Think of the best chicken soup you've had: steaming hot, rich, comforting, and soul-satisfying to the core. Now add to that the complex fragrance of fresh Thai herbs like lemongrass, galangal, a sweet shallots. And wait, we're not done yet! To that base, add a big fat pinch of warm Northern Thai spices and you're starting to get an idea of what it's all about. Where tom yum might be Spicy Thai Soups 101, yum jin gai is some serious graduate-level stuff.
Why this recipe works:
- We make a real chicken stock to give our soup rich body and plenty of comforting chicken flavor.
- Toasting the spice mix before grinding and blooming it in hot oil delivers maximum flavor extraction and development.
Note: Long pepper can be ordered via Amazon. Canned low-sodium chicken broth can be used in place of the whole chicken carcass. If using canned broth, simmer the chicken legs and breasts as directed in the first part of step 1. Proceed immediately to step 2.
- 1 whole small chicken (about 2 1/2 pounds), legs and breasts removed, carcass reserved
- 2 small dried hot chiles
- 1/4 teaspoon whole coriander seed
- 1/4 teaspoon whole Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 whole long pepper (see note)
- 1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
- 1 star anise pod
- 1 (1/4-inch piece) mace, or 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 a cinnamon stick
- 4 pods Thai black cardamom, inner seeds only, or 1 pod green cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon Thai shrimp paste
- 3 thin slices galangal (or ginger if galangal is not available)
- 1 stalk lemongrass, bottom 4 inches only, bruised multiple times with the dull side of a knife blade
- 2 whole shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
- 4 ounces button mushrooms, cut into quarters
- 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
- Fish sauce
- Kosher salt
Cover chicken pieces (including carcass) with cold water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook until center of chicken breasts registers 145°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 15 minutes. Remove chicken breasts. Continue cooking until legs are completely tender, about 45 minutes longer, adding more water as necessary to keep chicken submerged. Transfer legs to bowl with chicken breasts and allow to cool. Discard carcass.
While broth cooks, combine hot chiles, coriander, Sichuan peppercorn, long pepper, cloves, star anise, mace, cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper in wok. Heat over medium heat, stirring and tossing constantly, until toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder and grind into a fine powder. Wipe out wok. Add shrimp paste to spice mix and blend with a fork until homogenous.
When chicken is cooked, add galangal and lemongrass to broth and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain broth through a fine mesh strainer and set aside. Pick chicken meat into bite-sized pieces and discard bones.
Heat oil in the now-empty wok over high heat until shimmering. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add shallots and spice mix and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add strained broth and chicken pieces. Bring to a simmer, stir in cilantro, and season to taste with fish sauce and salt. Serve immediately.