Stuart Blog 2: Tom-yam gung

Monday, December 04, 2006

Tom-yam gung

We prepared this delicious soup at a dinner party slash cooking class. Tom-yum gung is one of the most emblematic dishes in Thai cuisine. This version turned out wonderfully. The shrimp were plump, juicy and flavorful. The broth was full of flavor, too. The central note is provided by lemongrass, a common motif in Thai cooking, and the taste is filled out with another common Thai flavoring - fish sauce.

The soup itself was delicious but I also enjoyed the experience. I was able to learn about food, eat a well thought out menu full of delicious food and share it all with other eager food enthusiasts.

Galangal is another important component in this dish and another common Thai ingredient. It was difficult to locate. The evening's organizer had to arrange to have it mailed by a family member.

Fish sauce is made from fermented anchovies. Squid brand is a strong flavored brand and is recommended.

Tracking down kaffir lime leaves is frequently another chore for USian cooks. But our host fixed that problem. This little fellow is a kaffir lime tree.

Palm sugar

These kaffir lime leaves weren't from the tree pictured above. The chef remove the stem that runs through the center out of habit. The leaves are removed before serving.

The lemongrass is bruised to release the flavor.

This is the plated soup. It was delicious. There are very few restaurants in the US that give Asian food the type of treatment that's given to French or Italian food. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be an audience prepared to pay a premium for fresh, quality ingredients. But whenever and wherever some courageous restauranteur is willing to the lead the way then I'll happily seek them out. This soup demonstrates that the results are worth the effort.

Serves 8-10 as a side dish

8 cups or 2 quarts of vegetable or chicken stock

5 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and bruised

6oz galangal ginger crosscut into coins

6oz fresh ginger crosscut into coins

10-12 bird chilies, stemmed and bruised whole

6 kaffir lime leaves, stemmed

1/2 pound oyster mushrooms, stemmed

1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced

1/2 pound fresh medium shrimp peeled and deveined

2 medium tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges

1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice

1/4 cup fish sauce or more to taste

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon chili in oil (nam prik pow)

Fresh sprigs or leaves of cilantro for garnish

Place first 4 ingredients into a large pot and boil for 10 minutes. At this point you can strain and discard ingredients. Or for a more authentic approach, leave all ingredients in broth and continue to add chilies, kaffir lime leaves, oyster mushrooms and onion. Bring to a boil and let cook for 5 minutes. Turn down heat and add shrimp and tomatoes, then remove from heat. Add remaining ingredients and garnish individual servings with cilantro. The flavor of Tom Yum should be an equal balance of all flavors; sweet, salty, sour and spicy.

Optional: A sous chef from one of the country's best restaurants. This might be as hard to find as the galangal but it's highly recommended. It comes in handy when too many of your other cooks get tipsy.

This soup was only the beginning of a wonderful meal. It was perfectly matched with several other iconic Thai dishes. (Recipes are available for several. Please click the picture.)

Whether you're inspired to reach for the stock pot or the yellow pages, I hope you'll find a delicious tom-yam gung for yourself.

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