Whether from traveling to Thailand or watching street food videos, people around the world are excited to try Thailand’s rich khao soi curry. This hearty northern Thai dish wins people over by being full of tender stewed meat, aromas from the spices in the curry, and a colorful array of condiments.
We wanted to recreate this recipe in the tradition of Thai street food in Chiang Mai. Our strongest clues for how khao soi was eaten in the past come from the 40 year old flavors you can taste at the restaurant Khao Soi Islam in downtown Chiang Mai. The taste is a sharp contradiction to the extra sweet and salty versions many restaurants, and thus many online recipes promote today.
So here’s our method for the old school version. You’ll see in the video, we even pounded the curry in a granite mortar and pestle, just as your Thai grandma would do! Happy eating and remember you can help us feed and train more students by making a donation today!
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 45 mins
Yields: 6 Servings, Feeds 3-4 People
For the Curry Paste:
8 to 10 dried Thai chili peppers soaked in water overnight
5-6 garlic cloves
3 kaffir lime leaves
3 medium shallots, halved
One 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced (⅓ cup sliced ginger)
One 2-inch piece fresh turmeric, peeled and thinly sliced
¼ cup chopped coriander root or 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro stems
2 tablespoons sliced lemongrass (½ lemongrass stalk)
1 tablespoon shrimp paste, toasted in foil
1½ teaspoons toasted coriander seeds
1½ teaspoons toasted cardamom pods, seeds removed and husks discarded
For the Chicken Rub (Marinade):
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 tsp sea salt
For the Khao Soi:
3 cups coconut milk, divided
3 cups water
1½ pounds chicken legs, drumsticks and thighs separated (4 legs, 8 pieces total)
1 ½ cups oil (I prefer coconut or any high heat oil for frying)
16 ounces thick egg noodles
2 tablespoons palm sugar
Salt to taste or fish sauce
Cilantro sprigs, pickled mustard greens, shallots, chili oil and lime wedges, for serving
1. Wash and dry chicken. Marinate with dry rub and set aside. (Can do this overnight)
2. Make the curry paste: Place the dried chiles in a heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water and let soak until softened, 20 minutes, or soak overnight in cold water. Drain the chiles, reserving the soaking liquid.
3. Toast dry spices in a hot pan until darkened, no oil needed, remove from heat and set aside. Toast remaining paste ingredients until they have a slight char or smoky aroma. Toast shrimp paste in a small foil packet. Remove from heat and put all ingredients in your mortar or blender.
3. In a mortar, pound garlic, kaffir lime leaves, shallots, ginger, turmeric, coriander root (or cilantro stems), lemongrass, shrimp paste, curry powder, coriander seeds, cardamom seeds, and 2 to 4 tablespoons of coconut milk or the chili soaking liquid (as needed) to make a paste. Makes about 1¼ cups.
4. Make the soup: In a large heavy pot, heat 1 cup of the coconut milk over medium-high heat. When the coconut milk begins to simmer, add the curry paste and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid has thickened and reduced, 5-10 minutes. The oils should start to bubble and separate. Add the marinated chicken, browning a little on both sides. Add the water or chicken stock (covering chicken completely) and bring to a boil. reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and tender, 40 to 45 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, fry 4 ounces of egg noodles until golden brown and crisp, about 1 minute. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
6. Cook the egg noodles one batch at a time, prepare one pot of boiling water and one ice bath for a 3 step process:
First: slightly rinse noodles under cold water to remove excess flour
Second: Submerge into rapid boiling water, just to soften, about 30-40 seconds, remove immediately (too long and they will become gummy and inedible)
Third: Transfer the noodles immediately from boiling pot to ice bath. This will stop the cooking, retain color and help firm them. Remove after 30 seconds, and place in bowl.
6. Stir the palm sugar into the soup. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt or fish sauce. Place noodles and soup among 6 bowls. Lightly drizzle coconut milk over top of soup, (don’t stir!) and serve with cilantro, pickled mustard greens, shallots, fried chili oil and lime wedges.
Note: Special thanks to our friends at Spoon Fork Heart for inviting us to participate in their International Chicken Collaboration Series.