Tom Kha Gai is an excellent choice for when you want soup but it's not quite soup season yet. It's light and full of bright flavors! Traditionally made with chicken, pheasant makes a great fill-in. The earthy flavor of the pheasant is a wonderful pairing with the shiitake mushrooms and other savory flavors in this soup. Keep reading to learn more about this delicious dish!
What is Tom Kha Gai?
Tom Kha Gai is a flavorful Thai soup made with coconut milk, chicken, and lots of flavorful aromatics. Tom Kha Gai translates to "chicken galangal soup" in Thai. Galangal is a root closely related to ginger and turmeric. Since ginger is more widely available in the US, Tom Kha Gai tends to be made with ginger instead of galangal. Whichever ingredient you're able to find, your soup will be full of flavor! It's the perfect balance of savory, creamy, bright, and a tiny bit spicy. Every bite is unique depending on what toppings you get on your spoon. Each bite leaves you wanting more!
What do you do with pheasant legs?
Game birds, unlike traditional farmed birds, use their leg muscles a lot. Therefore, the meat can be quite tough if you don't treat it right. Pheasant legs do best when they are braised in a flavorful liquid. Braising the legs in this recipe provides two benefits: it tenderizes the meat and adds flavor to the broth. It's a win-win! Once the legs have cooked in the broth for a few hours, pull them out, shred the meat, then put the bones back in the broth so that they can continue to add flavor to the soup.
How to make Tom Kha Gai:
Tom Kha Gai gets its flavor from all the delicious aromatics simmered in a flavorful broth.
- Start by searing some pheasant legs and breast bones in oil. Adding bone-in pheasant to this dish is optional, but adds a lot of flavor and depth to the soup. Set the legs and bones aside after they're browned.
- Then, sauté some aromatics. I like to use slices of fresh ginger, lemongrass, green onions, jalapeño, and garlic. I also sauté the stems from the shiitake mushrooms to add some extra umami flavor.
- Add in some red curry paste and sauté a little longer until the vegetables are good and fragrant.
- Add in some broth (game bird or chicken), fish sauce (funky but so much flavor), soy sauce, and the pheasant legs and bones. Let it simmer for a few hours.
- Take out the pheasant legs when the meat is tender. Shred the meat and put it in the fridge until you're ready to use it. Put the bones back in the broth so they can keep developing the flavor of the soup.
- Once the broth has simmered for a few hours, strain the broth. Add in the coconut milk and sliced mushrooms and let the mushrooms cook in the broth. Then add in some lime juice and the shredded leg meat.
- You can leave the soup at that and it will be delicious! Or you can keep reading to add a little something extra...
What do you eat with Tom Kha Gai?
Traditionally, tom kha gai doesn't have much added to it other than maybe a squeeze of lime. But, I like to switch it up and add a few extras. First, I add a base of sticky rice to make the soup a little more filling. Then I sear some pheasant breasts, slice them up, and put them on top of the bed of rice. After that, pour the soup around rice and add some fresh toppings.
Some of my favorite toppings for tom kha gai are sliced green onions, Thai basil, avocado, thinly sliced radish, microgreens, and a spicy pepper. I really enjoy the yellow manzano peppers you see below. They have a fruity flavor but can still be pretty spicy! You never know what you're going to get until you taste them. I suggest you give one a small taste before deciding if you can handle full slices of it or if you should add a small amount of diced pepper instead. You definitely don't have to go all out on the toppings, but one or 2 really adds something to the soup. Top your bowl however you'd like and enjoy!
Pheasant Tom Kha Gai Soup
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 pheasant legs, bone-in, skinless
- 4 pheasant breast bones, or other bones (optional)
- 5 cloves garlic, smashed
- 3 inches fresh ginger, peeled and cut into slices lengthwise
- 1 stalk lemongrass, cut into thirds, and split in half lengthwise
- 4 green onions, cut into thirds
- 1 jalapeno pepper, sliced
- 2 tablespoon red curry paste
- 4 cups pheasant or chicken stock
- 2 cups water
- 2 tablespoon fish sauce
- ½ tablespoon soy sauce
- 12 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms, stalks removed and sliced (save stalks for broth)
- 2 cans coconut milk (13.66 oz each)
- 1 lime juiced
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 6 pheasant breasts, boneless, skinless
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 4 ½ cups cooked sticky rice
- 1 manzano pepper, thinly sliced or finely diced
- 1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced or finely diced
- 3 ripe avocadoes, sliced
- 6 radishes, thinly sliced
- 4 green onions, thinly sliced
- ¾ cup microgreens
- ⅓ cup Thai basil, cut into ribbons
- 1 lime, cut into 6 wedges
- Heat medium stockpot over high heat. Add in 1 tablespoon oil and swirl to coat pan. Add in pheasant legs and breast bones. Cook 2 minutes per side or until browned. Remove to a plate.
- Add in garlic, ginger, lemongrass, green onions, jalapeno, and mushroom stalks. Cook 3-5 minutes or until softened and fragrant, stirring frequently.
- Add in curry paste and stir to coat. Cook an additional 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add in stock, water, fish sauce, and soy sauce. Stir to combine.
- Add in pheasant legs and breast bones. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and simmer 2.5 hours or until pheasant leg meat is tender. If they're not quite tender yet, leave them in for the rest of the cooking time instead of taking them out early.
- Remove legs from broth and remove meat from the bones. Place the leg meat into a sealable container and place in the fridge until ready to use. Place leg bones back into broth and continue simmering for an additional hour.
- After 3.5-4 hours of cooking time, strain the broth using a fine mesh strainer. Discard the solids.
- Add in coconut milk and bring broth back to a boil
- Add in sliced mushrooms, simmer for 15 minutes or until mushrooms are tender.
- Add in shredded leg meat and lime juice. Stir and cook an additional 2 minutes or until leg meat is heated through.
- While mushrooms are cooking, cook pheasant breasts.
- Season pheasant breasts all over with salt and pepper.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add in 2 tablespoon oil and swirl to coat.
- Place pheasant breasts in pan and cook for 5-6 minutes per side or until browned and internal temperature reaches 165°F.
- Remove to a plate and let rest 10 minutes. Slice thinly and set aside to use on top of soup.
- Place ¾ cup cooked sticky rice in the bottom of soup bowl.
- Pour soup around or on top of sticky rice.
- Arrange sliced pheasant breast on top of rice.
- Arrange peppers, avocado and radishes around sliced pheasant.
- Top with microgreens, green onions, and Thai basil. Serve with lime wedges. Enjoy!