This easy Southern Thai chicken and rice recipe for khao mok gai makes braised chicken cooked in a spicy curry-like gravy and served with turmeric rice and crispy fried shallots. A Thai Muslim specialty, it’s often called a Thai biryani or Thai style biryani. Like a biryani the chicken can be cooked with the rice or separately. Either way, it’s wonderful.
Our easy Southern Thai chicken and rice recipe makes the incredibly delicious khao mok gai – ‘khao’ means rice, ‘gai’ is chicken, and ‘mok’ means to bury underneath or within in modern Thai. It comes from the old Khmer word ‘khmok’, which means to cook within banana leaves, which is how this dish was probably once cooked in the same way that Thai hor mok is made, and to find out more about that you’ll have to wait for our Cambodian cookbook.
This Southern Thai chicken and rice recipe for khao mok gai will make you a Thai Muslim specialty from Southern Thailand which consists of moist chicken pieces braised in a wonderfully aromatic and rich curry-like gravy made from dried spices, including Thai curry powder, that are served atop a yellow turmeric-tinted rice, and sprinkled with crispy fried shallots.
Depending on where you eat this addictive Thai-Malay street food favourite in Thailand, this Thai Malay dish might come garnished with crunchy cucumber slices or spears, and fresh mint, coriander and chillies, or the dish might be served with a fragrant relish or sauce of pounded herbs and cucumber – and/or sweet chilli sauce.
As a Thai Muslim dish, it’s typically referred to as a Thai biryani or Thai style biryani, but it’s important to note that this is not the style of biryani you might be familiar with from the Indian Sub-Continent or Middle East, where we ate biryanis weekly for seven years and they were never like this. Hence “Thai-style”.
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Now let me tell you more about our Southern Thai chicken and rice recipe for khao mok gai.
Southern Thai Chicken and Rice Recipe for Khao Mok Gai, a Thai Style ‘Biryani’ of Braised Chicken with Turmeric Rice
There are few dishes in Thailand made and presented in such diverse ways as this Southern Thai chicken and rice recipe for khao mok gai, which, while often referred to as a Thai style biryani is essentially spicy braised chicken served with turmeric rice.
Now cooked and eaten by all Thais all over the country, the dish is rooted in the Muslim communities of Southern Thailand, which have a long rich history dating to over one thousand years before the region became part of Siam and then Thailand.
Southern Thailand’s Malay peninsula is ‘Malay’ for a reason. It’s called ‘tanah Melayu’ which means ‘the Malay land’ by the region’s Thai Malays, most of whom speak Kelantan-Pattani Malay.
Until the northern newcomers arrived, the region had been the Pattani kingdom, a Muslim Malay sultanate since the 15th century, before that part of the Malay Buddhist kingdom of Srivijaya, part of the Khmer kingdom of Funan for a while, and the ancient Malay Hindu-Buddhist kingdom of Langkasuka from the 2nd century.
Southern Thailand, like much of Southeast Asia, also experienced a period of Indianisation, with the arrival of Brahmin priests, Indian craftsmen and traders.
While many spices were already grown in the region – such as cardamom and pepper, which the Khmers and Mons had long traded with everyone from the Chinese to European – the Indians left their culinary influence, hence the use of dried spices in the dish.
Just a few tips to making this easy Southern Thai chicken and rice recipe for khao mok gai.
Tips to Making This Easy Southern Thai Chicken and Rice Recipe for Khao Mok Gai
I only have a few tips for making this easy Southern Thai chicken and rice recipe for khao mok gai. As the dish is now considered Thai-Malay as much as Thai Muslim, some chefs, such as David Thompson, use fresh herbs and spices, which are pounded into a paste, however, I’ve stuck to the dried spices used by Thai Muslims of Malay heritage.
There are a few ways of preparing the chicken and rice in Southern Thailand: braising the chicken and cooking the rice separately, as I’ve done here; and cooking the chicken with the rice in a pot, which is more traditional and explains how khao mok gai came to be referred to as a Thai style byriani.
Cooking the chicken with the rice is more Malay, separating it from the rice is more Thai style, and, the third way, using a rice cooker, is simply more modern.
Making the rice in a rice cooker is a method used by many street food cooks, some of whom will also place the chicken in the rice cooker after braising it.
