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Tom Yam and spicy Thai style shrimp soup. 20 minutes to heaven

Updated on December 27, 2009

I know I've already called som tam the national food of Thailand, but this hot and spicy soup surely gives papaya salad a run for its money as the favorite dish in a nation of food obsessed Thai's, and a celebratory of restaurant dinner is rarely complete without a steaming caldron of brimming-with-fresh-seafood hot and spicy tom yam kung!

It's also very easy to make, and with a few select ingredients, some good fresh shrimp (the whole shrimp...heads and all!) and about 20 minutes of cooking you've got a world class, complex and delicious whole meal soup at the ready.

This soup is best appreciated hot and spicy, but if you're not partial to chili, you can greatly reduce the spice, or even omit the chili altogether and still enjoy a very satisfying and unique Thai style soup.

With this, like any national dish, the versions are countless, and every family and every restaurant will boast a unique and delicious variation around a single theme. The recipe as follows has you de shell the shrimp and boil a quick and easy shrimp stock, but if pressed for time; you can skip this step and simply boil the shrimp whole in the soup, and make the stock and the soup at the same time.

Tom Yam Kung (a brimming big bowl…enough for a large family dinner)

  • A bit less than a pound of head and shell on shrimp
  • 3 stalks lemon grass
  • 3 big slices of fresh galangal (looks a lot like ginger…available at all Asian markets)
  • 5-20 smashed Thai bird chilies (use as much or as little as you’d like to)
  • 5 kaffir lime leaves (fragrant citrus smelling leaves also available at Asian markets)
  • 3 green onions chopped
  • 3 Tbls fresh lime juice
  • 1-2 Tbls chili paste (also available in Asian markets)
  • ¼ cup of cilantro
  • 1 cup of coconut milk
  1. Firstly, peel and de vein the shrimp. Heat a spoonful of oil in a large pot, and when hot add the shrimp shells and 1 chopped stalk of lemongrass; and fry for a minute or so. Add about 2 quarts of water and boil for 20 minutes. Strain.
  2. Take the reserved stock and add the lemon grass, coconut milk, galangal, the lime leaves and fish sauce, and bring to a boil. Add the shrimp, and after about 3 minutes, add the remaining ingredients and turn off the heat. Taste for salt, spice and sour, and add more fish sauce, lime or chili as necessary.

Serve with jasmine rice for a meal alone, or serve this soup as a part of a larger and more intricate Thai meal.

A video demo


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