A lot of people are PISSED that Jaime Oliver used the word “jerk” in a rice recipe of his when it doesn’t, in fact, represent jerk anything. I should note that “microwavable” was in the title as well, so that may have sparked some extra animosity. They are calling it “cultural appropriation”.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and hesitating to share my Tom Kha Gai recipe because of it.
What exactly is cultural appropriation?
Cultural appropriation is when cultural elements from minority populations are used by dominant populations outside of their original cultural context.
But, when does something become cultural appropriation? Does it only happen when the minority is offended by it? Does it only happen when the dominant culture makes money from it? Would it still be cultural appropriation if the dominant culture cares to learn and explain where the element comes from?
I’m not sure creating and sharing a recipe from another culture can be considered cultural appropriation. I guess if you start altering ingredients and then still use the name, which is kind of what Oliver did, maybe it is.
After way too much thought, I’ve decided that the sharing of my Tom Kha Gai recipe is NOT cultural appropriation. I’ve researched, tasted others, tested, and revised this recipe until it was great. I would call it something different if it was, but I think it’s pretty spot on.
There is a section of Best Food Writing 2017 called “Whose Food is it Anyway” which is basically a section all about cultural appropriation. One part in Luke Tsai’s, “Cooking Other People’s Food” is labeled, “The Iggy Azaleas of Food”. Is this recipe “The Iggy Azalea of Tom Kha Gai Recipes”? Maybe. But I think it’s good, so maybe not.
About Tom Kha Gai
Tom kha gai is a Thai chicken galangal soup. It typically has a coconut broth infused with galangal, kefir lime leaves, and lemongrass, includes Thai chiles, mushrooms, and chicken, and is finished with lime and cilantro. You’ll often find the soup on American Thai restaurant menus with different protein options, but chicken is the standard.
About the Recipe
I use a pressure cooker (or Instant Pot) to quickly infuse the lemongrass, kefir lime, and galangal flavors into the broth. What’s great about this method is you just need to throw everything in there at first which gives you time to prep the other ingredients and garnishes. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can simmer the broth on the stove top for about 1 hour instead. I use a Thai red curry paste as desired to kick up the heat at the end. Try your best to find galangal. You can find it at Asian markets or galangal powder at Spiceology. Some people substitute ginger, but it is not tom kha gai at that point and then you’d be guilty of cultural appropriation. Maybe.
Tom Kha Gai
Yield: about 2 ½ Quarts
1 ½ Q Chicken Stock
5 Kaffir Lime Leaves
3 Stalks Lemongrass, rough outer stalks removed, cut into 2-3” pieces and smashed (I use scissors and a mallet)
1 roughly 3” piece of Galangal, sliced into about ½” disks
2 T Fish Sauce
1 Red Bell Pepper, medium diced
1 Yellow Onion, medium diced
8 oz. Shitake mushrooms, sliced (white button mushrooms quartered work nicely too)
1 T Garlic, minced
3-5 Dried Thai Chiles (optional for heat)
1 ½ – 2 lbs. Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs, Cut into ½” pieces
1 13.5 can Coconut Cream (You can use coconut milk instead. Cream is a bit richer)
1 C loosely packed cilantro, some stem portion okay, chopped fine
1 Lime, juice and zest, plus more as desired
Red Thai Curry Paste, if desired and as needed
Salt to taste
Combine the first 5 ingredients in the pressure cooker. Set to pressure cook for 20 minutes.
You can release the steam slowly or opt to quick release. You can remove the aromatics at this point, but they’ll impart more flavor if you leave them in and simply don’t eat them when in the bow.
Add the bell pepper, onion, mushrooms, garlic, chiles, and chicken to the pot. Set the pressure cooker to 10 minutes.
You can release the steam slowly or opt to quick release. Turn the pressure cooker to warm, and add the coconut cream, cilantro, and lime.
Add the curry paste if desired, season with salt and more lime as needed.