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Coconut Milk Soup with Chicken | Tom Kha Gai | ต้มข่าไก่

Coconut Milk Soup with Chicken | Tom Kha Gai | ต้มข่าไก่

With the weather getting cooler and the days getting shorter, it seems like all I want after a long day of work is a bowl of this warm, comforting Thai coconut milk soup.

This is a soup that makes frequent appearances on our dinner menu, especially around this time of year.  In fact, it was one of the first recipes that I posted when I started this blog almost three years ago.  As I’ve done with each blog anniversary, I thought it’d be nice to go back and revisit one or two of my favorite recipes over the next week or so, sharing what I’ve learned about that recipe since starting this blog… We’ll start with my version of the Thai coconut milk soup known as tom kha gai, three years in the making!

Tom kha gai is actually pretty straightforward to make, as long as you have the right ingredients.  You start by infusing a broth with fresh, fragrant herbs such as kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and galangal.  The galangal is a key component of this soup and provides a sharp, earthy, somewhat citrusy flavor.  It is known as “kha” in Thai and is actually what the soup is named for (tom = to boil, kha = galangal, gai = chicken).

Coconut Milk Soup with Chicken | Tom Kha Gai | ต้มข่าไก่

Once your broth has picked up the wonderful aroma from these herbs, they can be strained out and the main ingredients added.  Straw mushrooms and thinly sliced pieces of chicken are traditional choices, and the ones that I always come back to.  Around this time of year, with all kinds of mushrooms available, I love to mix and match different varieties in this soup.

Over the years, I’ve played around with other vegetables too, from green beans and pumpkin to bamboo shoots and onion slices.  The only variation that the boyfriend absolutely wouldn’t touch involved carrots, since they’re not found in many authentic Thai dishes, although I have to say I thought it was quite good :)

Coconut Milk Soup with Chicken | Tom Kha Gai | ต้มข่าไก่

The soup is then seasoned with fish sauce, lime juice, Thai chilis, and a little coconut milk.  When I started making this soup, I’d add the chilis at this point, barely bruised and no more than 3 at most, or it’d be more than I could handle.  Now that my palate is more accustomed to the heat of Thai chilis, I prefer to add them, really smashed well, with the herbs at the beginning of the cooking process so that more spice can build throughout the soup.

Coconut Milk Soup with Chicken | Tom Kha Gai | ต้มข่าไก่

The spice of the Thai chilis and the acidity of the lime juice provide a nice counterpoint to the creamy coconut milk.  I’ve seen all kinds of recommendations for the amount of coconut milk you should use in this soup, from it being completely coconut milk based to only using a few spoonfuls of the stuff, and as such, have experimented with all of these variations.  I’ve found that adding half a cup of coconut milk for 4 cups of soup is the perfect amount of creaminess for us.  Even a spoonful more and the boyfriend will declare the soup “mun guen pai” or too greasy/fatty (มันเกินไป).  Less than this and my more Americanized palate craves just a little more creaminess.

I’ve also played around with other variations, including using different concentrations of broth, adding a touch of sugar, garnishing with cilantro, etc.  One variation that I do like is adding a tablespoon or so of Thai roasted chili paste (nam prik pao) for a little extra depth of flavor, although this isn’t traditional.

Coconut Milk Soup with Chicken | Tom Kha Gai | ต้มข่าไก่

With all of the experimenting I’ve done with this recipe, the boyfriend is a little wary whenever I tell him I’ve made tom kha gai for him.  If I use anything other than the recipe below, he’ll say, “Why can’t you just stick to what we know is good?”  So, without further ado, here’s a recipe, three years in the making, for our favorite version of the warm, comforting Thai coconut milk soup with chicken and mushrooms.  Hope you enjoy!

Coconut Milk Soup with Chicken | Tom Kha Gai | ต้มข่าไก่

Makes 3-4 servings

Coconut Milk Soup with Chicken | Tom Kha Gai | ต้มข่าไก่


  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup chicken, sliced finely
  • 4-5 kaffir lime leaves, deveined and torn
  • 1 inch piece of galangal, sliced thinly
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, sliced into 2 inch lengths and bruised
  • 3 red Thai chili peppers, bruised
  • 1 cup straw mushrooms (or any other mild variety), cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 Tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon lime juice


  1. Prepare your fresh herbs by slicing the galangal into paper-thin rounds, cutting the lemongrass into 2-3 inch lengths and bruising with a mortar and pestle or back of a chef's knife, and tearing the kaffir lime leaves into half or quarter pieces.
  2. Combine the chicken broth and water in a medium-sized pot and bring to a gentle boil over medium to medium high heat. Add the prepared fresh herbs and bruised Thai chilis and allow to simmer for 10 to 30 minutes, until a the aroma of the herbs is fairly strong.
  3. Remove the herbs with a strainer, allowing the Thai chilis to remain in the pot. Add your thinly-sliced chicken, mushrooms, and coconut milk. Allow to cook until the chicken is cooked through, being careful not to overcook it.
  4. While the chicken is cooking, season the broth with lime juice and fish sauce to taste. I generally start with 1 Tablespoon of each; however, the amounts will vary depending on the saltiness of your chicken broth and the acidity of your limes. The predominant flavors should be hot and sour with a more subtle saltiness and creaminess. If it is not hot enough, press the Thai chilis against the side of the pot with a spoon to release more spice.
  5. Once the chicken and mushrooms are cooked through and the soup is seasoned to your liking, serve with hot jasmine rice and enjoy!

NOTE: If you are not able to find fresh kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and galangal in your area, they can be purchased as part of a fresh Thai herb kit such as this one online.

11 comments… add one
  • George/Bev May 9, 2015, 4:03 am

    Hi Rachel,
    Thanks so much for this recipe. We just enjoyed it for dinner (after having tracked down the elusive Kaffir lime leaf, and this is in the SF Bay Area!). Used the nam prik pao (from your later recipe), and a bit more fish sauce as we are salt lovers.
    Keep up the great work, with your beautiful blog!
    Thanks, Bev/George

    • Rachel May 9, 2015, 6:21 am

      Thanks for the sweet comment, George and Bev! Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Virginia Wilson January 4, 2015, 9:13 pm

    When looking for paste substitute …what brand do you recommend?

    • Rachel January 5, 2015, 5:52 am

      I’m not sure, Virginia. That sounds like a perfect question for a future Thai Test Kitchen taste comparison though! I’ll put it on my list :)

  • Judy October 22, 2013, 12:31 pm

    I love your website…and I love this soup! One of my favorites. I always have a problem finding Kaffir lime leaves. I have some dried ones, have you ever used them?

    • Rachel October 22, 2013, 2:58 pm

      Hi Judy, thanks for the comment! I wouldn’t recommend using dried kaffir lime leaves — they just don’t have the same aroma as fresh leaves.

  • Alyssa (Everyday Maven) October 21, 2013, 3:54 pm

    I am picking up some Kaffir Lime leaves and making this today for lunch – I have everything else!

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