From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...Remembering Thailand - Cooking schools in Southeast Asia tend to follow a pattern. A student's day begins just after first light with a stop at the local market to purchase ingredients needed for the morning's lesson. Then it's on to classes which start early in order to avoid the intense midday heat. In Chiang Mai, the school we attended was in the country and part of a beautiful organic farm. Our instructor was a young Thai chef who brooked no departure from her agenda. She was about 4' 8" tall and if she weighed 85 pounds I'd be surprised. I don't quite know how she did it, but I'm here to tell you she struck fear in the hearts of some members of our group. Most of the men were attending classes because their wives told them they had to. They were known to horse around if cooking or weaving was involved. The highlight of my day was watching her watch them with an unblinking stare that prevented infractions before they could occur. She was there to teach, we were there to learn, and learning did not include small talk, laughter or lack of respect for the food. I'll bear witness to the fact that her class was run with military efficiency - all dishes were prepared as directed and lunch was ready at noon. The other class didn't do so well. I heard lots of laughter in the other class room and they were an hour late for lunch. That gave us lots of time to explore the old plantation and talk with the folks who helped with the gardens and did the kitchen prep work. I had a great time, but when I evaluated the day I became aware of a problem I would encounter throughout our trip in Southeast Asia - overcooked, dry meat. Today's recipe is based on the Tom Kah Gai recipe from the Farm School. I've reworked it in order to avoid dry chicken. This is a really simple recipe and you'll be able to find most of the ingredients you need in your supermarket. The two items that might pose a problem are galangal and kiffir lime leaves. The zest of one lime can be substituted for the three kaffir lime leaves called for in the ingredient list. If you are unable to find galangal - also called blue ginger - substitute an equal quantity of fresh ginger. The fresh ginger lacks the musky overtones of galangal, but it's a great substitute. This is a fine recipe. I hope you will make the soup often. Here is how it's prepared.
Tom Kah Gai
2 (14.5-oz.) cans coconut milk
2 (14.5-oz.) cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
6 kaffir lime leaves
3 fresh stalks lemon grass (white part only), bruised
2 teaspoons green curry paste
12 thin slices galangal
3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
2 cups sliced white mushrooms
1 pound chicken breast or thighs, cut in 3/4-inch cubes
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
Garnish: fresh cilantro, green onion tops
1) Combine coconut milk, chicken broth, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, green curry paste and galangal in a large (3-quart) saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Add fish sauce. Simmer for 45 minutes.
2) Remove kaffir lime leaves, galangal and lemon grass. Add chicken and mushrooms. Simmer until chicken is cooked, about 7 minutes. Stir in lime juice. Ladle into bowls. Garnish with cilantro and green onion tops. Yield: 6 servings.
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