If I were a slot machine, I think I’d be considered “hot” right now, because I keep giving the top hit recipes this month. Kaeng Khiao Wan was just posted earlier this month. Then Pad See Ew just last week. I was supposed to post a recipe for mango sticky rice this week.
However, I had just come home from a trip, bought a box of mangoes and they were not ripe to the point where I could use them yet, so that recipe had to wait. But this week is another Thai food top hit again so don’t worry about sticky rice and mango, you will get the recipe soon enough.
Tom Yum Goong is voted one of the most delicious and most favorite dishes among both foreigners and Thais. It always in the top ten list of not only most delicious but also most famous and most popular foods in the world as well. Tom Yum is one type of soup in Thailand. It consists of soup stock with herbs, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaf and a choice of meat and vegetables. In this case the choice of meat will be “goong”= shrimp. The soup is normally seasoned with fish sauce, lime juice and chilies. There are also optional add-ons, such as Nam Phrik Pao (chili jam), and sometimes milk or even coconut milk.
Tom Yum is widely eaten all over the country. Some of you who know how to make Tom Kha Soup might ask how the two soups are different. The difference is Tom Kha is a thick soup with a coconut base and heavy on young galangal for the herb, but Tom Yum originally was a clear broth with lemongrass as the lead herb, followed with kaffir lime leaf, and the galangal would be less prominent in this soup. The biggest difference for me is Tom Yam is so hot and spicy and Tom Kha is milder.
When I was a kid growing up in Bangkok, Tom Kha didn’t have Nam Phrik Pao (Thai Chili Jam) in it and also had no chilies floating on top to scare me away. Very different from Tom Yam, in which I can smell the chilies from far away. And once I got a closer look, the bowl of soup was just as intimidating with red color that I thought was chilies, but it was in fact oil from the Nam Phrik Pao (the versatile Thai chili jam), and the real “torpedo”, whole chili pods, crushed lightly to break the skin, floating all over the surface of the bowl.
I started to develop a taste for Tom Yum when I requested the cook at my house make Tom Yum without chili for me. It was so refreshing; just a clear, herb-filled broth, seasoned with fish sauce and fresh-squeezed lime juice. Did you know that if you put shrimp in Tom Yum then squeeze fresh lime juice in the broth, the acid in the lime juice will make the soup foggy? Ha ha, it was child play at the dining table to stir the soup, making it all foggy and then waiting for the “fog” to settle down at the bottom of the bowl. It was the best way to relieve the boredom from the “adult” conversation! I think that also made me like Tom Yum Goong.
Another time that made me LOVE Tom Yum was when I went camping with my dad on one of his so-called “hunting trips”, that was not really a “hunting” trip because he never shot a thing, but we were at least going in the jungle with a hunter as a guide. Before we left for the trip, the hunter would gather lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf and galangal, and put them in his backpack. He would turn to me and say, “We will be eating Tom Yum tonight and I will make sure you get one without chili.” That was good enough for me.
We would walk walk walk until my legs were so tired, then we finally stopped. That’s when the fun began. They raised a campsite and then went “hunting” for something to eat. I would be playing around the campsite with my dad. The “hunting team” would come back with either fish, birds, or some other kind of small animals. Then the hunter and the sherpas would start cooking. Of course he would make Tom Yum.
His Tom Yum was so simple. I was watching closely. He heated a pot of coconut water, from coconuts just cut down from a nearby tree, bring it to a boil, then throw the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and a few slices of galangal in, then wait until it boiled again and would then throw in the chopped-up birds that they caught, having already plucked and gutted them.
Once it boiled again he would add salt and fresh young coconut and young tamarind tips fresh-picked from a tree, and chopped-up Ma Dan fruit (both add the sour taste to the soup in place of lime juice). When it reached another boil, then he would scoop some of the soup into one of the bowls, which were only coconut shells cut in half, and hand it to me right before the sherpa added a handful of chopped chilies into the pot. It was so delicious!
Enough blabbing; now we’re going to really cook it. I’m going to tell you how to cook both the clear broth and the creamy Tom Yum. First, we have to gather the ingredients. I have to say this again since I’m the recipe Nazi:
If you can’t find these ingredients
– Lemongrass (fresh only),
– Kaffir lime leaves (fresh is preferable but dried is still acceptable),
– Galangal (fresh or dry but NOT powdered, and not ginger)
Then DON’T make Tom Yum from scratch.
You will have a better chance making Tom Yum from a pre-mix, either Knorr Tom Yum bouillons, or Tom Yum premixed in the jar.
