Tom Yam Kung (ต้มยำกุ้ง) with Video


 

Isn’t it great that one of the dishes that have pretty much put Thai cuisine on the world map is so easy to make? Tom Yum Goong [1] is a main course soup made by simply cooking whole shrimp gently in simmering infused broth and seasoning it to taste. If you can make a good cup of tea, chances are you’d be good at making Thai hot and sour soup as well.

For the sake of simplicity and practicality, let’s not talk about the version of Tom Yam I had growing up or the version you had growing up for they may be different from one another and/or from the version featured here. Let’s not talk about the various versions of Tom Yam documented in cookbooks from a bygone era by so and so who died in such and such year for the fact that most of us today have never had or continue to make them that way has rendered such discussions useful merely as an intellectual exercise with little relevance.

If I’m right in assuming that the purpose at hand is to replicate the most common version of this iconic Thai soup which you’ve most likely encountered (and fallen in love with) at your local Thai restaurant, then I hope what you find here will serve you well.

With that out of the way, the only things left to mention are as follows:

  • This is a very simple recipe, and as you may have noticed from your experience in cooking and baking, the “simpler” the recipe, the more it relies on proper and good-quality ingredients as well as flawless execution. This principle applies here — big time. You need all of the ingredients listed here. All of them need to be fresh. All of them need to be present. None can be substituted (except for the vegetarian version discussed below).
  • If you don’t have all of the ingredients listed here, I recommend that you use commercial, ready-made Tom Yam paste that comes in a glass jar or in little cubes. Simply follow the package instructions. This is far better than making Tom Yam with missing ingredients, and nobody should make you feel guilty about using it.
  • As opposed to my favorite Tom Yam wherein the broth derives the flavor from bone-in pieces of meat such as oxtails, this shrimp Tom Yam needs some help from other animals. The shrimp won’t impart much flavor to the broth since it’s technically poached in it very quickly, and cooking it longer will only render its flesh tough and rubbery. You need to use a broth, preferably made with chicken or pork bones as most commonly done in Thailand. Beef broth doesn’t work well here; neither does broth made the Western way, i.e. with mirepoix and bouquet garni. Simple, concentrated chicken or pork broth works best.
  • If you use commercial broth, be mindful of the sodium content. This recipe is tested with unseasoned broth. If your broth is salty, reduce the amount of fish sauce accordingly.
  • Only cilantro is used here to accent the finished soup. I personally like to add some mint leaves in addition to cilantro. Some people add a few fresh Thai basil leaves, but that’s by no means common.
  • I don’t like tomatoes in my Tom Yam. However, if the version of Tom Yam you like contains tomato chunks, by all means, add about one medium tomato, cut into 1/2-inch chunks, to the simmering broth the same time you do the mushrooms.

  • As mentioned above, shrimp should not be overcooked. In fact, once the broth is done, it’s simply a matter of poaching the shrimp in it. I recommend that you watch the video in which Chef Michael Pardus of the Culinary Institute of America shows his students how to poach shrimp in what he calls “ouch hot” liquid. That video is embedded in my post on how to make Tom Kha Gai. The same principle applies here. You really don’t want to cook the shrimp in boiling liquid.
  • A newer, non-traditional-yet-much-loved version of Tom Yam Kung has milk added to it. Evaporated milk seems to be the most common milk of choice. These days, when you order Tom Yam Kung at a Thai restaurant or food stall, you’d be asked whether you’d like your Tom Yam “Nam Sai” (clear broth) or “Nam Khon” (creamy broth). To make Tom Yam Kung Nam Khon (ต้มยำกุ้งน้ำข้น), simply follow the recipe below, replacing 1/2 cup of the broth with evaporated milk or half-and-half. Add the milk to the pot after the shrimp has been cooked. No need to bring the whole thing to a boil; simply heat it through. Some curdling may or may not occur; don’t sweat it.
  • For a vegetarian version, start out with vegetable broth and replace the shrimp with tofu or triple the amount of mushrooms this recipe calls for. Use salt instead of fish sauce (I wouldn’t use soy sauce in this dish). Also, if the negligible amount of dried shrimp and shrimp paste in Nam Prik Pao is an issue, you can skip it entirely. The flavor of the end product will be slightly different, but if you’re used to dishes that contain no animal products, you may not notice or be bothered by it.

