Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Tom yum gai - chicken in Thai hot and sour soup

Tom yum gai 1

Tom yum (hot and sour) soup, pad thai (stir fried flat rice noodles) and green curry are just about the most famous Thai dishes outside of Thailand. Tom yum soup can be served with a variety of meat. The classic is tom yum goong (prawns), although tom yum gai (chicken) and tom yum pla (fish) are also popular. The soup is often served with noodles as a meal in itself, or as a side dish with rice and other dishes. Although the list of ingredients that go into a traditional tom yum soup can seem intimidating, the availability of tom yum spice packs and pastes make this an easy dish to whip up at home.

For this recipe, I have thrown in some dried lemon grass and galangal into the stock for extra flavour and a more authentic taste. Lemon grass imparts that distinctive sour tang and zesty fragrance to tom yum soup and galangal, a type of ginger, adds flavour and spice. Although good quality spice packs and pastes will taste good on their own, adding extra ingredients really make a difference to the dish, turning them from tasty to utterly delicious. I didn't want to buy a bunch of lemon grass or a large knob of galangal just for one dish; I would never get round to using them up. Then I found some dried ones in an oriental food shop and they have proved really useful. Look for them in packets in the Thai food or dried food sections of oriental supermarkets and shops.

Dried lemongrass and galangal

I have tried different tom yum paste and even stock cubes in recent years and surprisingly, one of the best ones I have found was bought from my local Sainsbury's, in the 'Specialty Foods' section (which has things like dried porcini, truffle oil, nori, wakame seaweed, soba noodles, laksa paste etc.). It's even better than some of the Thai imported ones that I have tried. The brand is 'Thai Taste' and I bought it primarily because the list of ingredients listed are essentially what one would find in the making of tom yum (e.g. dried shrimps, lemon grass, galangal, chilli, kaffir lime leaves) and without any E numbers or euphemistically termed 'natural flavourings'. Your best bet is to try out some brand and see which you prefer, or if you're at an Oriental shop, you could ask the owner or workers which brand they would recommend.

Tom yum paste


(serves 2)

Flat rice noodles, or other noodles (portion for 2)
150g chicken breast, sliced
Button, shitake or straw mushrooms, sliced
1 litre water or stock (chicken, vegetable or ikan bilis)
3 tsp tom yum paste (follow instructions on the pack/jar, or according to taste)
2 tbsp dried lemon grass (or use one fresh stalk, outer leaves stripped and chopped into sections)
1 piece dried galangal (or use a couple of fresh slices)
1 lime, juice and rind
1 tbsp fish sauce (optional, to taste)
1 stalk of spring onion, chopped
A few springs of coriander, chopped


1. Soak the dried noodles in warm water for 15 minutes to soften, or according to pack instructions. Set aside in two large bowls.
2. Marinate the chicken with 1/2 tsp light soy sauce, 1/2 tsp corn flour, and a dash of white pepper. Set aside.
3. Bring the water or stock to the boil and add tom yum paste, lemon grass and galangal and simmer for 15-30 minutes. Add the lime juice and rind and fish sauce to taste.
4. Add the chicken and mushrooms to the soup and stir to prevent the chicken slices from sticking together. Boil for about 3-4 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. If not serving with a vegetable side dish, you can also add some spinach leaves, bak choy or choy sum to the soup at this point. I had a couple of crabsticks to be used and tossed them into the pot as well.
5. Ladle the soup, chicken and mushrooms into the bowls of noodles. Top with spring onions and coriander and serve immediately.

Tom yum gai 2

When we were in Singapore, I tried for the first time 'white tom yum' from Thai Express. Most tom yum that are offered in restaurants are 'red tom yum', evident from the red colour of the soup and the chilli oil. 'White tom yum' is so called because of its completely clear soup. Although there was no trace of red in the soup itself (except for some sliced chillies), the tom yum pla (fish, with glass noodles) that I had was equally hot and sour as any other red tom yum. I was well impressed. Which do you prefer, red or white tom yum?



Dave said...

Looks very good, will have to try it sometime...it's been about a year since I tried making Tom Yum...

noble pig said...

First of all the name in itself is just cool. But it looks so beautiful! I would love to try this. Thanks for sharing.

VeggieGirl said...

Oooh, that Tom yum soup looks absolutely divine!! It would be perfect with a dish of Pad Thai noodles :0)

Kevin said...

Your tom yum soups looks good! When I made tom yum I could not find any fresh galangal. I will have to look for the dried galangal. I also could not find any nam prik pao (roasted red chili paste) so mine was not red. Simmering the broth with the birds the chilis certainly adds the heat to the soup without and red colour (other than the chilis of course).

dp said...

YUM! Tom yum is one of our favorite soups. Even my 5 year old loves it (although we don't serve it him with nearly as many chilies as we like).

