Tami over at running with tweezers has initiated the first annual Souper Challenge Blog Event, a thinly-veiled threat for all of us foodbloggers to make soup. I don't really need an excuse to do this, as we eat soup nearly every day in Thailand, and I've decided to take part by doing tom yam, the famous sour-spicy soup.
Now, I know what you're thinking: Austin, there are about 80 million recipes for tom yam on the Internet [actually there are 179,000], why do we need another one? It's true, but if you ask me, I don't think any of them come close to describing the best way to make this dish. Most tom yam recipes demand that you follow their instructions regarding the specific amounts of the flavouring ingredients to add. In reality, Thai people make tom yam by feel, adding ingredients and tasting continuously until they reach a flavour they like. You'll probably never see a measuring spoon in a Thai kitchen, but you will see lots of spoons for tasting the broth!
Today we're going to make make tom yam kung, tom yam with shrimp. I'm choosing this kind because it's probably the most famous kind of tom yam, and I want to share the method of making a really nice broth. To make tom yam for two people, here's what you'll need:
Fresh shrimp (shells and all, not just shrimp meat) 10 or so depending on size
Water, approximately 4 cups
Galangal, a thumb-sized piece, peeled and chopped into big disks
Lemongrass, 3-4 stalks, outer layer removed and bruised
Shallots, 6, peeled
Coriander (cilantro) roots, 4, cleaned well
Fish sauce, to taste
Sugar (if desired), to taste
Straw mushrooms (het faang), 6
Cherry tomatoes, 4
Sawtooth coriander (phak chee farang), 6 leaves
Chilies, to taste
Limes, 2-3, depending on how sour you like your food
Kaffir lime leaves, three, halved
Wash the shrimp well and behead and peel them, reserving the shells and heads. Devein shrimp, butterfly (if desired) and set aside in the fridge. Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan and add shrimp shells and heads. When water reaches a boil again, stir and push on the shrimp shells to extract as much shrimpy goodness as possible.
Reduce heat slightly and let simmer for about five minutes. Strain and discard shrimp shells, reserving water.
In the same saucepan, bring shrimp broth to the boil again and add galangal, lemongrass, shallots and coriander roots. Allow to reach a slight boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Add a few drops of good-quality Thai fish sauce and taste. Add more fish sauce until the broth tastes just slightly salty, no more. If you like sugar (as many Thais d0) do the same thing with your sugar at this point, and taste.
While the broth is simmering, prepare your mise en place. Halve your cherry tomatoes, slice your limes, thinly slice your sawtooth coriander:
quarter your mushrooms:
and roughly chop your chilies, grinding and smashing them with the side of a knife when done:
After about 3-4 minutes, when your broth is fragrant, add prawns, mushrooms and tomatoes:
After another 2-3 minutes, when mushrooms are slightly soft and prawns done, squeeze in your lime juice and add your lime leaves:
Again, taste to see how sour it is (this soup should be sour followed by salty, but go for a taste that you like). Add more fish sauce (or sugar) if necessary, tasting all the while, and add your chilies and sawtooth coriander. Stir to combine and remove from heat. You're done.