When Old Goat Honey and I were newly married, there was a little hotel on the main road of the town where we lived. On the first floor of this hotel was a tiny Thai restaurant. For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of it now. It has long since closed, but when it was open, we would go there for dinner at least once every other month. Their food was sooo good. One of our favorite things to order whenever we went there was their Thai Coconut Chicken Soup or “Soup No. 9” as we called it because it was the No. 9 item on their short, 2-page menu.
The soup was absolutely delicious! They served it in this round silver bowl that sat on a pedestal. The bowl had a hole in the center with a sort of “chimney” sticking up out of it. And inside the pedestal underneath the bowl was a little fire (I guess from a sterno can) that kept the soup hot. Since then, I’ve learned that that serving bowl is called a Thai Hot Pot. I don’t have one and just make my soup in a regular stock pot, but I suppose if you really wanted to go authentic, you could purchase a thai hot pot of your own.
This soup calls for lemongrass. For those who are unfamiliar with it, lemongrass is a fragrant grass-like stalk that’s widely used in Southeast Asian cuisine. It’s long like a green onion, with a pale green color and with a tough, outer casing similar to a thick corn husk. It has a citrusy, herbal-like flavor. It’s readily available in Asian food stores and its increasing popularity is making it easier to find in your local neighborhood grocery. I know I can find it in mine.
TO PREPARE LEMON GRASS: Cut off about a half-inch from the top and the root end. Wash it well, then peel off the tough outer layers. Before you chop or slice it, take a meat tenderizer or a mallet and smash it. This helps release the oils that impart that delicious lemony flavor. Then cut it into 2-inch pieces or mince it finely, depending on your recipe’s instructions. It’s quite tough and woody so it’s usually cut into pieces which are later discarded before serving, but you can eat the more tender center portion if it’s finely minced. If you’re going to mince the center portion, use the bottom 4 or 5 inches only since that’s the most tender part of the stalk.
THAI COCONUT CHICKEN SOUP
- 2 tbsp. canola oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (3-inch) piece ginger, grated
- 1 stalk lemongrass, crushed and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1 (15-oz.) can coconut milk
- 3 tbsp. patis (fish sauce)
- 2 tbsp. sugar
- ¼ cup fresh lime juice
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 8 ozs. white mushrooms, sliced
- 1-4 small Thai chilies, sliced thinly (depending on how spicy you want it)
- 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips (or 3 cups shredded, cooked chicken breast)
- ¼ cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 stalk green onion, thinly sliced (for garnish)
- Heat canola oil in a soup pot and sauté garlic, ginger, and lemongrass.
- Add the chicken broth, coconut milk, patis, sugar, and lime juice.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and stir in bell pepper, mushrooms, chilies, and chicken.
- Simmer for about 10 minutes or until chicken is just cooked through.
- Pick out and discard lemongrass.
- Stir in cilantro.
- Sprinkle with green onion and serve immediately with extra lime wedges on the side.
NOTE: If you can’t find Thai chilies, you could substitute 1-2 tsp. sambal oelek (ground fresh chili paste) for the chilies. Actually, Old Goat Honey loves this soup served with a little bowl of sambal oelek on the side.
Also, if you can’t find fresh lemongrass, you could substitute the zest and juice of a fresh lemon, though it’s not quite the same thing. I’ve done it though, and it works fine in a pinch.
1 stalk lemongrass = zest of 1/2 lemon + 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Lemongrass freezes well so if you do find it, I recommend that you buy a bunch to freeze. Just wash it, peel off the outer leaves, stick it in a ziploc bag, squeeze out all the excess air, and put it in your freezer. It will keep for months and can be used directly from frozen.