Revision

31 Responses to Tom Yam Kung (ต้มยำกุ้ง) with Video

  1. Mihnea October 10, 2011 at 4:30 am #

    Both the dish and the movie are my favorites….

  2. Matt_W. October 11, 2011 at 7:15 am #

    first of all amazing post and video.
    secondly, is there a particular brand of canned straw mushrooms you use?

  3. Admin October 11, 2011 at 9:08 am #

    Matt – Thanks! I’m not real picky about the mushrooms, but Roland or Caravelle whole (peeled) straw mushrooms never disappoint.

  4. luvwtr October 11, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    Great classic recipe! Thanks! I often use fish stock for the broth. Fish heads (without the bitter gills)simmered for 45 minutes works great. I usually keep some in the freezer.

    I also simmer the shrimp heads and stuff from the peeled shrimp in the broth which makes for a nice, rich base. This is strained before adding the spices.

  5. Admin October 11, 2011 at 8:00 pm #

    Luvwtr – Great tips. Thanks! I often make broth with shrimp shells as well.

  6. Inga October 13, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    This is a perfect recipe. I can buy all the ingredients in an Asian shop here in Germany. I used fresh white mushrooms as I prefer fresh ones rather than any canned mushrooms.

    I usually buy galangal in bigger chunks and I slize all of it right away. It’s then easy to quick-freeze it and just to defrost smaller portions when needed. I am doing the same with lime leaves (not slized, of course), I keep them in the freezer for quite a long time and I can use them as if they where fresh.

  7. Admin October 13, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    Inga – Great tips. Thanks. I need to point out something that wasn’t made clear in the post: the reason for canned straw mushrooms is because I prefer straw mushrooms in my TY, but they’re not available fresh in the States.

  8. Saif October 14, 2011 at 2:02 am #

    Loved the recipe. But in my country you can’t get galangal, will ginger will destroy the falvour? If use ginger how much should I use?

  9. Admin October 14, 2011 at 2:29 am #

    Saif – Unfortunately, yes, it will. Ginger and galangal may look similar to each other but they’re not at all interchangeable. Can you find galangal powder or commercial Tom Yam paste in your area. Assuming you can find lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, perhaps you can get by with a little bit of galangal powder in place of fresh galangal. But if you can’t find that, I hope you can at least find Tom Yam paste for that is your only chance of making this soup.

    Is there a Thai restaurant in your area that serves Tom Yam? If they can find the ingredients, maybe you can too. I’d approach them and ask where they get their ingredients.

  10. Chinese Soup Pot October 17, 2011 at 1:22 am #

    I’m glad most Asian supermarkets in California sells these ingredients. This is a delicious soup, and thanks for sharing this recipe!

  11. Bee October 19, 2011 at 2:06 am #

    Had to make it for dinner tonight after reading your post earlier today! LOL.

  12. Anonymous October 25, 2011 at 11:59 pm #

    Love living in San Francisco. I can actually get frozen straw mushrooms, not the ones in the cans, but the larger ones, imported from Thailand for $1.50 a bag here in the city.

  13. dhanes January 2, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    Hi Leela!

    I’ve always made my broth from shrimp shells and shallots. Is this wrong?

  14. Admin January 2, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    Dhanes – It’s just an extra ingredient that some people use. For Tom Yam Kung with no Nam Prik Pao added, this would add slightly more depth to the broth which some people say they can detect. With the presence or NPP, however, I find this to be unnecessary as it’s unlikely you’ll taste the shallots in the broth. But to answer your question, it’s not wrong.

  15. Anonymous January 12, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

    I just stumbled on to your site and love it! I have been searching for a recipe or your preferred method of making chicken stock, but haven’t found it yet. I understand that traditional stock made with traditional mirepoix is acceptable, but if I am going to make the best possible Tom Kha Gai or Tom Yam Kung I would love to know how you make basic chicken stock. Thanks, dave

  16. Admin January 13, 2012 at 12:31 am #

    Dave – Thank you. The post on that is actully planned for later this month. But for now, you can make stock for this particular dish by simmering either shrimp shells, chicken bones, or pork bones in 4 times the amount of water called for, then reducing it down to 4 times less volume than what you start out with. Strain it and you’re set.

