I was watching America's Test Kitchen the other day (awesome show, if you've never seen it), and a relatively simple version of a dish that I enjoy a great deal came up. The cooks devised an easy and relatively quick method to make a Thai flavored soup without some of the key ingredients that can be difficult to locate - like kaffir lime leaves - unless you live right next to an international market of some kind. I decided to make the recipe, partly because it sounded delicious. but also because I had gone on a rampage making stock (chicken, vegetable...more to come shortly) and I needed to use some of it up. And, me being me of course, I doubled the recipe to ensure that it would feed the army of people I was cooking for (i.e. the hulking rugby player that my brother is) and of course, modified it slightly to include the rice noodles that would make the soup "heartier" (again, the brother...).
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3-4 stalks lemongrass
2 large bunches cilantro
4 tbsp fish sauce
2 cans coconut milk
6 cups chicken broth
1 lb white button mushrooms
6-7 chicken thighs, skinned and deboned (keep the bones for stock)
3 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp Thai red curry paste
1 package rice noodles, about 1 lb (optional - you can use any style, I used wide ones however)
Utensils: several cutting boards; sharp chef's knife; very sharp boning knife; salad spinner; 2 large saucepans/pots;
Prep work: 1) Debone the chicken thighs - be very careful about not slicing off your fingers! - by first removing the skin/fat on the top, and then cutting the thigh meat down to the bone, and simultaneously pulling the meat away from the bone with one hand, and gently slicing it away using the knife with your other hand. If you do not feel comfortable deboning the thighs yourself, buy boneless skinless thighs, or substitute chicken breast. After deboning, slice the thigh meat into thin, even strips. 2) Wash cilantro in water and dry in the salad spinner. 3) Chop one bunch of cilantro, stems included, and set aside. Leave the other bunch for use as garnish. 4) Mince shallots. 5) Chop up lemongrass and thinly slice. 6) Juice limes (about 2).
Heat the saucepan up and add the oil to it. Saute the lemongrass stalks and shallots for about 2 minutes, then add the chopped cilantro and 2 tbsps of the fish sauce for about another 5-7 minutes. Stir in one can of coconut milk and the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer for about 10 minutes. Strain the soup into the 2nd pan, and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the second can of coconut milk and allow the bubbles to break the surface of the broth, then reduce the heat slightly. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 2 minutes, then add the chicken and cook until down, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat off, and add the last 2 tbsps of fish sauce, the lime juice, and the Thai red curry.* If you want it spicier, simply add more red curry paste.
Serve with wide rice noodles (prepared according to package directions). Make sure to have a plate of garnishes on the table, including cilantro, lime wedges, Siracha hot sauce (or sliced chiles).
*So that the Thai red curry paste would disolve quickly into the soup, I simply whisked it into the lime juice first, to ensure no clumps of paste would be present in the soup.