lime leaves, and Lemongrass, but the dried versions are relatively easy to come by via mail-order, or even at a lot of co-ops and grocery stores nowadays, and are usually reasonably priced. Not as good as fresh, obviously, but better than nothing. When I can afford it, which is almost never, I prefer sesame or peanut oil for cooking the veggies at the beginning (coconut oil would also be excellent) but in this case I just went with canola.

Finally, it's not a recipe, but here are the approximate amounts I used for the ingredients listed:

Galanga- 1 medium finger/knob
Lemongrass- 1 stalk
Garlic- 2-4 Tablespoons
Thai bird chilis- 5-6
Kaffir lime leaves- 8 leaves, or so. (would've used more, but the rest had gone bad)
Scallions (white parts) - 1 bunch
Ginger- 1 medium finger
Sea salt- 1 T
Black pepper- 1 teaspoon
Brown sugar- 2 T
Fish sauce- 2-4 T
Coconut milk- 32 oz
Low-sodium chicken stock- 32 oz
Diced chicken- 1 1/2 lbs.
Oyster mushrooms- 8 oz.
Bamboo shoots- 1 lb.
MSG- 2 T
Cilantro, chopped- 1/2 C
Thai Basil, chopped- 1/2 C

Monday, January 3, 2011

Maybe it's just me, but...

Do you notice anything really stupid about this picture (the main one on the right)?

I got a Williams-Sonoma catalog in the mail the other day, and set it aside for later. This morning when I picked it up to scan through it, that picture was on the second page in, and my very first thought when I saw it was not, 'Wow, a Vitamix, sure wish I had one of those!' (That was probably my second thought), but 'You gotta be f'ing kidding me.'
I get that it's an advertisement for their blender and all, and you kinda gotta show the front of the blender to people, but still, do you have to get a chef (or anyone) to pose behind the thing, looking like he's actually using it like that? Because I'm pretty sure noone who uses a $600 blender would stand behind it and give it the ol' reach-around treatment. I could be wrong about that, but I'm pretty sure that's the case. Who knows, though? Maybe I'm just jealous because I can't afford a $600 blender. Maybe if I had one I'd be posing shirtless with it, wrapping my arms lovingly around it from behind and looking into the camera like I'm doing a scene for some tawdry culinary soap opera? But unless Williams-Sonoma or Vitamix would like to sponsor that little piece of heaven by, I don't know, sending me a free Vitamix Pro or something, I guess we'll never know for sure. So I'm sticking with my original (and totally not bitter or resentful or anything) judgment that it's a stupid photo.