Thai cuisine is one of my favorites. It has the absolute perfect balance of flavors; sweet, spicy, salty and bitter. The basic combination of all of these components lends to an incredibly delicious end result. I believe this is what umami, or that fifth beautiful savory flavor, is all about.
Tom Yum soup is a wonderful example of the delicate balance of all flavors in any dish. If you happen to taste the soup before, I don’t know, let’s say the end, when the lime juice has been added…your mouth might be on fire and you could have tears steaming down your eyes from how spicy it is. I know, because it happened to me just this morning! However, once I added the lime juice, it was perfectly seasoned and I couldn’t stop eating it. Lesson learned.
Another great lesson or “genius trick” with this soup is the use of shrimp shells as a way to enhance store bought fish stock and give it homemade flavor with very little time. I learned this from an instructor at ICE during a recreational cooking class. It is always great for me to take those classes because they are geared towards home cooks, not professional chefs. They help me think of ways to make things more doable, not just for you, but on busy days at home. We all need short cuts in the kitchen!
The class was called Essentials of Thai Cooking. We learned this recipe among many other classic Thai dishes. This weekend, I will have an opportunity to teach a Thai cooking class of my own and we will make this soup, summer rolls, Thai marinated skirt steak, cucumber salad with crispy shallots, red curry chicken and coconut rice. I can’t wait to eat everything! I mean, teach the class.
- 2 quarts fish stock
- 1 lb shrimp, peeled, deveined and cut into bite-sized pieces (shells reserved)
- 1-2 tsp chili oil (or to taste)
- 4 oz fish sauce
- 6 kefir lime leaves
- 2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed, outer layers removed and sliced into ¼” pieces
- 2-3 Thai bird’s eye chilies, stemmed, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp light brown sugar (or palm sugar)
- 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
- 4-6 oz fresh lime juice (added to taste)
- cilantro, leaves and tender stems, for garnish
- In a medium saucepot, heat fish stock with shrimp shells and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain soup and discard shells. Return stock to saucepot.
- Mix chili sauce, fish sauce, lime leaves, lemongrass, Thai chilies, and sugar with the stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes.
- Just before serving, bring soup back to a boil and add the mushrooms and shrimp. Cover and turn off heat. Allow the shrimp to cook through, about 2-3 minutes. Uncover and add the lime juice to taste.