This Cambodian pickled lime soup with chicken recipe makes sngor ngam ngov, a slightly sweet, slightly sour, citrus-driven soup brimming with succulent chicken and aromatics such as lemongrass and coriander. Easy to make, it’s a nourishing comforting soup that’s made for these times and made to be shared.
Our Cambodian pickled lime soup with chicken recipe makes one of my favourite Cambodian soups, a perfumed citrus-driven broth that is a bit sweet and a bit sour but beautifully balanced. The bowl should brim with pieces of succulent chicken fragrant from the lime you roasted them in and aromatics such as lemongrass and coriander that swim in this nourishing soup.
In many ways this is Cambodia’s chicken soup for the soul and of Cambodia’s countless soups there are few more comforting. While I have demonstrated that I can polish off a pot of the stuff on my own, this is a soup made for these uncertain times and is a soup that should be shared.
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Cambodian Pickled Lime Soup with Chicken Recipe for Sngor Ngam Ngov
Our Cambodian pickled lime soup with chicken recipe makes sngor ngam ngov – in contrast to a samlor, that is heartier and often kroeung-based, a sngor is a clearer soup that is still distinguished by its herbs, but herbs that are added whole rather than combined within a paste.
Ngam ngov is pickled lime in Khmer, which is what gives this soup plenty of punchy flavour. While a Cambodian pickled lime soup is almost always made with chicken – moan in Khmer – moan rarely appears in the name as it’s really about those pickled limes. Most Cambodian houses will have a lime tree and Cambodians will make big jars of pickled limes.
Our Cambodian pickled lime soup is a fairly hearty rendition of this beloved dish, which should be nourishing and comforting, however, I’ve seen these soups on the thin side with little else but chicken, pickled limes and water. I know which I prefer!
Tips to Making This Cambodian Pickled Lime Soup with Chicken Recipe
Our best tips for making this Cambodian pickled lime soup recipe with chicken begins with the chicken. We use thighs as they’re our favourite parts, but you can use a mix of chicken pieces or even a whole chicken (or two) if you’re feeding a family or group. Four chicken thighs should feed two people two big hearty bowls of soup or four people four smaller bowls if serving them as appetisers or accompaniments to other dishes.
Some recipes recommend frying the chicken to brown it first, however, we recommend roasting the chicken after seasoning it with salt and pepper and squeezing lime juice on it, and placing the squeezed lime quarters beneath each chicken piece. You’ll then end up with wonderful pan juices that are fragrant with lime, rather than just chicken fat, plus the lime quarters will permeate the chicken.
Some Cambodian pickled lime soup recipes call for the garlic to be fried first, but when frying onion and garlic, we always recommend frying the onion first until translucent, then adding the garlic. You’ll get sweeter and less bitter-tasting garlic this way.
This Cambodian pickled lime soup is all about the flavours of the preserved limes and chicken, so some recipes I’ve seen use very few other vegetables, while some soups are vegetable-driven. I think carrots and daikon are enough, and I like slicing them, however, I’ve seen recipes that use half a dozen veggies and others that add just a couple, anything from carrot and celery to cabbage and mushroom.
While fish sauce is used in Cambodia, not everyone likes the funky-salty taste of fish sauce, so, yes, you can use salt. We try to use Cambodian fish sauce with Cambodian dishes, but that’s harder to find outside Cambodia, so by all means use a Thai fish sauce or Vietnamese fish sauce, which are more widely available and available online.
Palm sugar provides balance and Cambodian palm sugar (we use it in its creamed-honey like form) provides earthy-sweet flavours. If you don’t have access to palm sugar, you could use brown sugar or raw sugar, but will probably want to use a little less than we recommend.
You’ll find pickled limes in brine in your Asian market, supermarket or grocery store. You’ll probably have a greater chance of finding brands of pickled limes from Thailand such as Golden Thai Kinnaree or Thai Dancer. If you can’t find these, you can use Moroccan preserved lemons. Or you could make your own pickled limes or lemons.
Some Cambodian pickled lime soup recipes call for chicken stock or vegetable stock – or bouillon stock cubes or MSG – however, I find that water is sufficient as you will have a pan-full of wonderful chicken fat juices from roasting the chicken that will provide plenty of flavour.
You really need fresh lemongrass stalks and fresh ginger, but by all means try dried if you can’t get fresh, and let us know how that goes. When it comes to garnishing, I just love fresh coriander (cilantro) and scallions or green spring onions, however, some cooks use parsley or crispy fried garlic. I really don’t think this needs any chilli – this soup has so much flavour – but by all means provide some for your guests.
Cambodian Pickled Lime Soup Recipe
- 4 chicken thighs
- 3 tbsps neutral cooking oil
- 4 fresh limes cut in quarters
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp cracked black pepper
- 6 shallots purple or 1 large white onion, roughly chopped
- 6 garlic cloves sliced
- 1 large carrot sliced
- 1 large daikon sliced
- 1 litre chicken/vegetable stock
- 1 pickled lime sliced in quarters
- 1 tbsp pickled lime brine
- 1-2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1-2 tbsp palm sugar or brown sugar
- 2 stalks lemongrass cut in quarters, bashed with pestle or cleaver
- 1 knob ginger sliced thickly
- 1 cup fresh coriander roughly chopped
- 2 scallions or green spring onions finely chopped
- 1 bunch fresh coriander
- 1 handfull scallions or green spring onions
- Preheat your oven to 200°C (390°F).
- Pop a tablespoon of neutral cooking oil into an oven pan, spread your chicken pieces out evenly, and roll them in the oil to ensure they’re fully covered. Squeeze the juice of the limes onto both sides of the chicken pieces, and pop the squeezed lime quarters beneath each chicken piece. Season the chicken with a pinch of sea salt and cracked black pepper and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes until light brown.
- Fry the roughly-chopped shallots or white onion in a frying pan until just translucent, then add the sliced garlic cloves until light brown, taking care not to burn either.
- Add the remaining tablespoons of cooking oil to a big soup pot, along with the fried shallots/onion and garlic, chopped carrots and daikon, roasted chicken pieces, and lime quarters and chicken fat and juices from the oven pan.
- Add the water (or chicken/vegetable stock), pickled lime brine, pickled lime quarters, fish sauce, one tablespoon palm sugar, lemongrass stalks, ginger, a pinch each of salt and pepper, stir, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 40 minutes.
- Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary with more fish sauce, salt, or palm sugar: it should be citrus-driven, a little sour, a little sweet, but balanced.
- A few minutes before serving, add the cup of roughly chopped fresh coriander and finely chopped scallions or green spring onions, then garnish with a little more fresh coriander and scallions/spring onions at the table.
Do let us know if you make this Cambodian pickled lime soup recipe for sngor ngam ngov as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.