The other main difference I’ve noticed when it comes to this Southern Thai chicken and rice dish are the garnishes and sides.
The chicken is always sprinkled with crispy fried onions and it’s nearly always garnished with crunchy fresh cucumber. However…
Whether ordered from a street food cook or eaten in the home, khao mok gai might also be served with either a cucumber, mint, coriander, and chilli relish; a mint, coriander and chilli sauce; or a quick pickle of cucumber, coriander mint and coriander, which is what I’ve done – partly because that’s predominantly what I’ve eaten it with before, it’s my preference, and it’s easier, and I promised you this recipe would make an easy version of this dish.
Southern Thai Chicken and Rice Recipe for Khao Mok Gai, a Thai Style Biryani
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp cumin
- 2 tbsp Thai curry powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 chicken thighs - skin-on, bone-in, each cut in half
- 1 knob of ginger - peeled, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves - finely chopped
- 2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
- 1 large onion - finely diced
- 1 tbsp Thai curry powder
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 cup water
- ½ tsp chilli powder
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp plain yoghurt
- 3 cups jasmine rice
- Water as per your rice cooker indicator
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 6 cloves
- 6 cardamom pods - cracked
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil or ghee
- ½ tsp fine caster sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp boiling water
- 2 cups white vinegar
- 1 cucumber - sliced
- 1 long green chilli - sliced
- 1 long red chilli - sliced
- 2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves
- 2 tbsp fresh mint leaves
- crispy fried shallots
- sweet chilli sauce
- First make the marinade: in a bowl, combine the ground coriander, ginger and turmeric, curry powder, salt, and bay leaves, then add the chicken pieces and rub the marinade into the pieces so that they’re completely covered, and marinate for 30 minutes minimum (or up to 2-3 hours) in the fridge.
- When you’re ready to cook the dish, start with the gravy: in a mortar and pestle, pound the ginger and garlic into a paste, then, in a large round flat-bottomed wok or your favourite braising pan, heat the ghee or vegetable oil until hot, then add the ginger and garlic paste, diced onion, curry powder, garam masala, and turmeric, and fry for 3-5 minutes until the onion is soft.
- When the onion is soft, add the water, chilli powder, salt, and sugar, combine well, then transfer the chicken thighs (fleshier side down) and marinade to the wok/pan, add the yoghurt and additional water – just enough so that the chicken pieces are covered in then spicy gravy – and stir to combine everything well.
- Turn the heat on high until the gravy is bubbling vigorously and the chicken is spluttering, then reduce the heat to a simmer, pop the lid on, and continue to cook for another 15 minutes or so.
- Remove the lid, check to see if the under sides of the chicken are cooked, and turn the pieces over, then increase the heat again until the gravy bubbles, reduce the heat to a simmer, add more water if needed to ensure the chicken is covered in gravy, then return the lid.
- While the chicken is cooking, prepare the rice: transfer the rice to a fine mesh sieve, wash it under a running cold water tap to rinse the rice until the water is clear, then pour it into the rice cooker.
- Add water as per your rice cooker indicator, then the turmeric, cinnamon stick, cloves, cracked cardamom pods, salt, bay leaves, and vegetable oil or ghee, use your rice cooker spoon to combine well, close the lid, and turn the rice cooker on.
- When the rice is done and cooker automatically turns off, leave it for another 15 minutes, then open the lid and use your rice cooker spoon to turn the rice over, separating the rice, scraping the crunchy pieces from the bottom, and folding them into the rice. Close the lid and leave until you’re ready to serve.
- Make a cucumber quick pickle: to a glass jar or container with lid, dissolve the caster sugar and salt in the boiling water, add the vinegar, sliced cucumber and chillies, put the lid on, shake to combine and refrigerate until ready to serve. At the last minute add the fresh coriander and mint leaves.
- When the chicken is ready, transfer a few heaped scoops of rice to serving plates, arrange the chicken and gravy on top of the rice, sprinkle with crispy shallots, and serve with the cucumber quick pickle and a dish of Thai sweet chilli sauce.
Please do let us know in the comments below if you make this Southern Thai chicken and rice recipe for khao mok gai, as we’d love to know how this Thai style biryani turns out for you.