Online Recipe Book

Tom Ka Kai (Thai Chicken Coconut Soup)

3 to 4 servings
Prep info
20 min prep + 20 min cook
Prep time
Not set
Cook time
40 minutes
Time required
40 minutes
Oven preheat


  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 8 oz chicken breast (boneless, skinless, cut into 1" pieces)
  • 1/4 t salt
  • chopped vegetables (as desired)
  • 1 lemongrass stalk
  • 3 sliced green onions (divided: separate the white parts from the green parts)
  • fresh galangal root (1 inch, grated; or use ginger root (different taste))
  • 2 minced red chili pepper (more or less to desired heat level)
  • 3 c chicken stock
  • 1.5 T fresh lime juice
  • 2 T fish sauce
  • 1/2 t palm sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves (to taste)
  • 14 oz coconut milk (or evaporated milk [400g])
  • noodles (as desired)
  • fresh cilantro (to garnish)
  • fresh basil leaves (to garnish)



Salt the chicken and set aside. 

To prepare the lemongrass: Slice and mince the lower portion and reserve the upper portion to flavor the soup.  You can use a food processor for this, or just mince it by hand.  The woody upper portion of the stalk will be removed later, so don't chop it up; simply score it by making a few superficial cuts in it to allow it to flavor the soup.

Chop all vegetables, if using, small enough to fit in a spoon.  Slice the green onions, keeping the greens separate from the whites.  Grate the galangal or ginger.  Mince the chilis.  Place the evaporated milk in a heatproof container much larger than it. 

Prepare these lots:

  1. Salted chicken
  2. Vegetables
  3. Minced lower part of the lemongrass, whites of the green onions, galangal/ginger, and chilis
  4. Whole upper part of the lemongrass, chicken stock, lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar, most of the greens of the green onions, lime leaves, and coconut milk (not evaporated milk)
  5. Evaporated milk, if using
  6. Garnishes: a few greens of the green onions, cilantro, and basil


1. In the bottom of a large soup pot, heat the oil over high heat until very hot but not smoking.  Add Lot 1 (salted chicken) to oil, tossing to brown all the pieces.  Cook about 3 minutes, or until outside is browned, but not necessarily cooked all the way through.

2. Add Lot 2 (vegetables), if using, and toss.  Allow to cook until some of the moisture is cooked out and they are soft.  Turn down heat to medium-low.

3. Add Lot 3.  Toss until just warmed through.  Add Lot 4.  Bring to a simmer.

4. If using evaporated milk (Lot 5), temper it now and then add it.  Place evaporated milk in a glass or heat-proof container.  Slowly add some soup to the milk, whisking the entire time. Once the milk has been brought up to temperature, add it slowly to the soup, whisking the entire time.

5. Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes to allow flavors to blend well.  Taste test and adjust the flavors if needed as noted below.

6. While the soup simmers, cook the noodles.  When cooked, place in soup bowls.

7. Ladle into soup bowls over the noodles, remove lime leaves, and garnish with Lot 6 (remaining green onions, cilantro, and basil).


Notes from source:

Flavor adjustments:

  • Not salty enough: add more fish sauce.
  • Too sour: add a little more sugar.
  • Too spicy: add more coconut milk (or evaporated milk).
  • Not spicy enough: add more chilis.


  • Add more vegetables such as some sliced red bell peppers with the mushrooms.
  • Serve over wide rice noodles for a main dish serving.
  • Make vegetarian by increasing mushrooms in place of chicken, and substituting vegetable stock.

SJ Note 11 Aug 2011: I made too many changes to this to give a review of it as written, but I will say it definitely needs chicken or something to bulk it out; omitting the chicken, as I did, left a very brothy soup.  I used evaporated milk (we can't use coconut milk), reconstituting it from dried milk: I won't do that again, as it separated in this soup.  I'd wanted a side dish, hence the omission of the chicken, but next time I'll just make this the main dish and have something else on the side.

How to temper ingredients:

SJ Note 24 Aug 2013: The canned evaporated milk separated, too, so I've added a step to temper it.  I've rewritten the recipe so hopefully it's clearer, and it should also make far less - this makes way too much for our needs.  Adding noodles helps it become a meal, so I've done that.