The name for this Thai soup literally translates to ‘boiled galangal’ because us Thais name most of our soups with the verb ‘to boil’. This dish is most popularly made using chicken, but as with many Thai dishes the starring protein varies according to availability and geography. I was unsuccessful fishing the other day but because I never really fish solo, my chances of eating fish for supper are more likely. The way things usually pan out is that I catch all of the pretty (endangered) fish which have to be thrown back, and everybody else catches dinner. Lucky for me my teammates pulled in a good number of fish including two of my favourites, flathead and Australian salmon (which is actually a kind of perch!) I would like to point out that Australian salmon is an incredibly underrated fish, especially among fishermen. There have been countless times when other fishermen have offered them up because of their ‘bad eating’. Nonsense! I can’t believe people don’t eat more of this clean, soft-textured, and deliciously fatty fish! What makes me more upset is hearing rumours of dead Aussie salmon ‘bicatch’ being tossed back into the ocean by large trawlers – it doesn’t even make it into fish mongers.
I had kept the head, backbone, and tail from the Australian salmon we had for lunch to make the stock for this recipe. You can definitely use other fish, chicken, or vegetable stock as the base for this soup. It’s best if the stock is light in taste and colour, and as clear as possible to make a beautiful Tom Kha. This particular recipe is milder in flavour than most, so that the soup complements the subtle sweetness of the fresh fish (that a bolder Tom Kha would perhaps mask).
Tom Kha Bla (Thai Galangal Soup with Fish)
You will need:
the carcass of a white-fleshed fish (only if you are making your own stock) or 3 cups of chicken/fish/vegetable stock
a medium to large whole white-fleshed fish like flathead, Australian salmon, or Bream (cleaned, scaled, gutted)
2 stalks of lemongrass
4-6 bird’s eye chillies (according to your preferred level of spice)
a 2″ thumb of fresh galangal
10 kaffir lime leaves
4 fresh coriander roots, washed well
500ml coconut milk (fresh if you can get your hands on some, organic if canned)
a few coriander leaves
rice to serve (here I am using red rice – khao daeng)
Fill a stock pot with 4 cups of water and slide in your fish carcass along with 4 kaffir lime leaves. Turn on a medium heat. Bring to a slow simmer and turn the heat down to low for a further 25 mins, skimming off any scum from time to time. Turn the heat off, pass the contents of the pot through a sieve, and set aside.
Meanwhile, cut your whole fish into 1″ cutlets. Bash your lemongrass with the back of your knife and cut into 2″ pieces, discarding the end pieces. Rip single tears into the remaining kaffir lime leaves. Peel the skin off the galangal with a vegetable peeler, and slice into 2mm discs. Take the stalky hats off the chillies, and bash them like the lemongrass. Throw the lemongrass, lime leaves, coriander roots, galangal, and chillies into a large pot. Pour in 3 cups from the top of your fish stock (any sediment should have settled by now) and the coconut milk. Turn on the heat to medium and bring to a slow simmer. After about 10mins, season with fish sauce, and lime juice to taste, then add your fish cutlets and turn off the heat as soon as the fish is done. Serve immediately with a few leaves of coriander and fresh rice.