While many Americanized Thai restaurants serve tom yum soup as an appetizer or soup course, Thais typically eat the beloved dish as a main course with rice, which offsets the heat from the chilies. There are two versions of the soup: creamy and clear. My Mama’s super-easy recipe for the creamy variety uses tom yum paste from the store (no shame — we promise it’s a worthy shortcut) and has all of the characteristics of the classic Thai dish. “It should taste creamy, hot, spicy, sour and salty,” she says. Shopping tip: Be sure to purchase a Thai brand of tom yum paste, like Pantai or Maesri; Vietnamese brands tend to have a different flavor.
Easy Creamy Tom Yum Soup or Hot-and-Sour Soup
1 lb. peeled and deveined shrimp or frozen seafood medley (a mix of mussels, calamari and shrimp available in the frozen seafood section of many grocery stores)
6 cups chicken stock or water
4 kaffir lime leaves (available at Asian supermarkets, such as H Mart)
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. fish sauce
2 tbsp. lemon juice
2 Thai chilies, crushed
2 tbsp. tom yum paste (we recommend the Thai Maesri brand)
1/2 cup evaporated milk
8 oz. can of straw mushrooms, drained
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro leaves
In a large pot, bring chicken stock or water, tom yum paste, Thai chilies and kaffir lime leaves to a boil and simmer gently for five minutes (the liquid will look very red and oily). Add the sugar, fish sauce, lemon juice, evaporated milk and mushrooms, then bring back to boil and stir in the shrimp or seafood mix and cook until the shrimp turns a light pink (about one minutes or less). Garnish with cilantro and serve in a bowl with a side of rice.
To make tom yum noodle soup, like the photo taken in Thailand by my wonderful cousin View, get your hands on a package of ramen noodles (the MAMA brand is a Thai staple). Discard the seasoning from the package and add the cluster of noodles to your boiling soup before you add the seafood. The noodles will soften in the boiling liquid as the seafood cooks. Be careful not to overboil everything — the seafood and noodles cook wickedly fast.
Note: Don’t be tempted to eat the Thai chilies. They’re hot!
Photos courtesy of View Baiphowongse.