Many people may not know this, but lemongrass and galangal can be frozen without loosing its potency. Just cut them into use-able portions and wrap well. This is also true for kaffir lime leaves.

noobcook said...

Hee, huge mistake to read this post before breakfast as it sets an instant tom yum craving. Yours just look so good! I prefer white tom yum, as I noticed that it's usually hotter! Yep, I am the (self proclaimed) 'chili padi queen', lol! I have to find some place to eat tom yum now ;)

Little Corner of Mine said...

Your bowl of tom yam noodle soup looks absolutely delectable! Love your bowl with chopsticks holder too. I have yet to taste the white tom yam. But for a visual person that I am, I would prefer the red tom yam. :P

tigerfish said...

I have not seen white tom yam. I'm curious what was used for the tom yum base in white tom yum. And I have not seen dried lemongrass and galangal slices! Now I need to look hard enough...

diva said...

love thai cuisine and pad thai noodles. now this recipe i've gotta try..or convince some bloke to make it for me. cheers! x

sd-b said...

Red! It just looks more interesting to eat.

I will try out your recipe this week - just need to pop into the store for some paste.

I was going to say the same as dp about freezing lemongrass and ginger - mine used to go bad all the time until my mom taught me to freeze them. lemongrass can go in the freezer as is (i put mine in a baggie) but ginger should be peeled and cut into small portions (i just leave mine whole and then grate what i need).

Nilmandra said...

Thanks for the comments, I'm glad people enjoyed it.

Kevin: Ah thanks for the tip. I might try my hand at white tom yum some day.

dp and sd-d: Thanks for the tip! I freeze herbs like parsley, rosemary and thyme. Why didn't it occur to me to freeze lemon grass and galangal??

Noobcook: Haiyah, so easy for you to find tom yum back home ;)

Little corner: Thanks, I love those bowls too. I know what you mean about the red looks better, but that's what makes the white tom yum so intriguing - clear broth but still so hot! :D

Tigerfish: Kevin mentioned it out in his comment. It's usually chicken or fish or ikan bilis stock, and then the heat is provided by birds eye chillies (chilli padi) and galangal and sour taste from kaffir lime leaves and lemon grass. It's just without the addition of nam prik pao (red chilli paste), I think.

Lizzie said...

The pictures are gorgeous. Have you tried making your own tom yum? It's quite time consuming, but worth giving a go. I've never tried the white tom yum.

Little Corner of Mine said...

You are tagged!

didally said...

I like the white one as it more 'potent'. Yours looks really nice. My last trip to Thailand, I didn't really get to taste the authentic one.

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daphne said...

Oh! I didnt know there is a white one. This looks divine and certainly great for the cool weather here. I will try it out next week. Thanks for giving me suggestions on what to cook! =)

Nilmandra said...

lizzie: No I haven't. I'm sure they will taste great and especially satisfying with the effort, but as you've said, it's time consuming and there are some pretty good pastes out there :) I've only had white tom yum for the first time recently; it's definitely worth trying if you see it.

Didally: What a shame!

Daphane: Cold or rainy weather always make me crave tom yum :)

mycookinghut said...

It's not even 10 in the morning but I really want tuck into Tom Yum Gai, now!!
I havent had tom yum for a long time, guess it's time to let my taste buds enjoy some hot and spicy dish like this :)

seva52 said...

I love tom yum! I used to buy ingredients in Thailand when I go there for vacation. But now I’ve used all of my stock, and order all the ingredients online through thai tom yum shop! You can find your tom yum shop in google, I use this one: http://tomyumrecipe.com
I’ll share a recipe, which I use and the soup I prepare is exactly the same, that I’m used to in Thailand.
Two servings:
Chicken stock……………….1 liter (4 standard cups)
Lemongrass…………………2 stalks
Galangal………………………1 medium size root (70g or 2,5oz)
Кaffir lime leaves…………7 leaves
Fish sauce Nam Pla……..4 table spoons (60ml)
Thai chili paste……………2 table spoons (30ml)
Lime…………………………..2 limes
Mushrooms………………100g or 3,5oz
Chili peppers…………….1 to 5 pieces (1 is not so spicy, 5 pcs is pretty hot)
Prawns ……………………..0,5 kg or 1,1lb
Coriander………………….A little
The base of classic Tom Yum Goong is chicken stock, but many cooks in Thailand use beef stock or even their mixture as well. Bring the stock to boil.
First step: prepare galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Slice galangal and lemongrass and add them to stock with kaffir lime leaves. Then bring your stock back to boil.
Second step: add mushrooms, fish sauce and chilli paste.
Third and last step: Remove shells from prawns except tails and put them to stock. Press juice out of limes and add sliced chili peppers. As soon as prawns turn red add coriander and your first true Tom Yum is ready.

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