The Cheap-Ass Gourmet – Thai Coconut & Lemongrass Soup

This is the second part of a three-part series of economic meals, all of which stem from a simple roast chicken.  (We also looked at using leftovers from that same meal to make chicken and red mole enchiladas.)  Each of these recipes is especially good for those on a budget that love tasty food but find the thought of cooking intimidating.

In today’s recipe, we’ll take the carcass from the roast chicken, as well as any leftover meat and vegetables, and use it to make a soup that combines some of the most pungent and delicious flavors associated with Thai food: coconut, lemongrass, peppers, fish sauce and basil.

First, a few quick notes on the soup:

  1. If baking is science, soup making is art.  Which is to say that when you make a loaf of bread, for example, it’s important to follow the recipe very closely – otherwise the right chemical reactions won’t happen the way they’re supposed to and you might find yourself with a pan of gooey, burnt paste for your troubles.  Soup is on the opposite end of that spectrum, so don’t be afraid to switch things up on a whim when making it.  For example, I love basil so I might use far more of it than I’m asking you to use; you might like things more salty, and use a bit more fish sauce.  If you like it, use it – If you don’t, don’t.  It’s actually hard to screw up soup, especially since you can taste as you go and adjust on the fly.
  2. The recipe here calls for noodles, but you can easily substitute rice.  Actually, you could choose to use neither – though if you do so you might want to include more vegetables or chicken meat in order to make it more of a one-pot meal.
  3. A little more about the noodles: It is tempting to just throw the noodles in the soup pot.  Don’t, unless you plan on eating all of the soup that night. If you do so, the noodles (or the rice) will continue to absorb the broth and you will find that your next meal will be damp, soggy, mushy starch.  Yuck.
  4. For this recipe I use Serrano peppers to add a touch of heat because you can get them in any supermarket.  If you wish, however, you can use traditional Thai red peppers.
  5. While we’re on peppers: If you’re like me you live in a house where different people like different amounts of heat in their Thai food.  The best work around for houses like mine is to make the soup mild, and have Sriracha sauce (known throughout the West as Rooster Sauce) on hand at the dinner table. A squirt will dissolve quickly into a cup or bowl of soup, and will increase the heat while keeping the overall taste authentic.
  6. Because we have already used so much of the chicken from your carcass for other dishes, I am having you cut the chicken broth with… well, chicken broth.  Depending on your tastes and budget, you can choose to just use water in place of the added canned broth.  The more watery version is actually more authentic to the taste of Thai street food, but the more chicken-y broth makes it taste more like what we Americans expect from our chicken soup.  Either way is good in my book.
  7. If you don’t want to roast a chicken, you can always start with six cans of chicken broth.  If you want chicken as well, just buy a boneless breast or two, cut into small pieces, sauté with the onions.
  8. If you don’t like Thai food, you can use your leftover chicken carcass to make chicken soup the Dr. Saunders’ way, which is most delicious.

Recipe after the jump.

Ingredients

1 Chicken carcass, along with any additional leftover meat – (No additional cost)

6 Cups Water, plus water to cook noddles

4 Lemongrass stalks ($2.00)

1 Tablespoon Staple Olive Oil ($0.02)

1st Optional Addition: “Hard” vegatbles, such as a couple of carrots or celery stalks ($0.50)

2 Onions, sliced thin ($0.75)

1-3 Serrano chilies, seeded and minced ($0.20)

2 Cups canned Chicken broth ($2.00)

3 Tablespoons Fish sauce ($0.05)

¼ Cup Coconut milk ($0.50)

1 Lemon – ($0.75)

2nd Optional Addition: “Soft” vegetables, such as zucchini, greens, leftover potatoes, tomatoes, etc. ($2.50)

Handful of Thai or Sweet Bail leaves, roughly chopped ($1.00)

Salt & Pepper to taste

Noodles, such as udon, spaghetti or whole wheat linguini  ($0.75)

Total time from start to finish: Somewhere between an hour to an hour and a half.

Amount of time you’re actually doing stuff aside from drinking wine: About 20-25 minutes total.

