Sunday, August 12, 2012

Thai Cooking | Tom Yum Goong

It’s typhoon season once again and nothing beats a cold rainy night than a bowl of a piping hot soup. Of among the many soup we have, Sinigang, be it seafood or meat, occupies a special place in our heart. It has been our national all-time favorite, and each region displays uniqueness in how much level of sourness it can take and what souring agent it uses. The dish is simple and the flavor is straightforward, but it differs in myriad ways on how it is concocted. Sinigang, as Chef Amy Besa said in her book Memories of Philippine Kitchens, is a food that was always ours along with Adobo and Kinilaw, and all the three dishes share the same acid component, which is one of the basic element of Filipino taste.

The Pinoy’s Sinigang is closely related to Thailand’s Tom Yum. I am delighted to know that even we are a long time colony of Spain, Japan and US, we are indeed Asian in our roots and it is evident that we share some recipes with our Asian neighbors. Our Sinigang is basic and simple; the Thai’s Tom Yum is more than that. Imagine a basic sinigang, add herbs and the contrasting flavors of sweet and salty, add some kick of spice. There’s cocomilk to balance out and to temper the flavors, and instead of vegetables, add some mushrooms and fresh herbs.

Tom Yum is probably one of the most well known Thai dishes in the world and according to Wikipedia, it is widely served in neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. “Tom” means soup and “yum” means sour and spicy. It is generally a name given to any hot and spicy sour soup.

For this highly addictive dish, we will use shrimps, hence the name “Goong”. My secret here is the use of a good stock. I did not discard the shrimp heads, instead I pounded it and extracted as much juice as possible. The head packs a lot of flavors we need to make this a flavorful dish.

What is something unique here is their use of Galangal, a rhizome related to ginger that has much flavor and taste than ginger, and the Kaffir Lime leaves, a variety of lime endemic to Thailand and some Asian countries. If there’s no available galangal, you can use ginger instead. Kaffir lime leaves has no alternative and this makes this soup unique because of the flavor and aroma these lime leaves impart. These two basic ingredients can be found in Asian section of any local supermarkets here in Cebu. We will be using the commercial Tom Yum paste, which is a ready made paste made of finely crushed herbs (lemongrass, garlic, galangal, coriander, palm sugar), spices (roasted red chillies) and shrimp paste stir fried in oil.

What we need:

4-5 cups water (shrimp stock)
6-8 pieces prawns, skinned and deveined, heads removed
4-5 pieces Kaffir Lime leaves
4-5 slices Galangal
4 stalks Lemon Grass, bruised and bundled
Bird’s Eye Chillies, minced (siling labuyo)
Onions medium size, sliced just as you do for sinigang (but you may opt not to use it)
Tomatoes, 2 pieces medium size, sliced in quarters
5-6 pieces fresh Oyster Mushrooms
3-4  tablespoons Tom Yum Paste
Muscovado sugar to taste
Fish sauce to taste
Lime/Lemon sliced in wedges
Coconut milk

How to cook Tom Yum Goong:

1. Boil the water and add the juice extracted from the shrimp heads.

2. Bruise or crush the lemon grass stalks and tie the leaves in bundle so you can easily remove it later when the soup is done and is ready for serving. Drop the lemon grass dried galangal and kaffir lime leaves in the boiling stock. Drop chopped chilies, or omit it if you don’t want some kick in your soup.

3. When boiling, add onions, tomatoes (you can omit this one if you are not used to) and the mushrooms. I love to use tomatoes as it imparts a bit of acidity in the soup. Add the fish sauce, adjusting the taste according to your preference.

4. Add the Tom Yum paste a few table spoon at a time, tast-testing as you go until you are happy with the spice level and flavor. At this time all the flavors are already cooking in your pot. You can adjust and balance the flavors by putting small amount of muscovado sugar and fish sauce. Remember that in Thai cooking you have to balance all the flavors, not too sweet, not to salty, not too sour and spicy.

5. For the sourness, add lime juice. Don’t worry as we will serve the soup with lime wedges if the soup is not that sour.

6. Add the shrimps and coconut milk at the last stage as we don’t want to over cook it. Boil for the last time and then serve hot.

7. Garnish a bowl of hot soup with coriander leaves, and some lemon wedges and fish sauce on the side. This serves 2-3 persons.


You can also make tom yum out of mixed seafood and chicken, or a combination of all.

The next time you will visit any Thai or Asian restaurants in the city, Tom Yum is a must try. Better if you will make it at your home.

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