No trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand’s 2nd city, would be complete without copious amounts of khao soi. A curried coconut noodle soup, khao soi can be found at nearly every restaurant, cafe, guesthouse, and hotel in and around Chiang Mai, and with good cause. Khao soi tastes more like curry than the more typical green or red Thai curries, and with its coconut broth, has a wonderful rich creaminess to it, with all of the flavors expected in Thai cooking: salty, sweet, spicy, and sour. We spent the day at our new friend Wee’s restaurant learning how to cook this and other Northern Thai specialities and couldn’t be happier since now we know how to cook up one of our favorite meals in Thailand in a jiff. Be sure to visit Wee at her restaurant, We’s Restaurant, the next time you’re in Chiang Mai! Luckily, khao soi is not that hard to make and uses ingredients readily available pretty much anywhere in the world.
This recipe makes four servings.
- 4 tablespoons red chili paste (recipe below if you’d like to make it from scratch)
- 4 tablespoons palm sugar (available at Asian grocers, you can substitute maple or brown sugar)
- 2.5 tablespoons curry powder
- 1 package fresh egg noodles (available in the refrigerated aisle at Asian grocers)
- 1/2 cup fish sauce (I like Tiparos brand)
- 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size strips (also works well with pork loin)
- 1 cup chili oil (available at Asian grocers)
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 3 cups coconut milk
- 1/4 cup thick-chopped pickled cabbage or pickled mustard greens (both available at asian grocers)
- 3 small red onions or shallots, quartered
- 2 limes, halved
- 1/4 cup crispy chili oil (recipe available below in case you want to make it from scratch)
- 4 small sprigs of cilantro
- Start off by washing the noodles in a collander under cold water. This will remove any of the flour used to prevent the noodles from sticking together. Take care not to break the noodles. Strain.
- Heat up water for the noodles and add one tablespoon of the vegetable oil to the water.
- When the water reaches a rolling boil, add the noodles and cook for two to three minutes, until cooked. Drain and add a tablespoon of vegetable oil to prevent the noodles from sticking.
- Take a plate and create four separate piles of two or three noodles each. This makes it easier to drop them into the oil to fry.
- Heat up the remaining vegetable oil in a wok.
- When the oil starts smoking, drop one of the four piles you just prepared into the oil. Make sure to spread the noodles out so that you get a flat disk of noodles. When the edges of the noodles start to brown, flip the disk over with the edge of a metal spatula being careful not to splash the oil (about 30 seconds); 30 seconds after flipping, remove the noodles from the oil and put on a drying rack, then fry the remaining three piles of noodles. The fried noodles should turn a nice golden brown as they cool down.
- Add chili oil to large sauce pan on medium-high heat and allow oil to heat up for 30 seconds.
- Add palm sugar and stir to disolve.
- Add red chili paste and stir.
- Add chicken.
- When chicken is mostly cooked, add coconut milk and curry powder and mix thoroughly to break up any clumps from the curry powder.
- Add half of the fish sauce and taste. If not salty enough, add fish sauce until you’ve reached the desired level of saltiness.
- Split the cooked noodles up between four bowls and spoon 1/4 of the soup broth into each bowl, on top of noodles.
- Add fried noodle disk on top of noodles and add a sprig of cilantro on top of each fried noodle disk.
- Serve with roasted crispy chili oil, quartered onions or shallots, halved limes, and pickled cabbage or mustard greens on the side.
Feel free to play with and adjust the quantities to your taste, especially the quantity of chili paste, add more for a bolder dish, less for a tamer one.
Fresh Thai red chili paste
- 2 inch piece of galangal (available at Asian grocers), coarsely chopped
- 4 shallots
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 lemongrass stick, using only the white part. Bruise slightly and then slice into thin slices.
- 1/2 inch piece of tumeric, peeled and finely chopped
- 8 dried Thai red chilies, soaked in warm water (available at Asian grocers, get the hottest dried red chilies you can find).
- Add all of the ingredients to a food processor or blender and blend into a paste.
- You’ll have more than you need for just this khao soi recipe; keep it in the fridge or freezer for other dishes—there’s so much you can do with Thai red chili paste!
Fresh Thai crispy chili oil
- Handful of dried Thai red chilies (available at Asian grocers, if not available, get the hottest dried red chilies you can find.)
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- Heat up wok on high heat without oil, until wok starts to smoke.
- Add dry chilies and stir constantly.
- When all chilies turn a uniform dark, nearly black, red, remove wok from heat and allow chilies to cool.
- Grind cooked chilies in spice grinder, coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle.
- Add ground chilies to vegetable oil and mix thoroughly. Eventually, the chilies will settle to the bottom of the oil. Use a spoon when serving to mix a bit to get both oil and chilies into your khao soi.