Thai cooks make curry pastes by slowly grinding herbs and aromatic ingredients in a mortar. Since making even a small amount can take as long as an hour, many cooks buy canned curry pastes, which never deliver the headiness of freshly made. To avoid this dilemma, simmer the same aromatic ingredients in broth and leave them chopped, sliced, or whole. Thai soups and curries get their character from lemon- or lime-flavored ingredients, such as lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves or rind (regular lime zest can be used as a substitute); galangal, which looks a little like ginger but tastes like pine resin; chiles; cilantro; coconut milk; fish sauce for savor and saltiness; and lime juice or tamarind for tang. While some of these ingredients may require mail order or a trip to an Asian market, they will keep in the freezer for months.
– 1 quart chicken broth.
– 3 shallots, minced.
– 5 cloves garlic, minced.
– 2 slices fresh, frozen, or dried galangal, ¼ inch thick (optional).
– 2 to 4 Thai chiles, or 4 to 8 jalapeño chiles, seeded and finely chopped.
– 1 stalk lemongrass, white bulb part only, tough outer layer discarded, very thinly sliced.
– 3 kaffir lime leaves or zest of 1 lime, in strips.
– ¼ cup fish sauce, plus more to taste.
– Juice of 3 limes.
– One 15-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk.
– 1 small bunch cilantro, large stems removed and leaves chopped.
– 1½ cups (½-inch) cubed cooked chicken, or 2 raw boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into ½-inch cubes.
Step 1:In a pot, combine the broth, shallots, garlic, galangal, chiles, lemongrass, and lime leaves and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for 15 minutes.
Step 2:Add the fish sauce, lime juice, coconut milk, cilantro, and chicken. If using cooked chicken, simmer for about 1 minute, or until the liquid is piping hot and the chicken is heated through. If using raw chicken, simmer for about 4 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked. Taste for salt and add more fish sauce—it is very salty and will contribute flavor—until the salt level is right.