There is nothing quite as fragrant and intricate as a Thai curry with its combination of herbs and aromatics, and, of course, the creamy coconut milk. However, for those of us unfamiliar with Southeast Asian cuisines, recreating these dishes at home can be beyond nerve-wrecking. (Thank God for the internet and google image search, right?) The ingredient lists are long, and the thought of searching for herbs I can’t even visually identify is enough to discourage lazy cooks like me.
So when Bon Appetit published a quick recipe for Chicken Khao Soi with ingredients I already had in the pantry, I couldn’t resist.
Khao Soi Paste
4 large dried New Mexico or guajillo chiles, stemmed, halved, seeded (I found guajillo chiles in Kensington Market)
2 medium shallots, halved (I used regular onions)
8 garlic cloves
1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled, sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro stems
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 14-ounce cans unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, halved lengthwise
1 pound Chinese egg noodles
3 tablespoons (or more) fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
1 tablespoon (packed) palm sugar or light brown sugar
Sliced red onion, bean sprouts, cilantro sprigs, crispy fried onions or shallots, chili oil, and lime wedges (for serving). We opted for pork rinds instead of fried onions.
Khao Soi Paste
Place chiles in a small heatproof bowl, add boiling water to cover, and let soak until softened, 25-30 minutes.
Drain chiles, reserving soaking liquid. Purée chiles, shallots, garlic, ginger, cilantro stems, coriander, turmeric, curry powder, and 2 tablespoons soaking liquid in a food processor, adding more soaking liquid by tablespoonfuls, if needed, until smooth.
Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add khao soi paste; cook, stirring constantly, until slightly darkened, 4-6 minutes. Add coconut milk and broth. Bring to a boil; add chicken. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is fork-tender, 20-25 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate. Let cool slightly; shred meat.
Meanwhile, cook noodles according to package directions.
Add chicken, 3 tablespoons fish sauce, and sugar to soup. Season with salt or more fish sauce, if needed. Divide soup and noodles among bowls and serve with toppings.
If you find yourself in a hurry and can’t wait 25 minutes to boil the chicken….or…funny story…realizing that you don’t have chicken and waiting for your family to come back home with some: pre-cut the raw chicken into the strips and throw them in the soup base about 10-15 minutes before serving. It will cook faster.
We replaced crispy onions with pork rinds!
Bon Appetit’s Khao Soi admittedly doesn’t have the same complexity as the real deal (or more specifically, compared to Nuit Regular’s), but it’s a good homemade substitute. And hey, recipes are merely suggestions. I have plans of spending the rest of my life tweaking this curry paste to satisfaction. If you have time to shop, here’s what I think could improve the dish:
MasterChef Australia 2009 runner-up Poh Ling Yeow’s Khao Soi has white peppercorns, lime juice and lime zest, cinnamon, lemongrass, cumin, pandan leaves and galangal. (I had to look up what the last two were!) She also uses coconut cream and coconut milk, no chicken stock.
The New York Times’s coverage of Pok Pok (on our list to visit when we go back to New York in May) list cardamom and shrimp paste as common Khao Soi ingredients. They also mention soy sauce as well as fish sauce.