Serves: 4-6

Cost per Each Servning:  – $1.80 – $2.90, depending upon what optional ingredients you do or don’t use

The Soup

  1. Put chicken carcass in the water, and bring to a slow boil. (If you have leftover meat, do not put in.) Simmer for about ½ hour, until the liquid is reduced by approx. 25% – about 4 cups total.  Using a colander or slotted spoon, remove all bits of chicken carcass from the both.  Set broth aside.
  2. Cut about an inch off of the root end of the lemongrass, and the reedy part of the grass end.  Peel away the tough outer layer.  Depending upon how long the lemongrass was, you should now have a piece about 6-9 inches long; cut this piece in half.  Using the flat end of a large knife, pound the stalk a few times, so that you just begin to crush or flatten it.  Do this with all four pieces.
  3. Heat the pot over medium heat on the stove.  Add the oil and coat the bottom of the pan, then throw in the lemongrass.  Stir the stalks in the oil for 2-3 minutes.
  4. (About this time in the process, heat some water in a sauce pan and – as you are making the soup – cook the noodles, drain, and then set aside.)
  5. Add onions, chilies, and “hard” vegetables (if using) to the lemongrass in the soup pot; continue to stir for another 1-2 minutes.
  6. Add water from the carcass, as well as the two cans of broth and the fish sauce.  Simmer uncovered until the broth is reduced by about 15-20%, about 5-10 minutes.
  7. Add the coconut milk and the juice from the lemon, any leftover chicken meat, and any of the soft vegetables.  Let sit on lowest heat for a few minutes.
  8. Stir in basil.
  9. In a bowl, place a small serving of noodles, and then ladle in soup.  Serve.

 

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39 thoughts on “The Cheap-Ass Gourmet – Thai Coconut & Lemongrass Soup

  1. I am looking to expand my cooking, so I think I am going to try the first two recipes this weekend. Can I just freeze the carcass to make soup some other time, or am I better off making the soup and refrigerating it to server later?

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    • Freezing the carcass will work great. (Though you should plan on using it within about 5-6 months; if you find it after a year or two, toss it.)

      In fact, if you want to, if you use onions or mushrooms in between now and when you do the soup, take the cut off bits of that you don’t use (the outer skins or ends of the onion, the hard ends of the stems of the ‘shrooms) and freeze them along with the carcass. If you throw them when it’s time to make the soup, it will make the broth better.

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    • You can also make a stock* beforehand and freeze that. Just follow step 1 and then freeze.

      * For the record, it is my understanding that what you’ve described here is actually a basic stock recipe, not a broth, because you use already cooked chicken bones. Regardless of what we call it, it can be frozen and saved.

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  2. …. Baking with Wood Ash, Baking Soda, Baking Powder is Chemistry. Measure twice, add once.
    …. Baking a loaf of bread is Biology, which is far more forgiving to screw ups. (although forgetting the yeast might lengthen the time to rise from ~1 hour to ~a week or two). I insist the bread remains edible even if you forgot the yeast (though far less tasty)

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  3. You’re Point #1 can’t be emphasized enough. For a long time, I *couldn’t* bake. I didn’t have the patience, discipline, or focus to follow a recipe. If I could go at the stove or grill Iron Chef style, I could almost assuredly come up with something tasty. But every attempt to “improve” a baking recipe fell flat, since any change made often required a series of changes to counterbalance whatever the initial change was. Cooking with my students, which almost always entails baking, has taught me the necessary skills to be an adequate baker. I actually plan on making fresh soup and bread this weekend. When shopping with Zazzy, I said, “I’m just going to get these things and make a soup out of them, one way or another. But god help us if we get the wrong type of flour again… bread will be ruined forever!”

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    • I am on the other end of the spectrum. I can do great at following recipes, but I have no idea where to start when it comes to making modifications to things. I hope that as I cook more I will learn how to do this and can get more creative.

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      • Try some basics: Salt(or soy–easier to measure)/Sour(lemon/vinegar)/Sweet… and occasionally bitter. Take out a spoon of whatever you’re cooking, and add a bit of one of the basics. See if it tastes better. If so, carefully add to the pot.

