Kaeng Som Gai; Thai Yellow Curry with Chicken

Kaeng som Gai; Thai Yellow Curry with Chicken


Kaeng Som, aka Thai Yellow Curry, originates from central Thailand. It has a slightly sour taste and not to be confused with massaman curry from the south of Thailand that has its origins in India and Persia. Kaeng Som is very popular and served up in restaurants and food stalls across the country. Very easy to make using prepared sour Thai yellow curry paste which is perfectly acceptable and available in Asian food shops worldwide.

Thai Yellow Curry Paste

Thai Yellow Curry Paste

Or, if you are a purest, by all means make your own curry paste at home. A recipe is included below.

This is a dish you will find yourself making again and again. Kaeng Som’s sweet, sour, salty, spicy, and pungent flavors bundle together all the elements that make Thai foods so alluring and irresistible!


Kaeng Som Gai; Thai Yellow Curry with Chicken    serves 4

You will find this dish is often made with sliced boneless chicken breast meat in restaurants, although I much prefer using bone in legs and thighs for a moister meat and added flavor.

  • 4 chicken legs and thighs separated, skin on (or boneless breasts thinly sliced)
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil (or cold pressed peanut oil)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons yellow Thai curry paste
  • 4 teaspoons palm sugar
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind water (tamarind paste dissolved in hot water and strained)
  • 2 cups coconut cream (thick coconut milk)
  • 1 cup stock or water
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 small eggplant, peeled and cut into small bite size cubes
  • 3 fresh red chilies, seeded and cut into thin strips
  • 2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
  • sea salt to taste
  • 1 cup fresh Thai Basil leaves, whole
  • fresh coriander leaves for garnish

Rinse the chicken pieces and pat dry with paper towels. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large deep sauce pan until nearly smoking. Add the chicken pieces skin side down and brown until the skin releases from the bottom of the pan. Turn and brown the other sides and transfer to a platter. Skip this step if you are using sliced chicken breast.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan and when hot add the curry paste and fry until the paste is soft and aromatic, about 1 minute. Then add the palm sugar and stir into the curry paste until melted, about 1 minute. Stir in the tamarind water and stir until combined. Promptly add the coconut cream and stir until the paste is combined with the coconut cream. Then stir in the stock and add the chicken, kaffir lime leaves, eggplant, red chilies, and fish sauce. Lower the heat to simmer, partially cover the pan, and cook 30 minutes, or until the sauce is reduced and the chicken is nearly falling off the bone. Reduce cooking time to 20 minutes if using sliced chicken breast.

Taste the sauce and add sea salt to taste if needed. Stir in the basil leaves and cook another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and lightly coats the chicken pieces. 

Garnish with coriander leaves. Serve with Thai jasmine rice and pickled sliced cucumbers (ajat; recipe below) on the side.


Kaeng Som Curry paste:

  • 7 dried red chilies
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 red shallots, peeled and minced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 2 teaspoons Thai shrimp paste
  • ½ inch knob galangal, peeled and minced
  • ½ inch knob ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 ½ teaspoon toasted coriander seeds, ground
  • ¾ teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
  • 2 inch piece lemongrass (inner white part only) minced
  • ½ inch fresh turmeric, peeled and grated (or 1 teaspoon powder)
  • 3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce

Soak the chilies in hot water until soft and drain. Slice open lengthwise and remove most of the seeds and mince.

Place the minced chilies in a mortar along with the salt, shallots, garlic, and shrimp paste. Grind until the ingredients form a paste. Then add the galangal, ginger, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, lemongrass, and turmeric. Grind until the paste is relatively smooth. Add the fish sauce and grind until incorporated.

Set aside for immediate use, or place in a jar and refrigerate or freeze for longer storage.


Ajat (pickled cucumbers) Prepare ahead.

  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 2 red or green fresh chilies, seeded and cut into thin slices ½ inch in length
  • 1 ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt or to taste
  • water to cover

Place the sliced cucumbers, shallots, and chilies in a nonreactive bowl.

Place the sugar, vinegar, and salt in a small sauce pan and heat until the sugar and salt is completely dissolved. Set aside to cool and then pour over the cucumber mixture. Add enough water to just cover and stir to combine. Cover with plastic film and refrigerate for several hours.

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