KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 3 — Who doesn’t like tom yam — the quintessential spicy and sour Thai soup? One doesn’t have to go to Thailand to savour this mouthwatering dish; any respectable Thai restaurant in Malaysia will be sure to have this on the menu.
The most popular version has to be tom yam goong, which uses prawns. The chicken version is tom yam kai while the seafood version, comprising fish and squid in addition to prawns, is called tom yam thale.
For something creamier, try tom yam nam khon which has coconut milk added to the broth. Those who like it sour can try tom khlong which substitutes tamarind (known locally as assam) for lime juice.
However it’s made, the basic broth for all of this is made from stock and fresh herbs and spices. You’ll not only taste the delicate flavours of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and galangal, you’ll often see these ingredients in the soup too, as they’re often simply crushed and left in whole. Fresh lime juice and fish sauce are what Thai chefs use to season tom yam, adjusting the sourness and savouriness accordingly.
I have always thought making tom yam from scratch requires plenty of time over a hot fire but it can actually be very quick and straightforward without resorting to commercial tom yam paste.
Perhaps only tom yam kha mu, which is made with pork trotters, require a long cooking time so the gelatin in the trotters properly dissolves into the soup.
The most memorable tom yam I’ve ever had wasn’t in Thailand but at Lake Matheson in New Zealand, at all places. After taking a walk around the scenic lake, I resigned myself to having a touristy meal at the only restaurant nearby, the Lake Matheson Cafe.
Appearances can be deceiving: as part of their fusion menu, the restaurant served a fragrant and astonishingly spicy tom yam as an appetiser. The pièce de résistance was the topping of a couple of grilled prawns, redolent of tamarind.
Back home, I decided I was going to replicate this dish but as it happened, forgot to buy the tamarind. Fortunately I spotted a jar of powdered turmeric in my pantry. As they say, necessity mother of invention, and my grilled turmeric prawns turned out to be an even better complement to my homemade tom yam.
The mild heat and hint of curry hint from the turmeric lent itself wonderfully to the grilled prawns... and I now have a new favourite tom yam: my own!
TOM YAM WITH GRILLED TURMERIC PRAWNS
Besides complementing this homemade tom yam soup with grilled turmeric prawns, I have added two other twists to the all-time Thai favourite. Firstly is the inclusion of Malaysian prawn paste or haeko to the broth, which adds a subtle flavour that’s partly sweet, partly fermented and all umami.
Tom yam usually features the inclusion of mushrooms, typically oyster mushrooms. Why not try some of the many other fresh mushrooms available now in our supermarkets? Here I have used two types of Japanese mushrooms — bunashimeji and maitake.
Bunashimeji (also known as brown beech mushroom) come in clusters of tender caps. Flavour-wise, it’s almost nutty. The caps have a firm bite, which adds texture to the soup.
Maitake, which means “dancing mushroom” in Japanese, is a softer fungus. Also called the hen-of-the-woods, maitake has a whole range of health benefits including regulating blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol, making it a boon for weight loss.
Tom Yam Soup
200ml chicken stock
6 black peppercorns, crushed
1 shallot, cut in half
Small piece (about 4cm) of galangal, crushed
2 stalks lemongrass, sliced diagonally
1 tablespoon of crushed gula Melaka
½ tablespoon haeko (prawn paste)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
80g mushrooms (a mix of bunashimeji and maitake)
2 kaffir lime leaves, roughly torn
3-4 cili padi
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2-3 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Grilled Turmeric Prawns
½ dozen fresh tiger prawns, peeled and cleaned
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt and pepper to taste
2-3 kaffir lime leaves, roughly torn
2-3 stalks lemongrass, cut in half lengthwise
Fresh coriander leaves
Put the stock, peppercorns, shallot, galangal and lemongrass into a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add the gula Melaka, haeko and fish sauce. Stir until the gula Melaka and haeko have dissolved completely.
Next add the mushrooms and simmer for another five minutes. Add the kaffir lime leaves, cili padi and fresh lime juice next. Adjust the seasoning (using lime juice and fish sauce for the acidity and savouriness respectively) to taste. Add the cherry tomatoes last, so that they are slightly softened without being overcooked.
While the soup is cooking, marinate the prawns in the mixture of coconut oil, turmeric powder, salt and pepper for at least 10 minutes. Place the cut lemongrass stalks on a baking tray. Rest the marinated prawns on these stalks and top with torn kaffir leaves. Grill in the oven for a few minutes (depending on size of prawns).
Spoon the tom yam soup into bowls and top with 2-3 prawns each. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve immediately.
For more Weekend Kitchen stories and recipes, visit http://devilstales.com/weekend-kitchen/