        My chicken soup is sweeter’n anything — still savory, though.

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      • RR,

        My wife is similar to you. She could take out a Martha Stewart cookbook and make something that not only looked like the picture, but tasted fantastic.

        Two things have helped me in my experimentation:
        1.) Eating lots of different cuisines and dishes. This will give you an idea of what can be done, what does or does not go together, and how your palette functions. While many schools of thought tell you there are “right” ways to do things or “right” combinations, at the end of the day, if you like it, you like it.
        2.) Watching some of the crazier cooking shoes, such as “Iron Chef”, “Chopped”, and “Top Chef.” There is a lot of ridiculousness to all of them, but they all require chefs to be really creative and innovative with ingredients, so you can sort of get a sense of things to play with.

        There are still certain forms and techniques you need to learn. I recommend Alton Brown and Michael Rulhman, since they give you a broad skill set which you can deviate from as opposed to a single recipe that helps you to make one dish well but do little else.

        Really, just have fun with it. Be willing to have some flops and bad meals as you experiment. Oh, and learn to control your heat! Nothing can ruin an otherwise great experimentation than a pan or your oil getting to hot and simply burning everything!

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      • I have two suggestions if you’re looking to get better at this:

        1. When making things like soup, add things you think you like slowly, taste as you go, and keep adding until it tastes good.

        2. When you’re eating out and order something you really, really like, ask the server what it is you’re tasting that makes it so good.If the server doesn’t know, they’ll check with the chef… and chefs love to get these questions. I find that if it isn’t overly busy, they will sometimes actually come out to the table to talk about it rather than just tell the server what to tell you.

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        • “1. When making things like soup, add things you think you like slowly, taste as you go, and keep adding until it tastes good.”

          This is a great point. I call this the “Salad Bar Quandary”. For a long time, I couldn’t effectively visit a salad bar. “OOO! Cucumbers. I LOVE cucumbers. I also like olives. Mmmm, and roasted red peppers. Well hello there, blue cheese dressing… how rarely we meet!” It didn’t take long before the whole experience was ruined. Blue cheese dressing on olives? BLEH! I couldn’t edit. I figured if I liked a bunch of things individually then collectively they must just taste that much better. Not so. One thing at a time. It also helps you know what did or didn’t work. If you throw 40 things together and it’s bad, it might have just been one or two of them that wrecked the dish… but you’ll never know. More isn’t necessarily better, as much as it may seem. This was part of what made me incapable of baking for so long.

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        • 2. When you’re eating out and order something you really, really like, ask the server what it is you’re tasting that makes it so good.If the server doesn’t know, they’ll check with the chef… and chefs love to get these questions. I find that if it isn’t overly busy, they will sometimes actually come out to the table to talk about it rather than just tell the server what to tell you.

          Tod, sometimes it’s just a heads up…

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  4. Thanks for all the advice everyone.
    What are must-have ingredients I should stock in my kitchen? Basic recommended seasonings and things like that.

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  5. Thanks for this series, Tod. You have no idea how much I like Thai Coconut, Lemongrass and Chicken soup (aka, Tom Ka Gai). I would sell my soul, had I one left, for a bowl.

    When things slow down a bit (and I can manage to find a free range chicken–maybe I should just take a drive in the country with a burlap sack…) I’m going to do the whole series. And every meal will begin by giving thanks to Our Tod.

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      • I had some cans of coconut milk we picked up cheap laying around, waiting for a piña colada day. Mrs. TVD is a Tom Ka Gai freak and all of a sudden it occurred to me to open

        One can coconut milk
        One can chicken broth
        One can canned chicken
        One can mushrooms

        And we wuz stylin’.

        A bay leaf
        a squeeze of lime or lemon juice
        a bit of curry powder
        anchovy paste if you have no fish sauce

        I keep fish sauce in [2 dollah Asian market] but you can use anchovy paste and mebbe a little soy. This just reminded me, duh. Here’s a real recipe, but the bastardized TVD Ka Gai works with what you might have handy, with no apologies.

        http://www.feedmefarms.com/2009/05/tom-kha-gai-thai-coconut-curry-chicken.html

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