Thai Tom Kha is a creamy and sweet, yet savory and slightly spicy soup that is on the comfort food list in our house. Literally translated, tom kha gai means “chicken galangal soup.” It’s traditionally made from chicken, lightly poached in a silky coconut milk broth, which has been infused with galangal (kha), lemongrass and lime leaves.
I’m making the traditional Tom Kha with a little twist of my own. I’m adding shrimp and garnishing with perfectly seared scallops. Both sea and bay scallops are delicious in this recipe. I wanted to sear my scallops instead of just poaching them in the broth. The scallops at Heinen’s this week are just too amazing to poach; they are far better pan-seared. Using a spoon to cut through the caramelized edge will reveal the silky interior. When you taste the amazing, sweet, milky smooth broth with a slight hint of heat, you will understand the process. For a quick lesson on cooking scallops, check out my fool proof guide.
Making this soup authentically requires rounding up a few hard-to-find ingredients. Heinen’s stocks lemongrass and occasionally has a shipment of galangal. Lime leaves are a bit harder to find. Lime kaffir leaves are known for their amazing fragrance. While it’s often said that lime leaves simply can not be replaced in dishes that call for them, I often substitute lime peel in this soup when I can’t find them and it’s still delicious.
Another product used in this recipe is Ghee. What is Ghee? It’s a type of clarified butter. You’ll find it where butter is sold. Whereas butter contains butterfat, milk solids and water, ghee is pure butterfat that’s cooked longer until all moisture is removed and the milk solids are caramelized and then filtered out. I love cooking scallops in ghee because it gives them a buttery flavor that holds up to high temperatures. Ghee is stable up to 480°F. Scallops are most delicious when they have a nice brown crust on either side and are just barely cooked through in the middle.
Galangal is often confused with ginger, but it’s actually an aromatic root with a tender peel and woody flesh. It does look slightly similar to ginger with similar spice notes, but the rich, earthy flavor of galangal is something that ginger cannot replicate. I recommend looking for younger galangal when shopping, which is best identified by its thinner peel.
Lemongrass is a culinary herb used in many dishes from soups to curries and even tea. Lemongrass imparts a beautiful lemon scent and flavor to anything it’s used in. Often sold in bunches, look for stalks that are clean, fragrant and free of soft spots. The leaves may be dry, but the stalk should not be.
As with all seafood, your shrimp and scallops should smell sweet with a slight scent of brine (salty seawater). Fresh seafood should never smell fishy. The scallops and shrimp I picked up at Heinen’s today are exactly as they should be.
Scallop and Shrimp Tom Kha
- 1” piece ginger, peeled
- 10 kaffir lime leaves or 1 tbsp. lime zest and ¼ cup lime juice
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 2- 13.5-oz. can coconut milk (I am not strict with broth measurements. This dish uses equal parts coconut milk and chicken broth.)
- 1 lb. peeled deveined raw shrimp
- 1/2 lb. scallops
- 8 oz. shiitake, oyster or button mushrooms, stemmed (caps cut into bite-size pieces)
- 2 tbsp. fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
- 2 serrano peppers, seeded and sliced. (Add more if you like it spicy, but be careful because they’re hot. Make sure to wash your hands after prepping.)
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 2 stalks fresh lemongrass, tough outer layers removed
- White or Brown rice, chili oil, cilantro leaves with tender stems and lime wedges (for serving)
- 2 tbsp. Ghee for cooking scallops
- Using the back of a knife, lightly smash lemongrass and ginger; cut lemongrass into 4” pieces.
- Bring lemongrass, ginger, lime leaves or lime peel, and broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer until flavors are melded, 8–10 minutes. Strain broth into clean saucepan or use a slotted spoon to remove solid ingredients; discard solids.
- Mix in coconut milk, fish sauce, and sugar. Whisk to incorporate coconut milk.
- Reduce heat, add mushrooms, peppers and simmer until mushrooms are slightly soft, 10 minutes.
- Add shrimp and simmer until they are cooked, 6-8 minutes. If using small Bay scallops add them with the shrimp. If using large sea scallops like I did today, sear them in Ghee while shrimp is cooking. See instructions below.
- Divide soup among bowls over rice. Top with seared scallops. Serve with chili oil, cilantro, and lime wedges.