If there is one dish above all others that can be described as Northern Thailand’s signature dish, it has to be khao soi. This mouth-watering blend of soft and crispy noodles is served with a tasty curry broth and a choice of beef, chicken or pork. You’ll find this classic northern Thai dish in towns and cities throughout North Thailand including Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and Nan . Although some Thai restaurants in the UK and Ireland do serve khao soi, it isn’t always on the menu. We’ve asked Thai food expert, Gary Butler (aka The Roaming Cook) to provide his version of khao soi for you to try out at home. Over to you, Gary.
Khao soi was the first dish I ever travelled exclusively to eat, so it’s always had a special place in my heart. Ten years have passed and I still love this rich curry noodle soup as much as I did when I took my first bite in Chiang Mai all those years ago. I want to share my version of khao soi with chicken (gai) so that you can enjoy this northern Thai classic as much as I do.
Khao soi gai recipe
Serves: 4 – 6 people
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
For the curry paste
- 10 large dried red chillies, cut into inch long pieces with scissors, deseeded and soaked in boiling water for 10 – 15 minutes
- 2-3 small shallots or half a red onion, chopped roughly
- 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger sliced into 0.5 cm thin rounds
- 1 head of garlic broken and cloves peeled
- 1 tsp of Maldon sea salt
- 1 tbsp of coriander seeds
- Half a black cardamom pod ( smashed and seeds removed)
- Half a tsp of black peppercorns
- 1 tsp of turmeric powder
- A 400 ml can of coconut milk. Use 150 ml for the paste and save the other 250 ml from the can for later. Use coconut milk with the highest concentration of coconut as you can find.
The amount of coconut milk you will need for the paste is a guide. You want to use enough coconut milk to get the blender moving and the ingredients blitzed. You can also substitute this for cooking oil if you don’t plan on using it straight away.
For the garnish
- 250 grams of pickled mustard greens, sliced into small chunks
- 4 limes, cut into wedges
- A handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
- 4 spring onions (green parts only) thinly sliced
- 1 red onion, peeled and chopped.
- 2 tablespoons of dried chilli flakes
- The remaining 250 ml of coconut milk reduced by half in a pan
For the crispy noodle topping
- 50 grams of fresh egg noodles (often labelled as wonton noodles) cut into 10 cm strands
- Vegetable or sunflower oil for deep frying
For the curry
- 400 ml of coconut milk
- 500 ml of water
- 10 large dried red chillies
- 1 tsp of palm sugar (can use less or more to suit your taste)
- 200 grams of fresh egg noodles (the remainder of the packet for the crispy noodles)
- 1 tsp of black soy or dark soy sauce
- 4-6 chicken drumsticks (try to get free range)
- In a bowl, snip the dried whole chillies with scissors into 2 cm strips. Discard the ends and pour over enough boiling water to cover the chillies. Set aside for 15 minutes or until they are rehydrated and soft.
- Fry the 2 tablespoons of chilli flakes in 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat in a pan or wok for 2-3 minutes and transfer to a bowl. You should be getting a smokey smell from the chilli.
- Heat a dry pan over medium-low heat. Stir and toss the black peppercorns and coriander seeds (there’s no need to toast the cardamom) until they start to look toasted and become fragrant; around 1-2 minutes. It’s important not to burn the spices or they will become bitter, so keep a close eye on them at this stage.
- Blitz the black cardamom, black peppercorns and coriander seeds in a spice grinder or grind in a stone pestle and mortar. Place in a bowl and set aside for later.
- In the same pan or under a grill set to medium heat, cook the ginger slices, peeled shallots and garlic over medium heat until nicely charred but not cooked through (around 5 minutes).
- Remove the rehydrated chillies from the bowl using a soup skimmer or slotted spoon. Discard the seeds at the bottom of the bowl.
- Pour the charred ingredients into a blender (a bullet blender is perfect for this) with the deseeded chillies, the turmeric, a teaspoon of salt and the coconut milk and blitz to a fine paste.
- In a large saucepan or casserole dish pour in your homemade paste and cook over medium-low heat, until the paste has darkened and oil has started to separate around the edges of the paste (around 10 minutes). Add in your dry spice mix and cook through for another minute or so.
- Pour in the other can of coconut milk along with 200 ml of water and bring to the boil. Add the sugar and dark soy sauce.
- Cook on the stovetop on medium-low heat for 45 minutes. The chicken should be tender and there should be a lovely layer of oil floating on the top of the curry. Check the curry sauce for seasoning adding a little more salt, sugar or soy if needed.
- Keep the curry warm in the oven or on another stove while you prepare the noodles.
Make the crispy noodles
- Fill a high sided pan or wok with 200 ml of vegetable oil and heat to 180 C and fry, in batches if necessary, until they are puffed up, crispy and golden. This should take around 30 seconds. Leave to drain on kitchen paper.
- Blanch the rest of the egg noodles for 1 minute. You don’t want to cook them for any longer as they will be going into a hot curry sauce and you don’t want them to overcook.
- In a small saucepan, heat the remaining coconut milk from tin one until it’s reduced by half. Set aside.
- Arrange the blanched noodles into bowls with a chicken drumstick in each bowl. Pour enough curry sauce over to cover the chicken and noodles, add a good drizzle of the reduced coconut milk and top with the crispy fried noodles, chopped spring onions and fresh coriander.
- Serve with the mustard greens, lime wedges, roasted chilli and fresh shallots.
You may also enjoy
The Roaming Cook
Originally from the UK, Gary Butler now lives in Bangkok with his wife and young son. A passionate foodie, Gary is equally at home at a simple street food stall as he is at an upmarket restaurant. Follow The Roaming Cook for insider travel tips and advice on where to eat during your trip to Thailand.
Read more articles from Gary