The first thing to do when I head to Chiang Mai is run for a restaurant for khao soi. This is one of my favorite Thai curries/soups. Our last trip there our good friends from Got Passport took us to what is perhaps our favorite place so far. I had the beef version for the first time (typically we end up eating chicken or khao soi gai). I’ve given up hope on good Thai food at home. Yes, I know there are some pretty good restaurants here and there and many that can help if you are really desperate, but the prices are hard to stomach when you get used to amazing, delicious food for a buck or two. So, we improvise. Add another to my list of favorite dishes I brought home from my travels.
A few years back I went to a Thai cooking school in southern Thailand and learned to make curry pastes. I still have the little diploma-cum-cookbook from that experience and refer to it from time to time, but many markets in Thailand have mounds of the stuff for the locals and so I don’t feel bad if I skip that step and use some pre-made paste. It’s not hard, just time consuming, and ingredient gathering becomes costly for things that you will only use a small amount of. Shrimp paste doesn’t move fast in our fridge and spillage could require a hazmat team. So consider an imported curry paste in an envelope. I can always find brands with no preservatives and an ingredient list that is entirely made up of actual foods, not even MSG.
Here are a couple we’ve found in the US at Asian markets:
But if you get to Thailand (or find a good importer), look for a brand called “Nam Jai” – this is simply the best brand of curry paste we’ve found.
We looked over a bunch of recipes in both Thai and English, from a university, from chefs, from food sites, and finally settled on our own combination of them…
Khao Soi Curry/Soup Ingredients:
3-4 tablespoons of red curry paste
3 cups of coconut milk
1 to 1.5 cups of chicken broth (Maggi is a popular brand with the Thai)
Meat: a few chicken legs or cut up breast meat, (or pork or beef)
1 tsp of curry powder
1 tsp of turmeric
1 tablespoon of palm sugar
2 tablespoons of fish sauce (or more)
Non-meat alternatives to actual chicken: Chicken of the woods (a foraged, wild mushroom) or other mushrooms. We add broccoli but steam it first and add it after cooking the khao soi separately so it’s sweetness doesn’t change the curry flavor.
Egg noodles. It’s great if you can buy them fresh, dried, or even frozen. We like Twin Marquis, a US-made brand (from Brooklyn!) that we like which comes frozen at local Asian markets, in packs of four servings. Two minutes in the boil.
We’ve also used some mediocre Chinese noodles, but first made our own batch of egg noodles (above) from scratch using a pasta maker. The #5 setting is about right for thickness, but the fettuccine-width cutter is too wide for my taste. Maybe linguine width if I had one. This is being ultra picky. Just buy the damn things. They take about 3-4 minutes to cook to al dente. Watch them closely as they are easy to overcook, and picky or not, mushy noodles suck.
Take one big egg with a tablespoon of oil worked into it, put it into a pile of 1.5 cups flour with a tsp of salt, work it together with a fork adding up to 1/4 cup of water, and then knead it into a ball. Let it rest half an hour. Cut it in thirds to roll out with a rolling pin or a wine/beer bottle if you are still in college. Run it through the pasta maker you don’t have, on the #5 or even #6 setting. Cut it with a knife or pasta cutter 3/16″ wide. Good lord, don’t screw this up or the apocalypse is upon us! Ahem.
Khao soi is served with cut up shallots, pickled mustard greens, and lime wedges on the side. A bit of cilantro strewn on top along with some crispy fried noodles:
I actually ran a wee bit of the egg noodle dough through the spaghetti setting and just dropped the little worms into a small pot with enough oil to cover them and fried them until light golden brown and set them aside. Didn’t even boil them first. Our best bet, however, is cheap dried egg noodles. Cook them up, pat them dry, put one serving at a time in a loose tangle into some very hot oil and they crisp right up. Use tongs to turn it over once and to pull the mass out and lay it on paper towel. Can be messy if you don’t have a spatter screen for the pot.
Cooking the Curry:
Some may put a bit of oil into the pot and over medium heat let the curry paste melt a bit into it and release its fragrance (stop before it burns!). But even better, I skipped the oil and used a bit of the coconut milk instead! Then I added one cup of coconut milk and let that mix up and start to bubble. Then added the sugar, curry powder, and turmeric powder, and the remaining coconut milk and chicken broth and meat. I let that cook up for another 15 minutes or so and added the fish sauce. It should be a little salty, not bland. Add more fish sauce for salt. The pre-made curry paste may or may not be spicy. Ours was pretty spicy, which I like, but maybe next time I back off on the paste a bit. Add roasted chilies early on if you think it hasn’t got the heat. If the curry gets too thick as your cooking, add modest amounts of water. Adding more broth would also make it saltier.
Put the noodles in a bowl, pour the finished curry product over it like soup. Sprinkle with the fried noodles and some cilantro. Add a squirt of lime (or fish sauce) to taste, and toss in some shallots and pickled mustard leaves. (We had some Chinese canned version of this. Didn’t look dark green like the leafy part you get in Chiang Mai but the flavor was pretty good.) We’ve found some good Thai brands in plastic bags in the refrigerated section at Asian markets.
And THAT’S how we had our first homemade khao soi gai while looking out the window at a -11F Wisconsin winter day. Not so cold here after all.