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Tom Yum Gai: Thai Spicy Chicken Soup Recipe

John D Lee is a chef and restauranteur living and working in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He's always loved to cook.

Spicy tom yum chicken soup.

Spicy tom yum chicken soup.

This is a classic, easy-to-make Thai soup that goes very well as a part of a full Thai dinner.

The quality of the chicken is the most important thing for this dish. In Thailand, this would preferably be made with free-range chickens. Thai free-range chickens are scrawny little things that are constantly underfoot in just about any small village you’d pass through. They’ve very little meat and almost no fat at all, and they’re far from tender—but they taste great. They taste like chicken should taste like: chickeny.

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If you can, use free-range chicken for this dish. If you use supermarket chicken, try to trim as much fat as you can from the chicken prior to cooking, to more closely replicate a Thai free-range chicken. Do not try to make this with chicken breast as the bones are essential to give the soup some body.

Thai Tom Yum Gai (Tom Yum Chicken)


  • 1/2 pound chicken thighs or other bone-in parts
  • 4 cups of water
  • 5 (1/2-inch) thin slices of galangal root
  • 3 stalks lemongrass, cut into 1-inch segments
  • 4 shallots, cut in half
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 5 to 15 small dried Thai bird chilies (the really small and spicy ones), depending on how spicy you like it
  • 3 lime leaves
  • 1 teaspoon MSG
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons lime juice (or more to taste)


  1. Heat a little oil in a skillet or wok over medium. When hot, drop your chilies in and fry them, stirring constantly, until they have browned slightly but not blackened—about 1 minute.
  2. Chop the chicken thighs up with a cleaver into segments.
  3. In a pot, mix in the water, the lemongrass, the galangal, the chilies, the shallots, the lime leaves, the salt, the fish sauce and the MSG. Bring the soup to a boil.
  4. Once boiling, add in the chicken parts and boil until the chicken has just cooked through, 5 minutes or so, depending on the size of your chicken pieces. (Thai cooks prefer to add the chicken after the water comes to a boil to reduce the strength of the broth, which is different from how Western cooks traditionally make soup.)
  5. Once the chicken has cooked through, turn off the heat and add in your freshly squeezed lime juice. Taste, and add more fish or lime juice to taste—it should be sour/salty and spicy!

Serve with steamed jasmine rice and enjoy.

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