  17. Kitty January 31, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    Oooooooh this looks awesome. I had some dish years ago that used those mushrooms and I’ve always pondered where to find them now. perhaps I will have better luck, knowing the name :P
    MMMMM still looks awesome… now if I can get the ingredients. hehe

  18. Ekes Gonini March 29, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

    Here in South Africa we almost never get fresh galangal, only jars of “pickled” galangal (not really pickled – it’s in a kind of brine). Have you come across this form? What do you think of it? Is its flavour OK for Tom Yam?

  19. Admin April 1, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    Ekes – I’ve never seen or used brined galangal, but it should be okay. Alternatively, you can even leave it out. Galangal is historically the least important herb of the three. In fact, written records show that earlier versions of Tom Yam don’t even contain galangal. The current, most prevalent version with which we’ve become familiar, however, does.

  20. Eric April 9, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

    I’m excited to try this recipe in the next day or two! My only question is about timing — is there a minimum amount of time that should elapse during the first few steps while you’re trying to impart flavor to the broth?

    Thanks!

    Eric

  21. Admin April 9, 2012 at 6:59 pm #

    Eric – None. Just add the fresh herbs to the broth as instructed, keeping the liquid at poaching temp (which means you may have to raise the heat just a tad as the temperature of the broth will drop slightly after the herbs go in). Then go ahead and add the other ingredients in the order specified. While the other ingredients are cooking, the herbs have plenty of time to infuse the broth.

  22. Eric April 11, 2012 at 2:30 am #

    Just finished making and eating this (with tofu instead of shrimp)…it was awesome! I’m so happy to be able to make this easily at home! Thank you!

    Eric

  23. Eric April 19, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    I love this recipe — I’ve made it 3 times in the last week with great results each time! I have just a few more follow-up questions:

    1. Scaling this up — if I wanted to make a much bigger batch, do the ratios just multiply like most recipes?

    2. Any thoughts on putting the galangal, lemongrass, and lime leaves in cheesecloth that would be removed right before serving? I don’t really mind having everything in the soup but am thinking about pickier guests. Do you think it would negatively affect the flavor?

    3. Alternatively, to reduce the amount of things floating in the soup that you don’t eat, what about not slicing the lemongrass but just bruising a larger chunk of stalk and using that?

    Thank you again for sharing this wonderful recipe. I look forward to trying out the more traditional tom yum soon, too.

    Eric

  24. Admin April 19, 2012 at 10:34 pm #

    Eric – Glad you like it.

    1. Yes.
    2. I’ve never done that, but I don’t see why not. My instinct says you may want to allow longer infusion time, though — by 100% perhaps?
    3. Sure.

  25. Francine Liem August 24, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    Thank you for the recipe. I have been making mine the old fashioned way, I guess. I boil the shrimp shells and the heads with bruised lemon grass and kaffir leaves to make the broth. No salt nor fish sauce. Then I strain the broth and throw away the lemon grass and shrimp heads and shells. Then I slice some more lemon grass and canned straw mushrooms and add to the broth, and simmer some more. Every time I want some, I simmer the cleaned shrimp, ladle the broth, some of the mushrooms and all the shrimp that I had added, to a bowl and then add the lime juice, fish sauce, hot pepper (I use sambel ulek), and cilantro. This way I have fresh Tom Yam every time.

  26. John October 25, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    Looks wonderful. Thanks for including tips on a vegetarian version. I will keep the fish sauce, but I have to exclude shrimp for allergy reasons.

  27. Todd February 19, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

    I was sick the past week and ordering this soup everyday from a local restaurant in my neighbor (queens, NY). I never thought i would be able to recreate it, but when i came across your recipe and it turned out even better than the restaurant i was sooooo happy!!! thank you so much! i can’t wait to try more thai recipes from your awesome blog. BTW, i’m now addicted to Nam Prik Pao.

  28. Awmeme February 5, 2014 at 11:47 am #

    Two quick questions 1. Where do you find the galangal and kefir lime leaves? 2. What do you mean by bruised are you cutting into them or something?

    • Leela February 10, 2014 at 9:01 am #

      Awmeme – 1. Asian markets or online grocers specialized in Thai or Southeast Asian products; 2. You bruise by pounding on it with a heavy object like the side of a cleaver, a granite pestle, or a heavy rolling pin. Bruising helps the herbs release the essential oils.

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