Tom Yum Kai Soup (Thai Chicken Spicy and Sour Soup)

Tom Yum Kai Soup

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 chicken breast, boneless, skinless, cut into 5mm (1/4″) thick slices
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 2.5cm (1″) piece of galangal or ginger, peeled and sliced into 5mm (1/4″) thick slices
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, cut into 2cm (3/4″) pieces
  • 2 makrut lime leaves (optional)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced (optional)
  • 1-2 Tbsps fish sauce
  • 2 Tbsps sambal olek
  • 1/2 Tbsp sugar (optional)
  • 8 button mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 tomato, cut into wedges or 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 lime, cut in wedges


Place the stock and water in a heavy bottomed pot. Heat until it starts to simmer. Add ginger/galangal, lemongrass, and lime leaves, cooking for about 5 minutes. Add fish sauce, sambal olek, and sugar. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Add chicken and mushrooms. Cook for 3 minutes. Add tomatoes. Cook until chicken is cooked through. Serve immediately with lime wedges.

And now for the details…

When I’m feeling under the weather, or feeling chilled and want something to stoke that internal fire to feel warmed up, this soup is immediately what I crave. It’s got the warm comfort of a chicken soup, with the spicy bite from the sambal olek and ginger, and a tart or sour note thanks to the lime juice, lemongrass and tomatoes.

I have a few ingredients in here that I have noted as optional, as they do add to the flavour of the soup, but are not critical. Especially the makrut lime leaves, which can often be a challenge to find in some western markets. While the additional of the lime leaves adds a certain floral note and emphasizes the citrus notes, it is not hypercritical if you have a hard time tracking them down.

Let’s get to cooking.

Before we go anywhere, get all the ingredients ready to go. Wash, slice, cut and mince everything and have it next to you at the stove, because the time between additions to the soup are relatively short, which is great because it means we get to eating that much faster!

A tip for the lemongrass: tap it up and down its length with the dull side of your knife. This will help to release some of the oils to make your soup that much more fragrant.

A tip for the chicken: if cutting it thinly is a challenge, try placing the piece of chicken breast in the freezer for 5-10 minutes. It will not freeze completely, but will chill up enough that it is easier to handle while you are cutting. Because we are cutting it so thin, this extra chill to the chicken will not result in any extended cook time.

We start everything off by adding the broth and water into a pot and setting them to medium-high heat on the stove. Heat until the liquid starts to simmer, then reduce to just above medium heat.

Next, add the lemongrass, ginger and lime leaves. Before adding the lime leaves, give them a light squish between your hands; this will help release the oils and allow them to impart more flavour.

Cover the pot and let this simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the fish sauce, sambal olek and sugar (if you are using the sugar). And allow everything to simmer for another 2-3 minutes.

Next, we add the chicken and mushrooms. Yes, I know that the dishwasher will likely sanitize the cutting board and I do not need to be so anal retentive about using multiple boards, but I am just too cautious when it comes to cross contamination.

Let the soup come back up to a simmer, and then cover and cook for about 3 minutes.

Our final addition are the tomatoes. Whether you use a large tomatoes and cut it into wedges, or simply slice up some baby tomatoes, it is really about preference and what you have on hand. Add the tomatoes and stir them in, then simmer everything for another 2-3 minutes, or until the chicken is fully cooked and the tomatoes have softened slightly.

Serve immediately with chopped cilantro and green onions and enjoy that heart-warming deliciousness!

Happy eating.

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