Khao Soi: Northern Thai Curry Chicken Noodles
It has been a busy month of travel (both for work and fun) so I have a lot of catching up to do.
One of the most unforgettable dishes I had when I visited Thailand in 2009 was Khao Soi, a specialty from the northern city of Chiang Mai. It is a soup dish that consists of egg noodles with chicken stewed in a coconut curry base topped with crunchy fried noodles, pickled mustard greens, cilantro and lime. Other variations that I saw included bean sprouts and fresh shallots. One of my favorite things about Thai and Vietnamese dishes is the complex and juxtaposed flavors and textures: hot and cold, soft and crunchy, fresh and pickled, spicy, sour and sweet.
Below are pictures of two amazing bowls I had in Chiang Mai:
I forgot that I had bookmarked a recipe for this dish until my friend Tom, who traveled with me in Thailand, made some. The recipe is surprisingly straightforward except I had some trouble finding “Chinese Bah Mi Noodles” as prescribed in the recipe. I stood for several minutes, a bit overwhelmed, staring at the vast selection of fresh noodles available at the Asian market, none which were labeled “bah mi”…so I just chose some thick egg noodles and went with that. Mine were shaped more like chow mein…and when I fried up some noodles they even tasted like fried chow mein noodles but the package said they were thick egg. I think traditionally, you want wide, flat egg noodles, but like any recipe, everyone’s is a little different and you work with what you have.
Chicken Curry (recipe barely adapted from Chez Pim)
makes ~4 servings
- 3 lbs of bone-in chicken (legs, thighs, breast…whatever you like)
- 4-5 Tbsp red curry paste
- 2 Tbsp oil
- 2 cans coconut milk
- 1 tsp curry powder
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1-2 cups chicken broth (or more depending upon the consistency you want)
- a pinch of palm sugar (or brown sugar)
- fish sauce to taste
- In a hot heavy-bottomed pot, add the oil, red curry paste, curry powder and turmeric. Fry spices until fragrant.
- Stir in 1 can of coconut milk and let everything come to a boil. Continue stirring and let the mixture bubble for a few minutes on high heat until you see the red oil separating from the coconut milk mixture. Add another 1/2 can of coconut milk, again waiting until the oil separates.
- Add the chicken to the pot, with the 1 cup of chicken broth and the rest of the coconut milk. Let the pan come back to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer.
- Add a pinch of sugar and some fish sauce, starting with 2-3 glugs. Close the lid and let it simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through. At this point, the curry should be salty, spicy, and have a very slight after taste of sweetness. When you taste the curry at this stage, it should be a bit saltier than how you’d like the final dish to taste (remember you’ll be adding fresh ingredients to the final dish).
- Add more fish sauce if you want and if the curry is too thick for you, add more chicken broth until you have the consistency you would like. I forgot this step and the soup was more of a gravy. It tasted great but I want my noodles a little soupier next time.
- As your curry cooks, start prepping your garnishes (below).
This is definitely a 3-pot meal, but clean as you go and the end result is totally worth it!
- fresh Chinese egg noodles (don’t buy thin egg noodles like you’d use for wonton noodles)
- oil for frying
- thinly sliced fresh shallots or fried shallots (fresh shallots are more traditional. fried shallots are due to my Vietnamese influence and general distaste for raw onions)
- fresh bean sprouts (optional but recommended!)
- pickled mustard greens, thinly sliced (available at the Asian market. Chinese or Japanese style works great)
- 1-2 limes, cut into wedges
- handful of cilantro, chiffonade
- Take a handful of the noodles and chop into 1-2 inch pieces. In hot oil, fry noodles until golden and set aside. I would recommend only doing a small amount at a time as the noodles fry up quickly. Turn around to do something else and the noodles will be burnt. Also, don’t be lazy. Fry your noodles! It’s not a lot of work and adds a satisfying crunch to your final dish.
- After your chicken curry is done, boil your noodles according to the directions.
- Put the noodles in a bowl, top with the curry and add your garnishes to taste: fried noodles, pickled mustard, bean sprouts, cilantro, fresh or fried shallots and a healthy squeeze of lime.
- I like to serve this with a side of sliced cucumbers to cool things down while eating these spicy delicious noodles. Joel loved pairing the Khao Soi with a big hoppy IPA.