Life

Weeknight Chicken Khao Soi: How Pailin Chongchitnant makes this dish when she's short on time

The recipe from her new cookbook, Sabai, is easy to double, too.

The recipe from her new cookbook, Sabai, is easy to double, too

overhead shot of a blue and white bowl filled with a chicken drumstick, noodles and a curry broth. a plate with lime wedges, sliced shallots and a small bowl of chili oil sit next to it.
(Photography by Janis Nicolay)

We can’t wait to make author and YouTuber Pailin Chongchitnant’s weeknight version of Chicken Khao Soi. And if you’re wondering if this is a contender for a batch cook for the week, you’ll be happy to know that Chongchitnant told us you can double the recipe with no modifications. Just keep the broth and chicken separate from the noodles when refrigerating — better yet, make the noodles as needed. “Ideally, you wouldn't cook any more noodles than you need,” she said. “Cook them fresh when serving leftover curry.”

The recipe is pretty flexible, too. Chongchitnant says you can use bone-in chicken thighs or drumettes instead of drumsticks if you wish. Use whatever you have on hand when it comes to the curry powder: “If you love how it smells, it'll be great in the dish,” she said. 

Read on for the full recipe from her new cookbook, Sabai: 100 Simple Thai Recipes for Any Day of the Week, and her from-scratch Red Curry Paste you can batch-make for curries such as this. 

Weeknight Chicken Khao Soi

Khao Soi Gai | ข้าวซอยไก่

By Pailin Chongchitnant

The most famous dish of northern Thailand, khao soi is a noodle soup unlike any other. Egg noodles in an aromatic coconut curry broth are topped with crispy fried egg noodles. A fully loaded, from-scratch khao soi is a lot of work, but fortunately the parts that are tedious aren’t crucial. So, when I’m short on time, I make only the most important parts—the noodles and the broth—and it’s still very satisfying. The crispy noodles are impressive-looking, but I don’t find them necessary taste-wise, so I’m not about to deep-fry something on a weeknight just for looks. The curry paste can also be simplified by modifying store-bought red curry paste.

Do-ahead: The curry paste can be mixed with the spices (step 1) in bulk and then frozen.

Notes: Black cardamom can be found at Asian or Indian grocery stores. If you can’t find it, use 6 green cardamom pods instead.

I usually serve 1 drumstick per person, but you can serve 2 to big eaters.

Wonton noodles are a type of fresh egg noodles sold in refrigerated section of Asian grocery stores.

Pickled mustard greens come in clear plastic bags at Asian grocery stores. Another tart pickle can also be used.

To make sautéed chili flakes, combine chili flakes with just enough neutral oil to make a paste, then sauté over low heat for a few minutes, until dark and smoky.

Ingredients

  • 1-inch piece (8 g) turmeric, or ½ tsp (2 ml) ground turmeric
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) red curry paste, store-bought or homemade (recipe follows)
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) curry powder
  • 1½ cups (375 ml) coconut milk, divided
  • 3 cups (750 ml) water
  • 2 black cardamom pods (see note)
  • 4 to 8 chicken drumsticks (see note)
  • 1½ tsp (18 g) finely chopped palm sugar, packed
  • 1 to 2 tbsp (15 to 30 ml) soy sauce
  • 12 oz (340 g) flat wonton noodles (see note)

For serving (optional):

  • ½ cup (75 g) chopped pickled mustard greens, rinsed
  • ¼ cup (35 g) julienned shallots
  • 4 lime wedges
  • Sautéed chili flakes (see note)

Red Curry Paste:

  • ¾ oz (20 g) mild dried red chilies, cut in ½-inch (1.2 cm) chunks
  • ½ oz (10 g) spicy dried red chilies, or to taste, cut in ½-inch (1.2 cm) chunks (see note)
  • ½ tsp (2 ml) white peppercorns
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) table salt
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, bottom half only, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp (15 g) finely chopped galangal
  • 4 cilantro roots, or 10 to 12 cilantro stems, chopped
  • 2 tsp (10 ml) chopped makrut lime zest (optional, see note)
  • 6 cloves (30 g) garlic, chopped
  • ½ cup (70 g) chopped shallots
  • 2 tsp (10 ml) fermented shrimp paste (optional)

If making Prik Gaeng Ped:

  • 2 tsp (10 ml) coriander seeds, toasted
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) cumin seeds, toasted

Preparation

Pound the turmeric into a fine paste with a mortar and pestle, then add the red curry paste and curry powder and pound to mix. If using ground turmeric, you can just mix them without pounding.

