A more-or-less traditional dish that has been on the Vong menu since its opening, this Thai chicken soup with coconut milk and lemongrass combines bright flavors and a lovely combination of colors. The soup is pale yellow with brown shiitake, white chicken, and bright green cilantro peeking through the broth. The broth can be prepared in advance and, in fact, tastes better when it’s done a day ahead. To turn this starter into a main course, increase the amount of chicken to a pound or more and serve with white rice, which can be eaten on the side or spooned into the soup.

–Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman

A Note On What Chicken Stock To Use For This Soup

When Jean-Georges Vongerichten wrote this Thai-minded recipe, he specified Rich Chicken Stock as an ingredient, which you’ll see listed in the recipe below. It’s not the type of stock that would be used in Thailand. It’s simply how Jean-Georges refers to his basic chicken stock recipe that’s made rich with leeks and thyme and…well, heck, we’ll just give you the recipe. Stud 1 medium onion with 6 whole cloves and then toss it in a stock pot along with 3 garlic cloves, 2 pounds chicken wings, 1 carrot, 1 bay leaf, 1 celery stalk, 3 or 4 sprigs fresh thyme, 1 very well rinsed leek, and 10 cups cold water. Bring it to a boil and then immediately reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, skimming any froth or scum that appears on the surface. Cook for a total of 1 1/2 hours. Let cool slightly and then strain. Sorta surprising it isn’t more Asian in nature, although as you’ll taste from the resulting soup, it’s quite nice, just not traditional.

Two bowls of Thai-inspired chicken soup with coconut milk and lemongrass on a striped napkin.

Thai-Inspired Chicken Coconut Soup with Lemongrass

5 / 5 votes
This Thai-inspired chicken coconut soup with lemongrass is creamy and comforting yet surprisingly light and healthy.
David Leite
Servings4 servings
Calories512 kcal
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time30 minutes
Total Time45 minutes


  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste or curry powder
  • Six 1/8-inch-thick slices galangal or ginger, not peeled
  • 3 lime leaves, dried or fresh
  • 4 cups rich chicken stock (see note above), homemade chicken stock or canned chicken broth
  • 12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 2 cups shiitake mushrooms
  • One (13- to 14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 2 tablespoons nam pla or nuoc mam (Asian fish sauce)
  • 3 scallions, trimmed and minced on the diagonal
  • 1/4 cup minced cilantro


  • Trim the lemongrass of its outer sheath and its tough ends. Whack the stalk in a few places with the back of a knife to smash it and then cut it into 2 or 3 pieces.
  • In a large skillet or medium saucepan, combine the oil, onion, and garlic and turn the heat to medium. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. 
  • Then add the lemongrass, curry paste, galangal or ginger, and lime leaves. Cook, stirring, for 3 or 4 minutes, then add the stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium, and cook at a moderate boil for about 15 minutes. (You can cool, cover, and refrigerate the soup base for up to 2 days.)
  • While the broth cooks, cut the chicken breast into 1/2- to 3/4-inch chunks. Remove the stems from the shiitakes and discard or reserve for stock. Cut the caps into quarters or eighths.
  • Add the coconut milk, chicken, and mushrooms to the broth. Simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
  • Remove from the heat. Stir in the lime juice and nam pla and taste and adjust the seasoning. Divide the soup among 4 bowls and garnish with the scallions and cilantro and serve. You may remove the galangal and lemongrass before serving, or leave them in; they are delicious to gnaw on at the table. Originally published September 17, 1998.

Adapted From

Cooking At Home with a Four-Star Chef

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 512 kcalCarbohydrates: 29 gProtein: 30 gFat: 33 gSaturated Fat: 23 gMonounsaturated Fat: 4 gTrans Fat: 0.03 gCholesterol: 62 mgSodium: 1178 mgFiber: 6 gSugar: 12 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 1998 Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Photo © 1998 Quentin Bacon. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This Thai coconut chicken soup is an absolutely delicious recipe that boasts intense flavor that belies the short cooking time. I found it needed a quick shake of salt to make the flavors pop, and I would recommend using salt and not more fish sauce as the soup’s taste was very well balanced.

Also, my soup wasn’t the prettiest color but the taste kept you from caring what it looked like!

This Thai coconut chicken soup was delightful. It packed a punch but was delicate at the same time. All of the ingredients from the mushrooms to the ginger to the lemongrass and cilantro created a flavorful broth that was light but filling.

I’d be careful with the fish sauce—I wouldn’t add any more than the recipe calls for as everything has a perfect balance. This would be the best soup to make when you or a family member has a cold!

This Thai coconut chicken soup is easy to make and doesn’t take much time yet is full of flavor. I had to omit the lime leaves as I was not able to find them anywhere around here. The final taste is very delicate, refreshing, and extremely tasty. My toddler absolutely devoured it.

I added a little white rice that we had leftover and it was perfect for the four of us as a main meal. Everyone asked me to make it again in the near future.

Lemongrass, ginger, and lime leaves may be the holy trinity of Thai soups, and once you realize how easily this broth comes together, you’ll be making this as often as you can remember to have the ingredients on hand! It’s weeknight-friendly in timing—prep isn’t much more than the cooking time and you could have this on the table in an hour, especially if you have a helper.

The balance of flavors is perfect—my lime juice was perhaps generous since one of my limes was quite large and juicy (a plus!) and in combination with the fish sauce it blended nicely. I misread the amount of red curry paste, carefully and accurately measuring 2 tablespoons. I realized my error after dinner, as I was thinking you could increase the red curry paste 50% to even as much as 3 tablespoons. Maybe if your curry paste is mild, you’ll also want to up the amount to taste. The broth will take on a pretty coral tint, more resembling versions you may have had in Thai restaurants. The chicken does indeed cook in 5 minutes, and is tender. My shiitake mushrooms were already stemmed and sliced, rather than quartered, and worked fine. We had 2 servings for dinner, and reheated it for lunch again the next day—it was still excellent. I’m so impressed with how well these ingredients came together that I can see making this again, maybe using shrimp if it’s on hand.

I think this Tom Kha Gai has replaced Tom Yum as my favorite Thai soup and is just as easy as making Hot and Sour soup at home (I usually make Mama Chang’s.)

This is a fantastic soup! It’s light, bright and flavorful. Although it could be a meal in itself (served with naan), it would also be a great starter. It was really simple to make, it just fell right into place!

This type of recipe is great and even though it seems like a lot of ingredients, it all comes together really quickly. The trick would be to mise-en-place.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. I was so looking forward and excited about making this soup! But it did not deliver. I followed the recipe to a tee with all the ingredients but something came across in a mild soapy taste…not good! I even made homemade chicken stock!! I am wondering if something was not right with the coconut milk? What brand did you use. I use Thai brand. Any thoughts.???

      1. I avoided cilantro most of my life because of the soap taste. I had no idea why….until I did a DNA test, and one of the quirks from my genetics is soapy cilantro……. !