Monday, January 10, 2011

Thai Chicken Soup

There are two unusual ingredients in this recipe for which there are no acceptable substitutes. Fortunately, you can now find them in most large supermarkets. One is fresh lemongrass, which often hides out near the chile peppers. The other is red (or green) curry paste, which usually lives in the ethnic food aisle next to the Chinese ingredients. Look for the Thai Kitchen brand, which keeps nearly indefinitely.

(serves two adults and two children)

3 stalks lemongrass
3 large shallots
1 bunch cilantro
1 Tbs canola oil
3 Tbs fish sauce (nam pla)
4 c chicken broth
2 14-oz cans coconut milk
¼ lb shiitake mushrooms
1 lb boneless chicken breasts
1 Tbs red curry paste (or green curry paste)
juice of 2 limes
1 Tbs sugar

1. Prepare the lemongrass by removing the coarse outer leaves, trimming the tip, and slicing crosswise to produce thin rings. Peel and coarsely chop the shallots. Coarsely chop two-thirds of the cilantro (including the stems). Pick the leaves from the remaining cilantro and reserve.

2. In a large stock pot, heat the oil over a medium flame. Add the lemongrass, shallots, chopped cilantro, and 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the lemongrass and shallots soften, about 3-4 minutes.

3. Before the vegetables begin to brown, stir in the chicken broth and 1 can of the coconut milk. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, trim and slice the mushrooms and thinly slice the chicken. In a small bowl, combine the red curry paste, lime juice, and remaining 2 tablespoons of fish sauce.

5. Once the soup has finished simmering, use a fine-mesh sieve to strain out the solids. Return the soup to the pot and bring to a simmer.

6. Add the sugar and remaining can of coconut milk. Stir in the mushrooms and cook until just tender, about 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken and cook until no longer pink, about another 2-3 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat.

7. Stir in the curry paste mixture. Serve garnished with the reserved cilantro leaves.

• Preparing lemongrass is not unlike preparing leeks. The business part is the thick, tender flesh near the root end.

• This recipe calls for thin slices of chicken breast so that the meat cooks quickly. The easiest way to prepare these is to partially freeze the chicken before slicing it. Ten to fifteen minutes in the freezer usually does the trick..

• Other possible garnishes include sliced jalapeƱos, sliced green onions, and lime wedges.

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