Yesterday was a special day. A day that reminded me of my late grandpa who protected me from stray dogs around the neighbourhood and the only one who offered his cuddles generously more than my parents. 16 years have past, and I still dreamed about searching for him, high and low, then woke up in tears. The loss was too soon, but fond memories of him left a huge impression in my life. Our last holiday was to Bangkok, a year before he left us. He was the first person who fed me with a mouthful of milky soup, it dances between sour and spicy, a queer sensation at the tip of my tongue. At the age of 9, I've never tasted any food with two tastes combined, even for soups, they are either sweet or peppery. This soup is called Tom Kha Gai or chicken galangal (blue ginger) soup. The chicken is bathed in an aromatic, silky coconut millk broth, and usually served with rice. The mild spiciness drew me to pester my grandpa for more, and that marked my fondness in Thai food.
Mummy Chow went to pay her respects on his death anniversary, while I was nursing my grandma the whole morning. The emptiness in me has led me craving for the warming and comforting soup that reminded me of him. Before grandma woke up for lunch, I sneaked out to buy some quintessential Thai ingredients: lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, red chilli padi, red onions (they come in a pack and you can find them at Fairprice supermarket in Singapore), trimmed coconut milk, clams and red chrysanthemums.
The toughest part for the recipe may be searching for the key ingredients: the leading roles that play the creamy, sour, spicy, tiny bit sweet part in this broth. You'll most likely find them in Asian supermarket, and I wouldn't advise replacing lime leaves with lime zest, galangal with turmeric. Hmm...they will taste different, I've never tried it, but having lime zest boil within the soup for too long, it may taste an odd bitter. The easiest part will be bringing them altogether, in groups and they meld within the broth quite swiftly.
This classic, second best known Thai dish in America can be quite a teaser to your nose and eyes while preparing it. First, keep an eye on your supporting fingers whilst slicing the chili padi. DON'T EVER TOUCH THE SEEDS! THEY STING. So, cut off the tip, hold down the tail of the chili padi, and carve out the seeds. Next, ☝🏻 I've to warn you to cover your nose while frying the Thai ingredients. The pungent and sharp aroma can be a little choking at first😷 So keep the fire low to medium heat.
Ingredients (serves 3)
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 red onion, peeled, chop finely
- 1 galangal, skinned, cut in 4 slices
- 1 ginger, skinned, cut in 4 slices
- 2 stalks lemongrass, pale white bottom part only. Smashed it with a pestle and cut in diagonal slices
- 4 chilli padi (small hot Thai chiles), deseed, thinly sliced
- 200ml coconut milk
- 6 lime/makrut leaves (without stem)
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 anchovy stock
- 1 pound small clams
- 6 huge prawns
- 1 cup roughly chopped Thai coriander
- 1 lime, wedges, for serving
- 5 cups warm water
- Fish sauce to taste
- To remove fishy smell from clams completely, add 1 tablespoon salt in a big bowl of water. Pour clams in and let it soaked for 20 minutes. Drain water away, fill the bowl with water again and add 1 tablespoon salt in the bowl. Leave it for another 10 minutes. Drain salt water away before cooking clams.
- Heat coconut oil in a heavy bottom stock pot over medium high heat. Add onions and cook until slightly brown and tender. Add galangal, ginger, lemongrass and stir fry till combine for 3-4 minutes. Lower to medium heat, add chilli padi. Continue to fry the mixture for 2 minutes.
- Add warm water to the mixture (water level should cover the ingredients) followed by the stock and lime leaves. Simmer for 30 minutes.
- Taste the mixture and add 1 tablespoon fish sauce to the soup. Adjust the flavour to your liking by adding 1 teaspoon fish sauce each time.
- Add clams and prawns and bring mixture to a boil over high heat for 5-8 minutes or until clams have opened. Quickly add coconut milk in and stir it once or twice. *Don’t leave the soup boiling for too long as it foams up and create white milk particles.
- Turn off the heat. Transfer clams and prawns to bowls. Strain the broth using a strainer if desired and ladle over seafood. Sprinkle with coriander. Squeeze a lime wedge over each bowl.