As a recent Los Angeles transplant, I’ve been exploring many of the khao soi hot spots that my local friends rave about. So far, the best eatery is Northern Thai Food Club. This spot serves a popular Northern Thai dish called khao soi. As much as I’d love to go to this super popular (almost cult-like!) spot every day for khao soi, my bank account says no—and the culinary professional in me says I need to learn how to make it at home.
What Is Khao Soi?
Khao Soi is a spicy, curried, thick broth that’s served over a bed of egg noodles, with flavor enhancing accoutrements such as pickled mustard, a squeeze of lime and freshly sliced shallots. It’s made with coconut milk, which really adds a creamy balance to the curried base.
This dish is going to be a bit more tedious and time-consuming than you might be used to, especially since the ingredients are tough to find at a conventional grocery store. Be sure to allot some extra time to source the ingredients. Then, on the day of, plan to take 3-4 hours to prep, cook and assemble your khao soi paste and noodle soup. (Don’t worry; it’s worth it!)
How to Make Khao Soi Paste
I wanted to make sure this dish was developed to be as authentic as possible, with some exceptions if ingredients were not readily accessible in the States.
Khao Soi Paste Ingredients
2-3 tbs kosher salt
1 cup boiling water
10-12 dried red chilies
3-4 garlic cloves
1/2 inch galangal, sliced or 1 tablespoon galangal powder
10-12 cilantro stems
3-5 fingerroot, optional
2-inch stalk of lemongrass
3-4 makrut leaves or 1 teaspoon makrut powder
1 turmeric root or 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon curry powder
Tools You’ll Need
Food-Grade Gloves: It can get messy and spicy making khao soi paste. Use a pair of gloves to prevent any pepper accidents.
Mortar and Pestle: A mortar and pestle are vital to Southeast Asian cuisine, as most curry pastes, sauces and salads are made in these heavy stone bowls. You also need a spice grinder with a capability to grind both dry and wet ingredients.
Quarter Sheet Pan: I absolutely love having this small sheet pan around the kitchen as it’s a perfect way to place any hot items onto something that is easily transferable, lightweight and offers the square footage for spreading out your ingredients for mise en place.
Cast-Iron Griddle: Use a cast-iron griddle like this to get a nice sear on aromatics, vegetables or meat without having to use an outdoor grill.
Directions for Khao Soi Paste
Step 1: Soak the chilies
In a small bowl, carefully add your dried red chilies and boiling hot water together. Let soak for 15-20 minutes.
Step 2: Saute the aromatics
Heat your cast-iron skillet or griddle to medium-high. Be sure to turn your fan or hood on high as this step will definitely get the kitchen smelling spicy! Put the garlic, shallots, galangal, cumin and coriander seeds, makrut, finger root and turmeric root on the griddle. Use tongs to flip over after 1-2 minutes when everything has a bit of browning to it.
If you don’t have a griddle, you can use a saute pan or do a quick broil. This process adds a smokey flavor to your curry paste and releases a lot of the flavor.
Step 3: Make the paste
Once your red chilies have softened, pull off the stems. If you want a milder khao soi paste, seed a few of the chilies.
Add your chilies to the mortar and pestle or food processor, along with the garlic, shallots and galangal. Then pestle until it’s a paste. Add all the other ingredients, one by one, and pestle until all is integrated. If you have a smaller-sized mortar, scoop a bit of the paste out to allow space for pestling the other ingredients.
Keep khao soi paste in an airtight glass container until ready to use. It can keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.
How to Make Khao Soi
2 tablespoons khao soi paste or red curry paste
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon paprika
4 cups full-fat coconut milk
3-4 chicken thighs or drumsticks
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2-1 tablespoon palm sugar
1 package pickled mustard greens, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, trim the bottoms off but keep the stems, chopped
1 jar pickled green chilies
1 jar chili crisp oil
3-4 shallots, peeled and sliced
2-3 limes, cut into wedges
Optional: Nam prik pao (thai chili paste)
Step 1: Saute the khao soi paste with aromatics
Heat a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat; add your coconut oil.
Then, add your khao soi paste. Start with about 1 tablespoon if you prefer food that’s less spicy, 2 tablespoons if you want a khao soi with some heat. Add your curry, turmeric and paprika powders. These will add extra color to your curry broth.
Step 2: Add coconut milk
Once the spices have browned, start by adding 3 cups of coconut milk. Keep the extra cup of coconut milk handy to level out any spice or to loosen up your broth, if it gets too thick.
Step 3: Add chicken
Let the broth come to a low simmer and add your chicken thighs or drumsticks, then partially cover with a heavy lid (this lets a bit of steam out so it doesn’t overflow). Simmer for 20-25 minutes or until chicken is thoroughly cooked.
Step 4: Shred chicken
Remove 1-2 of the chicken thighs to a sheet pan. Let cool for about 3-4 minutes. Using a couple of forks or tongs, shred the meat from the bone, then add it back to broth. Add the fish sauce and palm sugar.
Let the broth continue to simmer on low while preparing your noodles and assembling your toppings.
Step 5: Cook the noodles
Cook egg noodles according to package directions. Immediately rinse with cold water for a few minutes and separate the noodles, as they tend to clump together.
Step 6: Prepare khao soi toppings
The crispy egg noodles can be optional, but it’s absolutely wonderful to have a crunchy topping with such a rich and creamy noodle soup. In a cast-iron pan, add about a quart of frying oil or enough to fill your pan halfway. Turn the heat to medium. Line a quarter sheet pan with paper towels and/or a rack for draining the oil. To test the oil, add a small bit of noodle to the frying pan to see if it sizzles and browns. If it does, use your skimmer or your tongs to lower a small bundle of egg noodles in and let it fry until they’re about a caramel brown color. Use your skimmer or tongs to pull the noodles out of the oil and onto your draining rack.
On a platter, small ramekins or dipping sauce bowls, put out the pickled mustard, cilantro, nam prik pao (if using) and chili crisp, shallots, pickled green chilies and fried egg noodles.
Step 7: Serve khao soi
It’s always standard to set the toppings on a table so folks can assemble their own bowl of khao soi. Place a handful of egg noodles and a heavy ladle of your khao soi broth into a bowl. Then, allow everyone to build a bowl!
Khao Soi Tips
Use beef or pork instead of chicken
This is the kind of curried noodle soup that will be delicious with any protein. If you want to add beef or pork, add stew meat or braise cut.
Make the recipe vegetarian
For vegetarians, opt for a vegetarian “fish” sauce and replace the chicken with a starchy vegetable, such as pumpkin or kabocha squash, or fried tofu.
Use red curry paste instead of khao soi paste
Not everyone has the time to make khao soi paste, so feel free to use red curry paste as a substitute.
Order powdered ingredients
Some ingredients for the khao soi are harder to find if you are not in a major city or area with a population of Southeast Asians. Thank goodness for the internet because you can order makrut and finger root powders, which are an acceptable substitute for making khao soi paste.
Add spice to khao soi
To add extra heat, I’d leave all the seeds in rather than de-seed chilies when making your khao soi paste. You can also add dried chile flakes or powder, or use more of the chili crisp oil condiment to up the spice level.
Store the components separately
It’s best to store all the components in separate airtight containers. I prefer keeping my broths in a tall, cylindrical container such as a mason jar. The egg noodles, if already cooked and rinsed with cold water, can be stored in an airtight container.
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