Tom Yum (Thai Coconut Curry Soup) Will Cure What Ails You

This here is a soup household—specifically, an Asian soup household. Phở, ramen, egg drop, you name it. But it wasn’t until a cooking contest called that we attempted our spicy favorite: Tom yum, a Thai red coconut curry soup.

An office soup cook-off provided just the challenge we needed, and an opportunity to knock the socks off some spice-averse coworkers. After some research, we ended up with something pretty close to what we remember tasting and smelling at our favorite Thai restaurants. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that we won the contest.

Since then, we’ve only continued to perfect the recipe, with the intention of bringing it closer to restaurant-quality. Tom yum is hotter and more sour than Chinese “hot and sour” soup—Sambal Oelek sauce, which you can find in most Asian grocery aisles with a green cap, is not to be underestimated. But it’s balanced by a full lime’s worth of juice, a hit of sugar, and the creaminess of full-fat coconut milk.

We’ve occasionally gone the extra step of making our own chicken stock (call us overachievers, or at least leftover-users) but don’t shy away from using store-bought stock. In under an hour, you’ll have more soup than you know what to do with. If you’re feeling nice, bring a bowl to a sick friend. This’ll clear them right up.

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Tom Yum

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 knob ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 6 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
  • 2 tablespoons Sambal Oelek chili garlic sauce
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 1 can coconut milk (approx. 13.5 ounces, full fat only)
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • One 4-inch piece lemongrass, lightly bruised
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1 bunch scallions, sliced
  • 1/3 cup Thai basil leaves, torn (if available)
  • 4 medium-sized tomatoes, chopped into small cubes
  • 1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced (we love oyster, but white or baby bella work too)
  • 1/2 pound shrimp, defrosted, shelled and deveined
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Heat a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, then add the oil. When the oil is sufficiently hot, add the garlic, ginger and curry paste. Stir the mixture constantly until it’s dark red, about 5 minutes. Be careful it doesn’t burn at the bottom of the pan.

Add the chicken broth, coconut milk, fish sauce, Sambal Oelek and lemongrass, as well as 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. sugar. Stir together, then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 15 minutes. The soup will shift colors as you stir it—that’s how it’s supposed to be!

Toss the red onion, cilantro and Thai basil in a bowl and set aside.

Discard the lemongrass and whatever ginger and garlic you can fish out, then add the mushrooms and shrimp. Simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until the shrimp is pink and cooked through.

Add the tomatoes and stir in the lime juice. Taste to check salt and space levels—add more fish sauce or sugar if needed. Serve the soup in bowls, and top with onions and herbs.

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