Tom Kha Gai Soup (Or: This is What Failure Tastes Like)

Kids, today we’re going to talk about failure.

It’s difficult to ignore the overwhelming success rate of professional chefs and food bloggers. Don’t they ever have an off day?! Of course they do, but since they’re in the business of providing sound recipes, they’re not going to broadcast the ones that came out tasting like Tim Curry’s left shoe after the filming of a scene in Rocky Horror. The result is that people actually respect them.

Well, I know I won’t ever be respected for my ~culinary prowess~ so let’s just toss that out of the window right now. I’ll be honest: there are recipes I’ve made that have been colossal fuckups. Since I’m not a chef, I can’t really diagnose exactly what happened, but I can detail my experiences- and if someone else wants to figure out what I’ve done wrong, let me know!

So don’t worry, I’ll be posting my disasters along with my successes. Otherwise, I’d be a pretty crappy amateur, right? I won’t be posting the recipes themselves (since I don’t want to share them if they’re flawed [less likely], and don’t want to steer you wrong if I’m the one who fucked up here [more likely]), but I’ll be linking to them to explore for yourself.

And failure, thy flavor is tom kha gai soup.

In retrospect, this coconut chicken soup was my Icarian recipe. I had already made a couple challenging dishes; why not one that was comprised mainly of stuff I never cook with? Consider this:

  • I had never cooked with lemongrass before (and might never again. Jesus Christ. But more on that later.)
  • I had never consumed, or cooked with, coconut milk. I didn’t think it’d mix well with the chicken broth. I was right.
  • I had made soup once before in my entire life. This was not even remotely similar.
  • The recipe itself skips a step.

Too many variables. Too many ways it could go wrong. But in the face of these odds, I was too proud… and it cost me. My wax wings melted and I fell to Earth, skulking back to one-pot pasta dishes.

The lemongrass is what intrigued me the most, though. I don’t think I’d ever seen it before, but I went for it. I was under the impression that I had to chop it into four pieces, keep track of them, and remove them at the right time. I had no idea what flavor it added, or even really what other dishes it’s traditionally used for. Truthfully, what I should have done was look at this incredible YouTube lemongrass tutorial first, and then I wouldn’t have done something that stupid:

Also, going forward, I’m not sure how willing I’ll be to cook with ingredients that require their own YouTube tutorials. Do I think this tutorial would have salvaged the soup? No, not really, but at least I could strike it off the list of “stuff I probably fucked up.”

Start by deserting the idea that prep will take 5 minutes. This is a lie. It took me 45, and I accidentally had fewer ingredients than I needed (hint: for the recommended amount of lime juice, use two limes) and bought pre-sliced mushrooms (don’t judge me). The next tip I have for you is to start the coconut milk/chicken broth combination as you’re cooking the chicken, because the thick coconut milk combination takes forever to simmer. For me, it never fully combined into a creamy mixture like it was supposed to (even though I whisked, as suggested in the text), and as a result, we had to stir frantically with every bite to combine the coconut milk and the chicken broth sip by sip. Finally, the recipe never says when to add the goddamn chicken. I found this out a little too late and instead just added the chicken at step three, when you add mushrooms, ginger, fish sauce, lime juice, cayenne powder and lemongrass. That majestic, complicated lemongrass.

I made rice with this. We poured the soup over the rice in a bowl as we ate it. We had a ton of leftovers. No one touched them and a week later I threw them out.

All in all, it tasted fine, but wasn’t memorable, and certainly wasn’t worth the effort or the expense- these aren’t exactly ingredients you have lying around. Take the cash you’d spend and get Thai takeout.

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