Recipes

Recipe: Tom Yam Gai Soup

December 2, 2004
Tom Yam Soup

Gosh, I certainly get many emails asking for a Tom Yam soup recipe. Why, I wonder. Could it be because of my tireless advocacy of it as a cure for everything short of a heart attack? Heck, it’s certainly strong enough to scare the living daylights out of any viruses. What micro-organism could resist such a relentless assault from the hot n’ sour combination of chillies and lime juice with a background of lemongrass and lime leaves?

The funny thing is that though I’ve tasted Tom Yam soup at many places, I don’t think I’ve had two identical versions of it. Every chef seems to have his or her own balance of flavours that works best, just as I do. It’s amusing (and sometimes very annoying) when a customer walks into my restaurant and then argues that my Tom Yam is not “authentic”, just because it tastes different from the one bowl of soup he had on a two-day trip to Bangkok. That, however, is not as annoying as someone asking for a “very mild” version of it, even though my menu clearly describes it as “fiery” and even pleads with people not to ask for it “mild”.

So, ladies and gentlemen, this is my recipe for Tom Yam soup. Try making it, especially if you’ve got a cold and your nose is red and runny, or if you’ve got a sore throat that needs to be cured.

Makes 2-3 bowls of soup 

Preparation time: 15-20 minutes

WHAT YOU NEED

Good quality Chinese chicken stock – 2 cups (500 ml) (not the crap you get from stock cubes)

Fresh or frozen lemongrass (dried lemongrass sucks) – 1 fat stalk (or 2 thin ones)

Galangal – 1 tablespoon (fresh is preferable, dried will do in a pinch – soak dried in warm water prior to use)

Kaffir Lime Leaves – 2-3 (cut into slivers

(If you don’t have any of the above, Amazon ships a package of all the fresh ingredients you need for the soup.)

Nam Prik Pao (Thai roasted chilli paste) – 1-2 tsp (depends on how hot your brand of paste is)

Thai bird’s eye chillies (or Serrano chillies) – 4-5 (big slices so you can avoid them easily)

Fish sauce – 2 tbsp

Lime juice – 1 medium lime

Onion – 1/4 of a medium onion (sliced)

Sugar – 1/2 tsp

Coriander (cilantro for you Americans) leaves – 4 tbsp

Boneless chicken breast – 50 gm (chopped)

Straw mushrooms (or regular button mushrooms) – 4 (sliced)

Spring/Green onions – 3 tbsp (sliced thin)

HOW TO MAKE IT

For the lemongrass, use only the bottom white part (about 6 inches) and discard the woody grass part of it. With the flat side of a cleaver or a heavy object, pound and bruise the lemongrass so it releases the flavour. Cut into 2 inch segments.

Put lemongrass, galangal, fish sauce and stock into a pot and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for another 15 minutes.

Uncover the pot and add the Kaffir lime leaves, chilies, onion, sugar and chicken pieces.

Simmer for 2-3 minutes, then add Nam Prik Pao and mushrooms. Simmer for yet another 2 minutes. Now add the spring onions and let it simmer for 30 seconds.

Turn off the heat, add lime juice and garnish with coriander leaves. Test for saltiness and sourness. If required, adjust with more fish sauce (salt) and lemon juice (sour).

This makes a medium-hot bowl. Some prefer to have it spicier. Find your own comfort level. Remove the lemongrass and galangal before serving if you like. They’re not particularly edible. Good for colds, good for a whole lotta things. Your grandma’s chicken soup can’t hold a candle up to this one. :)

CHEF’S NOTES

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1) To turn this into Tom Yam Goong (Prawns), use prawns instead of chicken but add it only in the final 1 minute of cooking. Prawns cook very fast and will continue to cook in the warm stock. Overcooking them will turn them tough and leathery. Instead of chicken stock, use water and add some prawn shells with the lemongrass. This will give you prawn stock. Remove shells (duh!) before adding other ingredients. Frozen prawns (nude) suck. Don’t use them.

2) Good chicken stock is very simple to make. Take 1 kg chicken wings, throw in a couple of drumsticks for meat, put it in a tall stock pot, cover with 2 litres cold water, and bring to a simmer. When the scum rises to the top, skim to another bowl with a shallow spoon. This should take 10-20 minutes. When the stock is clear, toss in 4 spring onions (scallions; use only the white part), 5-6 slices ginger, and a teaspoon of black peppercorns. Let this simmer for 2-3 hours (it should only bubble). Two rules for good stock: a) do not stir and b) do not boil (or it will become cloudy instead of clear.)

After the stock has finished simmering, let it stand for 20 minutes and then using a fine mesh sieve, strain it into another bowl. Using a muslin cloth would be a good idea. Your stock is ready. If you leave it in the fridge, the fat will solidify on the top. Just remove this fat and you have de-fatted, unsalted stock ready for use. You can even reduce the liquid and make stock cubes in the freezer.