Ingredients (for two)
4 full stalks of lemongrass (you can set one aside to cut diagonally for floating in the soup); I got mine from Frieda’s
5-6 Kaffir lime leaves
Galangal, peeled and sliced thinly, 4-5 pieces, if the diameter of the sliced chips are over 1 1/2”. If they’re smaller slice some more. (I used the small size so I used 7-8 slices)
Shrimp or prawns with head and shell 1lb. (I used prawns size #2-4, so I only needed 3)
Mushrooms 8 oz. (less if you don’t like mushrooms that much)
2-3 limes (You might not need ALL of the juice but be well prepared, just in case you need more)
Fish sauce 2 tablespoons
Water or soup stock (vegetable or chicken — up to you) 6 cups to start, with 1 more in reserve
Salt, as needed (I used 2 teaspoons)
Green onion, cut about 1/4” long, 2 tablespoons
Cilantro, cut about 1/2” long, (saving the top leaves for garnish) 2 tablespoons
5-6 pods of green or red Thai Chilies; I also got these from Frieda’s too. They are so fresh and smell just like Thai chilies should, and worst yet, same heat level too. My husband proved it. This is as needed basis…since I CAN’T eat them there are NONE in my bowl…and ALL go to my hubby, the spicy Farang in the family
NOTE: The size of the shrimp is normally on the package. If you don’t know about this, the number on the shrimp package describes how many shrimp per pound. It goes like this:
Extra small #61/70 would average 65 shrimp (with head and shell included) to make a whole pound.
Small #51/60 average 55 shrimp/lb.
Medium #41/50 average 45 shrimp/lb.
Medium large #36/40 average 38 shrimp/lb.
Large #31/35 average 33 shrimp/lb.
Extra large #26/30 average 28 shrimp/lb.
Jumbo #21/25 average 23 shrimp/lb.
Extra jumbo #16/20 average 18 shrimp/lb.
Then it goes to the “colossal” shrimp size;
Colossal #U/15 average 14 shrimp/lb.
Extra Colossal #U/12 average 10 shrimp/lb.
Super Colossal #U/10 average 7 shrimp/lb.
The next larger sizes are no longer called shrimp in the US; they call them “prawns”! So confusing to the Aussies, who call every size prawn, isn’t it? I don’t remember how the British describe shrimp or prawns, so share with me if you know.
The prawn is the really large size, starting from #2-4, 4-6, and 6-8,using the same measurement concept.
Nam Phrik Pao 3-4 teaspoons
Milk or Coconut milk 1/2 cup
Tomatoes 2-4 medium size, quartered
Young coconut flesh (I used it because I happened to have it)
Rock sugar 2-4 crystals (Just to eliminate the slightly unpalatable taste from the herbs, not enough to make the taste sweeter)
1) If you are using the big size prawns like me, peel them but leave the heads intact. De-vein the prawns and keep all the shells.
If you are using shrimp (smaller-sized prawns), pull the heads off along with the shells and save them, also then deveining them. Set them aside.
2) Boil the stock or water; we need about 6 cups here. Once the water boils add the shrimp/prawn shells, and over the course of cooking, add water or stock as needed.
3) While you wait for the soup to re-boil, crush the lemongrass along the stalks and cut them down to fit the size of your pot. Peel the galangal and slice it thinly.
Now tear the kaffir lime leaves but I keep the stem to keep them attached.
Tie all of them into a bouquet garni so you don’t have to chase after them later.
I sliced half of the lemongrass diagonally too but continue reading to see when I put them in the soup.
I don’t like to leave all of these herbs in my soup once it’s in the bowl because my Farang husband, who eats while watching TV, usually ends up chewing on them and complaining…so I scoop them out before serving. A girl needs some peace while watching the show. 🙂
4) The water should be back to boiling now, so drop the bouquet garni in the pot and let it come back to a boil again, then lower the heat and let it simmer for another 10 minutes.
5) Season the soup. I previously explained the trick to seasoning Thai soup, which should have a combination of salty, sweet and sour, in the Tom Kha recipe. Go read it in Method #5 also, but I’m going to tell you again here:
5.1) Add the saltiness first. In this case we add fish sauce, then some salt if the fish sauce isn’t enough. You can use all fish sauce if you enjoy the fishy smell, but I usually use salt to add saltiness and fish sauce just for the flavor.
Once you get the right saltiness, then drop the crystal sugar into the pot. THIS IS NOT FOR SWEET TASTE. It’s just to eliminate the bitter taste of the herbs (and we put the herbs in to eliminate the fishy smell of the shrimp…we wouldn’t have to bother with all of this if we only ate boiled water!)
5.2) TASTE the soup! Yes, we have to test the waters 🙂 See if you need any more salt. No, we do not put the lime juice in just yet. Be patient!
6) Take ALL the shrimp shells out, but leave the bouquet garni (I warned you to tie them well, otherwise you have to chase them around and fish them out from shrimp shells pile…not fun.)
7) Increase the heat to high again. Add the mushrooms, tomatoes, young coconut and the prawns or shrimp.
If you want your Tom Yum to be quite hot and spicy, you can add chilies right now, but if you want it somewhat spicy but don’t want it to kill your guests or family members, WAIT! To make it even spicier, crush the chilies before you add them in.
8) Let it come back to a boil, then turn off the heat right away. Now add Nam Phrik Pao, crushed chilies, lime juice, and if you want to use milk or coconut milk to make it creamy, you add it right now. Before you serve, garnish with green onion and cilantro.
9) If I have to tell you what else to do after this (eating!)…your Tom Yum probably doesn’t smell good enough. Go back to the beginning and start over :-p heehee…
Several ways to enjoy your Tom Yum Koong:
– Eat it with white rice and Khai Jiaow, the Thai style deep fried omlette
– Cook noodles of your choice and add them to the soup, and maybe throw in a soft-boiled egg
– Eat it plain (Have a lot of tissues on the side so you can blow your nose whenever the chilies get to you. You’re in your own home, right?)