Thai Soup: Tom Yum

Tom Yum.

This recipe doesn’t need much explanation. Tom Yum is a very famous Thai soup (technically it’s “Tom Yum Goong”, but that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it). It’s also often served in neighbouring Laos. The chef who ran the cooking class I went to billed it as a hot and sour soup, but it doesn’t have to be hot if chilli is not your thing – simply put fewer chillies in the pan.

This one’s not for vegetarians. You could omit the prawns and fish sauce, but you’ll lose some of the unique flavour.

It may seem a little daunting at first, as it involves both de-veining raw prawns, and making your own stock. It’s possible to make a chicken version instead (replace the prawns with – you guessed it – pieces of chicken), but I’d urge you to have a crack at the prawns, it’s not as scary as it sounds, it’s more authentic, and you get a great sense of achievement!

This recipe serves 2 people.

To de-vein the prawns and make the stock, you’ll need:

  • 200g raw prawns
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock (just make this up with stock cubes)

Here’s what to do:

1. Remove the prawn heads (pull them off with your fingers) – keep these to one side.

2. Peel the shells off and put them to one side, but leave the tails on.

3.Using a sharp knife, make a slit in the back of each prawn, and pull out the black veiny bit (bin this).

4. Boil the heads and shells in the vegetable stock for 5–10 minutes.

5. Strain the stock to get rid of the heads and shells – voila, you’ve made your own stock!

The rest of the ingredients:

  • Thumb-sized piece of ginger (sliced)
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves (rip off the stem, and tear the leaves into bits)
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass (sliced into 1 inch long pieces)
  • 2 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
  • 2 shallots (you can just use a small onion, it’s cheaper – whichever you choose, peel and slice)
  • 1 lime
  • 50g mushrooms (cut into chunks)
  • 1 tomato (cut into chunks)
  • 1–5 small birds eye chillies (finely chopped. Use as few/many as you want – if you really can’t stand spice, leave them out altogether)
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce

How to make:

1. Add everything but the lime, prawns and fish sauce to the stock, and boil for 2 minutes.

2. Add the fish sauce and prawns – boil until the prawns are cooked through, which can take as little as 20 seconds (so don’t leave the pan at this stage!)

3. Remove from the heat, and add the juice from the lime.

4. Stir, serve and enjoy.

N.B. Apparently Western tourists create great hilarity for Thai chefs when we order this soup, by completely clearing the bowl. Do not eat the lemongrass, lime leaves or ginger – they’re for flavouring only, and are not pleasant to eat!

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