Lobster Tom Kha Soup

It was one degree Fahrenheit when we left the house this morning. One. The loneliest number. I know all anyone is doing on Facebook and the news and in the bank and at school and work and wherever you go/look/listen is complaining about the cold. It’s boring, frankly. But, also, at the risk of sounding trite, HOLYCRAPIT’SCOOOOLD!!!!!!! Intrepid Violet and I ventured out to a music class at our public library and then spent the afternoon at the Farnsworth Museum, which I somehow didn’t know was free to Rockland residents. What a sweet deal! It’s cozy and warm and filled with light and art and books and nice (bored) security guards who smile and wave at your baby who is removing her socks over by the Wyeths. Go keep them company! It’s dangerously frigid but very, very beautiful. Geometric patterns of frost on the windowpanes, water color skies, and somanymillions of stars.

The recipes I consulted to make tom kha (gai, or chicken) coconut soup, all call for galangal and kaffir lime leaves, neither of which I could find locally. So I made do with a little pot of Thai red curry paste made by Thai Kitchen, which contains both, as well as garlic and chile. It turns the soup a satisfying orange-red and adds a bit of heat. I could have/should have used the lobster shells to make a rich stock, but the soup didn’t suffer, much. Adding nam pla (fish sauce) imparts that je ne sais what now? inherent in Asian cuisine. Also, slowly warming the stock and coconut milk with the aromatics helped deepen the flavor. I undercooked the lobster by a minute, maybe, so that it wouldn’t get gummy when I later introduced it into the soup. This definitely requires a bit of tasting as you go and adjusting the seasoning. And I use lite [sic] coconut milk, because the full-fat version freaks me out. Whenever I get tom kha at my favorite New Haven Thai place, it is full of these oddly buoyant mushrooms that bob and float and somersault. I used sliced shiitakes, that add a good earthiness. Finally, noodles! Hooray noodles. One more thing, about the lemongrass: I used a meat tenderizer to smash it, which was both fun and fragrant.

Lobster Tom Kha
Adapted from a recipe by Once Upon a Photo


  • 2 1 1/4 lb lobsters, steamed 6 minutes, shelled and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass, chopped into 4-inch pieces and pounded flat
  • 2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
  • 1 14-oz can lite coconut milk
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1-2 tablespoon(s) fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 4 oz shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • Cilantro, for garnish
  • Rice noodles (optional), cooked according to package directions and tossed with a bit of vegetable oil


In a large soup pot over low heat, whisk red curry paste into coconut milk and vegetable stock. Add lemongrass, and let the mixture steep while you prepare lobster. Turn up the heat, and bring the soup to a boil. Add fish sauce, sugar, and lime juice, tasting and adjusting seasoning if necessary. Add mushrooms and reduce heat to low. Add lobster meat and serve with cilantro as garnish and rice noodles, if using.

Jillian Bedell

Jillian Bedell is a writer and mother living in a farmhouse in Cushing, Maine. She is very good at talking about herself in the third person. She is co-author of Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road.


  1. Now this is a adaptation of a thai soup that sounds super good. All the ingredients are easy to buy and all I can see adding is some bak choy leaves. Great idea subbing red curry paste for the Kaffir lime leaves. I used to grow a kaffir lime just for the leaves but it got too big and I pulled it out to make room for an avocado tree. Thanks for the inspirational recipe – I am making the soup tonight. I have everything but the lobster in my refrigerator.

  2. Sounds fabulous and will definitely take the chill away! Wish I could use lobster, but I’m afraid shrimp will have to suffice.(I do dream of lobsters and eating them off the coast of Maine but maybe I’ll wait until spring.) I like the Thai curry paste, too as it is a real time saver. Plus, it’s good.

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