Braised Chicken in Thai Aromatic Paste
(ไก่ใต้น้ำ gai dtai naam)

July 16, 2015 · 6 comments · Click to listen to the Thai name pronunciation Listen to the Thai name pronunciation

Braised Chicken in Thai Aromatic Paste (ไก่ใต้น้ำ gai dtai naam)

Braised Chicken in Thai Aromatic Paste
(ไก่ใต้น้ำ gai dtai naam)

ไก่ใต้น้ำ (gai dtai naam) literally: under water chicken

This is a dish of braised chicken in coarse aromatic paste made from lemongrass, galangal, garlic, chilies, kaffir lime leaves, holy basil, coriander and spring onions. Gai dtai naam is a home-cooked dish popular among the Thai working class. The entire chicken including the bones is chopped into bite size pieces and served with a bottle of rice wine and the loud sounds of local country-style music (luktung).

The dish originated from the rural areas of the semi-arid and salt rich Issan plateau. Famous for their calm and happy attitude, the Issan farmers struggle to make a living, in an area where food shortages is both a threat and a reality.

Therefore, every house in up-country Issan has its own kitchen garden, where vegetables and local herbs grown. Chickens roam freely around the house, their yellowish meat is denser, less fatty and is more flavorful than commercially raised chickens.

Free range chicken ไก่บ้าน (gai baan)

Free range chicken
ไก่บ้าน (gai baan)

The name of the dish, “under water chicken”, describes the cooking setup – two metal pots are stacked on top of each other. The lower pot is for braising the chicken with the aromatic paste, while the upper one, filled with iced-cold water, acts as the lid. Any gaps between the two pots are sealed tightly, using banana leaves, wet towel or even wet tissue papers.

“Reflux distillation” – Simple science found in folk cooking.

This method allows the meat to preserve a moist and tender texture, it is perfumed from the generous amount of aromatic paste. Without adding any water, the juices from the meat, paste and herbs create an extraordinary and delicious flavors in the sauce.

Gai dtai naam applies simple science to folk cooking.  It uses the principles of “Reflux distillation” used in the lab to extract essential oils. Here, the cooking vapors condense onto the chilled lid, locking in the smells and flavors in the pot, producing an incredibly fragrant and tender chicken dish.

Braised Chicken in Thai Aromatic Paste
(ไก่ใต้น้ำ gai dtai naam)
Prep time
Cook time
Ready In
This is a dish of North Eastern (Issan) style Thai braised chicken in coarse aromatic paste. Very easy to prepare and require only basic cooking skills.
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Thai
Serves: 4


  • 1 free range chicken (about 1 kg), or any other of your favorite cuts
  • 17 large garlic cloves (65 gr.)
  • 8-13 shallots (70gr.)
  • 10-16 Thai birds eye red chilies (15-30 gr.)
  • 20 small green Thai chilies (6 gr.)
  • 1 tablespoon white peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 5 slices, galangal (30 gr.)
  • 16 kaffir lime leaves
  • 3 lemongrass stalks (40gr.)
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup coriander leaves, chopped
  • ⅓ cup saw coriander leaves, chopped
  • ⅓ cup spring onions, chopped
  • ⅓ cup holy basil leaves
  1. In this demonstration I’m using a free range chicken, complete with its internal organs, head, neck and feet. I find that adding the chicken feet and head to the pot creates a thicker and richer sauce.
  2. Remove and discard the skin, this will allow the essential oils from the paste to penetrate the meat. Chop the entire chicken, including the bones, into bite size pieces.
  3. Prepare the ingredients for the aromatic paste.
  4. Place the garlic, shallots and chilies into the mortar.
  5. Add white peppercorns.
  6. Add salt.
  7. Add galangal.
  8. Add hand torn kaffir lime leaves.
  9. Pound all the ingredients together to form a rough paste.
  10. Add lemongrass stalks, and with the pastel bruise it to help release their fragrance.
  11. Season with fish sauce.
  12. Add oyster sauce.
  13. And add sugar.
  14. Mix everything.
  15. Place the chicken in a pot.
  16. Add the paste.
  17. Mix everything. You don’t need to add any water.
  18. I will cook the dish as it traditionally done on a Thai charcoal stove outdoor. But you can use different setups, this picture shows a simple setup on a gas stove.
  19. Make sure the gap between the two pots is sealed properly. This picture demonstrates the use of wet tissue paper to seal the gap.
  20. Here is my setup using charcoal stove and the two pots. I use a kitchen towel to seal the gap between the two pots.
  21. Place the pots on the stove, or turn on the heat to medium low. Make sure that the top pot is full with iced water.
  22. Check that there are no steam leaks, and cook until all the ice in the upper pot has melted. Don’t let the water in the upper pot to warm up.
  23. Once all the ice has melted remove the upper pot and discard the water.
  24. Reposition the top pot, and re-fill it with cold water.
  25. And ice.
  26. Keep cooking until all the ice has melted again. Repeat changing the water and adding ice 3 times. Cook the chicken for about an 1½ hours.
  27. Meanwhile, roughly cut the holy basil, coriander, saw coriander and green onions. Set-aside.
  28. Once the chicken is done. Remove the top pot.
  29. Add the herbs.
  30. Mix the herbs with the cooked chicken.
  31. If you're cooking outdoors on a charcoal stove, be aware that your neighbors might follow the smell and join you for the meal.
  32. Prepare a papaya salad, hot sticky rice and the bottle of Thai whiskey to go with. Enjoy the meal and the company.



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