3) Galangal has no real substitute. Ginger is the closest but it does a poor job.

4)  Kaffir Lime leaves have a unique flavour. Lime zest is the closest thing (use 1-2 tsp) but not quite as good. Dried lime leaves lose flavour and you need to use more.

5) Nam Prik Pao can be made at home but I’m too lazy to tell you how. A regular pure chilli paste mixed with some sugar may be substituted with just about adequate results. Or you can just add more fresh chillies to the soup. If you don’t use Nam Prik Pao, your soup will not have a fiery red colour.

6) The strength of lemongrass and lime juice may vary in your part of the world, so use your nose and your tongue to judge proper quantities. When in doubt, use more lemongrass but less lime juice. Then adjust gradually. :)

In temperate climates, you may not get limes. If so, use lemon juice instead, and use more of it than prescribed here.

7) If you live in USA, get Galangal, fresh Kaffir Lime leaves, and Nam Prik Pao (it tastes wonderful with other things too) from http://www.importfood.com

Wow, who knew a soup recipe could be this long, eh?

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  • Sampada December 2, 2004 at 5:21 am

    I am forever ridden with a runny nose, so that recipe sounds good.
    Now to get my boyfriend to learn how to make that….

  • Madhu December 2, 2004 at 9:49 am

    Thanks a ton! You made my day. Things like these make this US winter bearable. This is our all time favorite whenever we visit a Thai place.
    Thanks again!

  • Leigh O'Keeffe December 10, 2004 at 8:00 pm

    Thanks for providing a free recipe of this famous and wonderful soup
    Last night we dinned in the a Thai restuarant in Holland and the Tom Yam Kai was just as good as I remmber it was back in London England.
    Your version from the picture seems to be more red in colour. Why is that?
    Anyway many thanks for this recipe
    I look forward to following your instructions and making a hot taste bomb very soon.
    Merry christmas
    Greetings
    Leigh

  • Madhu (Ze Chef) December 10, 2004 at 8:19 pm

    Hi Leigh.
    Mine looks redder because of the thin layer of oil from the roasted chilli paste. Our roasted chilli paste was made from chillies that had a mix of both colour and flavour, so it gives it a redder colour. This can change all over the globe. :)

  • shima June 9, 2005 at 4:00 pm

    really want to know why my tom yam had a bitter taste, is it because i put lime juice or too early?

  • Suansim Smith July 15, 2005 at 8:31 pm

    Thanks for the Tom Yam recipe.
    I have discovered that it is better to replace galengal with groud cardomon. It almost has the same fragrance. As you know galengal do not have much taste and likewise so is cardomon. And you right ginger is a poor substitute.
    Regards

  • S. Chopra July 24, 2005 at 8:34 pm

    My husband and I are hooked on Tom Yam soup – can’t go anywhere near a Thai restaurant without having some. We’d love to be able to make it ourselves at home. Where in Bangalore can we find galangal and kaffir lime leaves?
    Thanks much!

  • dj August 7, 2005 at 1:50 am

    I am also looking for the issing ingrediants that make a Tom Yum soup that it is .. I guess it must be kaffir Lime leaves and galangal ( what is it??), where do we get it in Bangalore..

  • Madhu (Ze Chef) August 7, 2005 at 1:57 am

    Unfortunately, it’s next to impossible to find either of those ingredients in their fresh form in Bangalore. We get our supply from all over the place.
    You can get the dried versions at the Supermarket on Fifth Avenue Mall on Brigade Road.

  • wren August 7, 2005 at 6:23 am

    Whenever I’m fighting a sore throat, I order thai food and suck back copious amounts of tom yam soup. Now, I’ll definitely be trying your recipe at home. Thanks!

  • Dhananjaya L January 22, 2006 at 1:46 pm

    Hi,
    I am great FAN of Thai food and Tom Yam Soup. I also regularly visit your restaurant. But again same question WHERE DO I GET GALANGAL and KAFIR LIME LEAVES? I am just crazy of this soup that I want to make it but short of these ingredients. Can you sell some for me?
    Also Can I work in your retaurant for free cooking under your chefs, so I get to learn Thai cooking? I can work on couple of weekends?
    regards,
    dj

  • michelle April 16, 2006 at 11:25 am

    absolutely delicious!

  • Keith May 27, 2006 at 8:14 am

    My girlfriend is a vegetarian, and I know I can make this soup with tofu. What could I substitute for the Chicken broth?

  • Madhu (Ze Chef) May 27, 2006 at 10:50 am

    Keith, use a vegetarian stock instead. It won’t give you the same flavour, unfortunately. Here’s one recipe.

  • Chris Wu August 15, 2006 at 12:12 am

    I love Tom Yam soup. Simply love it. Thank you for your recipe.