Hearty Fall Cookery
Khao Soi is a Northern Thai curry noodle soup that is renowned for its seductive flavors; sweet, sour, piquant, and fragrantly spiced. Khao Soi’s roots stretch back hundreds of years to the Lanna Kingdom that then included what is now Myanmar (Burma), Northern Thailand, provinces of South China, and Laos. The aroma alone holds you captive with its allusive hints of origins from neighboring cultures; India, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
Khao Soi is unequivocally my favorite northern Thai dish here in my hometown of Chiang Mai, which was founded as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom in 1296. I often drop into my local Khao Soi shop just to savor its seductive pleasures all over again…and again! There are endless variations of Khao Soi and I have tasted many, but the recipe that follows closely reflects that of my local shop which, to me, is a stellar Khao Soi!
For those of you who live in or plan to visit Chiang Mai:
Old City; corner of Inthawarorot and Jhaban Roads
Open daily until 2pm
There are several preparations involved in making Khao Soi, but do not be deterred. Preparing the stock, curry soup, fried noodles, and fried chile flakes a day in advance eases the final cooking and serving. The rewards for all your efforts will be duly apparent with the results, I assure you!
The Asian ingredients in the recipe are all readily available at local Asian food shops and specialty supermarkets, with the exception of tamarind paste which can be omitted if not available.
Khao Soi: Serves
Prepare a day in advance
Making an Asian stock is not absolutely necessary, but it does add depth and silkiness to the dish and, as you are using chicken in the dish anyway, it is easy enough to make and the left over stock can be used (frozen if you like) for other Asian dishes.
- 1 “village” chicken (free range) with head, neck, and feet
- 1 large onion, skinned and chopped
- 1 one inch knob of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
- 3 kaffir lime leaves
- 4 coriander roots, chopped
- 3 whole cardamom pods
Remove the head, neck, feet, and backbone of the chicken. Divide the chicken into eight pieces, removing the breast bones and thigh bones, leaving the leg bones intact. Refrigerate the chicken pieces to cook in the the soup later.
Place the bones, head, neck, and feet in a stock pot. Add the onions, ginger, kaffir lime leaves, coriander roots, and cardamom pods and fill the pot 3/4 full of water. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 1 ½ hours, reducing the liquid by half. Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer, forcing all the liquid out of the solids, which you can then discard. Cool to room temperature, skim off any excess fat on the surface, store in an airtight container and refrigerate if not using immediately, or freeze for later use.
Fried red chile flakes:
- 1/4 cup red chile flakes
- 1 tablespoons vegetable oil
Fry the chile flakes in the oil until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain and place in a small container with lid and store at room temperature.
Fried Chinese Egg Noodles:
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil for frying
- 2 oz of fresh noodles, separated
Heat the oil in a small saucepan until quite hot. Test the oil’s readiness; dipping a single noodle into the oil. If it sizzles and seizes up quickly the oil hot enough. Add some noodles, not overcrowding, to the hot oil and fry until crisp; 1 1/2 – 2 minutes. Remove and set aside on paper towels to cool. Continue frying the remaining noodles in batches, setting them aside to cool. Store the noodles in an airtight container at room temperature.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 ½ tablespoons yellow Thai curry paste
- 1 tablespoon red Thai curry paste
- 3 cups coconut milk
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon Indian curry powder
- 1 teaspoon palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
- 7 cups stock, hot
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla)
- 3 tablespoons tamarind syrup (made from paste, optional if unavailable)
- 1/4 cup stock
- 1 tablespoon tamarind paste
Place the stock and tamarind paste in a small sauce pan and simmer until reduced to thick syrup. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and discard the solids. Set aside.
Heat the vegetable oil over medium heat in a stock pot and add the yellow and red curry pastes and fry, stirring continuously so it does not burn, for several minutes. Add 1 cup of coconut milk and cook until the curry pastes dissolve into the coconut milk. Stir in the turmeric, curry powder, and sugar and stir to combine. Add the remaining 2 cups of coconut milk and bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes until thickened.
Add 6 3/4 cups of stock and bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Add the fish sauce and tamarind syrup and stir to combine and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer the soup to a large container with a lid. You will notice quite a bit of fat from both the chicken and the coconut milk floating to the top, which can be easily skimmed off once the soup has been refrigerated. Cool completely before refrigerating the soup.
Prepare on serving day
Skim the excess fat that has risen to the top of the refrigerated curry soup and reheat to a simmer. Add the chicken pieces and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook the chicken for about 1 hour or until the meat is very tender and nearly falling off the leg bones. Remove from the stove, skim off any excess fat and set aside to rest. At this point taste the curry soup and add additional fish sauce for additional saltiness if needed.
Prepare condiments while the chicken is cooking:
- 3 large red shallots
- Chinese pickled mustard greens
- 2 fresh limes cut into wedges
- fresh coriander sprigs for garnishing
- fried red chile flakes
Remove the outer skins of the shallots and slice into wedges lengthwise. Cut the mustard greens into strips across the leaves. Cut the limes into wedges, removing seeds if possible. Set aside until ready to serve the Khao Soi
Fresh Chinese Egg Noodles:
- 6 oz fresh noodles
Bring the water to a boil. Rinse the fresh noodles to remove the flour dusting. Place in the boiling water and cook until al dente, 2-3 minutes. Remove the noodles and place in a colander and rinse briefly and drain until you are ready to assemble the Khao Soi.
Serving: Reheat the chicken and curry broth to a low simmer.
Divide the cooked noodles into individual serving bowls, adding a piece of chicken on top of the noodles. Ladle a generous amount of curry soup to nearly cover the noodles in each bowl. Top with a small mound of crispy fried noodles. Garnish with several sprigs of fresh coriander.
Serve the shallots, mustard greens, and lime wedges on a separate plate for each serving of Khao Soi at the table.
Typically the shallots and pickled mustard greens are stirred into the Khao Soi along with fresh squeezed lime juice at the table!
Serve a small bowl of fried red chile flakes on the table for those who want to add additional heat to the Khao Soi!