Thai Coconut Chicken Soup
You can make all kinds of substitutions here: if you can't find kaffir lime leaves, for instance, then use the grated rind from one of the limes; use veggie broth and substitute cubed tofu for the chicken; skip the mushrooms entirely; use regular ramen instead of the rice vermicelli, or skip the noodles altogether (the noodles aren't traditional; I only add them so that I can serve a single bowl of food and call it dinner). But do get some Thai red curry paste: most supermarkets carry the Thai Kitchen brand, and it's excellent and comes in a nice small jar so it won't hog up your whole fridge.
Active time: 25 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Yield: Serves 4-6
2 cans coconut milk (not low-fat, not shaken)
3 lemon grass stalks, tough outer leaves removed, bottom five inches halved lengthwise, smashed with the side of a large knife, and sliced thin crosswise
1 large shallot, chopped
A large handful of clean cilantro, leaves removed and reserved, stems chopped coarse
4 kaffir lime leaves (optional)
2-3 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 quart chicken broth
1 tablespoon sugar
6 ounces (2 small bricks) rice vermicelli
1/2 pound white mushrooms, sliced
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise into skinny strips
2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (from 2 to 3 limes)
1 serrano chile, sliced thin (optional)
- Open one of the cans of coconut milk and scoop all of the solid cream from it into a heavy soup pot; the cream will look like shortening, and will end abruptly about halfway down the can, where there will suddenly be thin liquid (leave this liquid in the can for now). Heat the coconut cream over medium heat until it melts and begins to simmer, then stir in the lemon grass, shallot, cilantro stems, lime leaves, and curry paste. (Let's say that something went wrong and your coconut milk isn't like this -- either because it got shaken, or was thin to begin with: go ahead and heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in the pot and proceed with the recipe).
- Stir and fry the aromatic ingredients in the coconut fat until they are wildly fragrant, and a reddish oil is separating out from the mixture -- around 5-10 minutes (if you used oil, then stir and fry for just a couple of minutes before adding the liquid ingredients).
- Now stir in one tablespoon of the fish sauce, along with the broth and sugar and the rest of the coconut milk from that one can. Bring this mixture to a boil, turn the heat down to low, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cover the noodles with hot water and leave them to soak.
- Pour the simmered soup through a fine strainer into a boil (press on the solids with a spoon to extract all that delicious flavor), then wipe out the pot and pour the strained broth back into it. Add the remaining can of coconut milk and bring it back to a simmer over medium-high heat.
- Lower the heat to medium, add the mushrooms and noodles, and cook for 2 minutes, then add the chicken and cook, stirring constantly, until the chicken is cooked through, 1-3 minutes.
- Turn the heat off, stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of fish sauce and the lime juice, and serve, garnished with cilantro leaves and, if you like, sliced chile.