Add roughly ¼ cup (60 ml) coconut milk to a large pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the turmeric-curry paste and stir for 2 to 3 minutes, until the paste is very thick. If the paste is sticking, deglaze with a bit of coconut milk. Add the remaining coconut milk and water, and bring to a boil over high heat.

While you wait for the broth to boil, smash the cardamom pods with a mortar and pestle until cracked, then wrap them in a piece of cheesecloth and add to the pot. (If you don’t have cheesecloth, you can add them directly to the pot, but make sure they’re not cracked so wide that the seeds inside will come out into the soup.)

Once the broth is boiling, add the chicken drumsticks, sugar, and 1 tablespoon (15 ml) soy sauce. Turn the heat down to medium-low and let simmer until the chicken is fork-tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Once done, taste and add more soy sauce and sugar as needed.

While the curry is simmering, bring a large pot of water to a boil, for cooking the noodles.

Loosen the noodles and shake off any excess flour. If you like, you can cut them with scissors once or twice to shorten them and make them easier to separate and eat. Add them to the boiling water and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until cooked through. Scoop them out with a wire skimmer or drain in a colander, and divide them evenly among the serving bowls. If not serving right away, toss them with some neutral oil to prevent them from sticking together.

Place the chicken in the serving bowls, then ladle the broth overtop just until it almost submerges the noodles, about 1 cup (250 ml) per serving. This is a rich broth, so you won’t need too much of it. Serve with the accompaniments on the side.

To eat, top the noodles with the pickled mustard greens, shallots, and a squeeze of lime, if desired. Add the sautéed chili flakes for more heat.

Serves 4. 

Red Curry Paste (Prik Gaeng Kua/Prik Gaeng Ped | พริกแกงคั่ว พริกแกงเผ็ด):

There are two types of red curry pastes in Thailand, and both are pretty similar, though some purists may excommunicate me for saying that. Gaeng kua is the most basic paste and uses no dry spices, whereas gaeng ped includes coriander seeds and cumin seeds—at least, this is the line I draw, but people don’t always agree on what the differences actually are. 

Notes: You can add as many of the small chilies as you like, depending on how spicy you want the paste to be. The seeds can be left in for more heat, or removed for less. If you don’t have makrut lime zest, you can add 2 to 3 makrut lime leaves, torn into chunks, when making the curry. Or substitute regular lime zest in the curry paste.

Using a coffee grinder, grind the dried chilies, peppercorns, and salt—and the coriander seeds and cumin seeds, if using—into a fine powder.

If using a heavy-duty mortar and pestle, add the lemongrass, galangal, cilantro roots, and makrut lime zest; pound into a fine paste. Add the garlic and shallots, and pound into a fine paste. Add the ground chili mixture and pound until well combined. Add the shrimp paste and pound to mix.

If using an immersion blender, place the lemongrass, galangal, cilantro roots, and makrut lime zest in a narrow container, such as a glass measuring cup. Top it off with the garlic, shallots, and shrimp paste (it is easier to blend with the moister ingredients on top). Use the immersion blender to blend everything until fine. You will need to lift and reposition the blender several times, stopping to scrape the bottom and bringing it to the top halfway through. Once the mixture is fine, add the ground chili mixture and blend to mix.

Use right away, store in the fridge for up to 3 days, or divide into two portions and freeze for up to a few months. 

Makes about ⅔ cup (160 ml), for two batches of 4-serving curry.


Excerpted from Sabai by Pailin Chongchitnant. Copyright © 2023 Pailin Chongchitnant. Photographs by Janis Nicolay. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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