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.
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.
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.
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?