Chicken Coconut Soup
2 stalks fresh lemongrass
2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
2 Tbs. fish sauce (nam pla)
2 scallions (white and green parts), trimmed and very thinly sliced crosswise
6 fresh or frozen wild lime leaves (also known as kaffir lime leaves), torn or cut into quarters
10 to 12 thin slices galangal, fresh, frozen, or dried (or 10 to 12 thin slices fresh unpeeled ginger)
8 to 10 fresh hot red and green Thai chiles, stemmed and lightly pressed with the side of a knife (or 3 or 4 serranos, thinly sliced) for garnish (optional)
2 Tbs. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 boneless chicken breast half (about 6 ounces), cut into bite-size chunks or sliced across the grain into strips
1/4 lb. white mushrooms, cleaned, stems trimmed, and thinly sliced to yield 1 cup
14-oz. can unsweetened coconut milk (shake the can before opening it) Tastes better if you use a fresh coconut
14-oz. can low-salt chicken broth or 1-3/4 cups water
I like to rotisserie a chicken. Debone the chicken and use the bones and chicken stock as my base. Add the meat and the fresh coconut milk at the very end when the soup is completed.
Trim away and discard the root end and the top 3 inches of each stalk of lemongrass, along with any brittle leaves. Pound each stalk lightly with the spine of a cleaver or an unopened can. Cut each stalk crosswise into 2-inch lengths and set aside.
In a large serving bowl, combine the lime juice, fish sauce, scallions, and half of the wild lime leaves. Set the bowl by the stove, along with small dishes containing the galangal, lemongrass, and remaining lime leaves; the chiles (if using), the chopped cilantro; and the sliced chicken and mushrooms.
In a medium saucepan, commbine the coconut milk and broth. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the galangal, lemongrass, and lime leaves. Add the chicken and mushrooms. Return to a gentle boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes to infuse the flavors and cook the chicken.
Remove the pan from the heat, pour the hot soup over the seasonings in the serving bowl, and stir well. Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro and serve hot. Pass around the chiles for those who want them.