Tom yum soup is my panacea for many of life's minor troubles -- blocked sinuses, tummy upsets, and lousy moods. There's something about the combined sweetness, tartness and heat that comforts and stimulates all at the same time. During a 3 month period when I was commuting weekly to the Netherlands for work, Babs would pick me up at Heathrow and we would go home via Khao San on the corner of Chepstow Road and Westbourne Park Road; my favourite Thai restaurant in London run by a lovely woman called Pan, just so I could recharge with a double-portion of her tom yum seafood soup.
I learnt how to make this from scratch so that I could stop using the processed pre-fab soup packets. Don't be intimidated by the list of ingredients, once you get them together they just need chucking together in a pot.
I've tried to stay faithful to the traditional recipe in this post, with indications of what you can get away with leaving out if you don't have a comprehensive Asian grocer nearby. Apologies to the purists in advance!
29 September update: Just discovered Joelen's Culinary Adventures's blogging event with a soup / stock pot theme, and decided I just had to add this one into the mix! My original contribution to the event is my home-made Mushroom Soup recipe.
Above: The fiery red is from prawn shells, not chillies. Some of the spiciest tom yum soups I've had have no colour in the stock at all!
For Sweetness and Richness:
- White fish skeletons (e.g. hake, bream, pollock aka colin), heads removed and set aside. Use 1 if you're making 2-4 portions; 2 if you're making a larger pot
- 2 handfuls of dried shrimp
- 1-2 large onions, quartered
- A small bagful of prawn shells or crab shells or lobster shells (Optional but try this if at all possible for a luxurious kick! Babs and I both grew up in families that had a habit of buying fresh whole shrimp, shelling them in batches, and freezing the meat and the shells separately for later use)
Above: Many thanks to Steve Hall from the Handpicked Shellfish Company for the hake skeletons, the foundation of this tom yum soup recipe
For Tartness and Fragrance:
- 8-12 stalks lemongrass, lightly bashed
- Juice from 2-4 limes (don't add the lime rinds to the stock -- it will make the stock bitter)
- A handful of kefir lime leaves (if available)
- A handful of holy basil leaves (if available)
- Fish sauce, to taste
For Heat (dial this up and down according to your taste):
- 6-10 large red chillies, lightly bashed, seeds kept in
- 4-6 birds eye chillies, lightly bashed, seeds kept in
- A handful of black or white peppercorns
- 1 large stem of ginger, skin peeled, chunked up and lightly bashed
- 1 medium stem of blue ginger aka galangal, if available, chunked up and lightly bashed
- Tip: If you've overdone it on the heat, you can mitigate the effect by adding a little sugar to the stock. Go easy though!
Directions for soup stock:
- Combine all the ingredients above EXCEPT THE LIME JUICE above in a large stockpot of filtered water
- Turn the stove heat to medium-high, boil for at least 1 hour, preferably 2 hours.
- Strain the stock through a sieve or muslin cloth
- If you're feeling adventurous, rub salt on the fish heads and cook in the boiling broth after straining for the last 15-20 minutes. Fish aficionados will fight over the lovely tender meat on the head, in the cheeks and under the collars. The jelly around the eyes is also considered a delicacy
- I have to admit, I don't know how long this stock keeps if you freeze it -- I usually plow through all of it within 1-3 days! Advice, anyone?
If Serving as a Soup Dish, Add Your Desired Amount Of...
- Slices of solid-meat fish (e.g. pollock, salmon, trout)
- Whole shrimp, peeled
- Mussels on the half-shell
- Crab or lobster meat (if you really want to pimp it up)
- Mushrooms. Purists will use straw mushrooms; I really like using sliced up fresh shitake, and enoki aka golden mushrooms, which really absorb the tom yum flavour
- Add all of the above to the stock, and cook on medium-high heat for 5 minutes at most
- Add the fresh lime juice
- Garnish with fresh red chilli sliced on the bias, and a few coriander leaves
Make A Meal of It!
I often make this as a quick one-bowl meal, if I have leftover stock from the previous day. In addition to the ingredients above, I add a couple of handfuls of kang kong aka water morning glory, or baby spinach leaves, and 1 single-serving bundle of tang hoon aka glass noodles per portion. This can all go into the stock pot at the same time as the ingredients above, as the cooking time is equally quick.