I’m not sure what I was expecting from my class at Phuket Thai Cookery School but the teachers and staff managed to make Thai cooking seem easy which was such a pleasant surprise. I absolutely love Thai food (makes my top 5 list of cuisines I’d eat on the morning of the Rapture) but the exotic flavors and unfamiliar ingredients always felt mysterious to me. And while I’m sure having much of the prep already done for me helped a lot, I came away surprised at how simple and fast the cooking process could be.
Especially with tom yum goong or Thai hot and sour prawn soup, the bulk of the work is in the prep and once that’s done the soup should be ready in a matter of minutes. The recipe card I received from the school lists the recipe for two as follows:
3 cups chicken stock
8 galangal, thinly sliced
1 stalk lemongrass
2 kaffir lime leaves, torn
2 shallots, peeled and crushed
1 cup straw mushrooms
5 bird’s eye chilies, crushed
1 tomato, cut into wedges
1 cup (150 g) prawns, peeled and deveined
3 T fish sauce
1 t sugar
4 T lime juice
1/4 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup spring onions, cut into 1 in length
2 t chili paste
Unless you can find all the ingredients listed here, there are some substitutions to be made. I used ginger instead of galangal, native red onions instead of shallots, enoki mushrooms instead of straw (fresh button or oyster mushrooms should work too), Baguio lemons instead of lime.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen straw mushrooms for sale here. And I can’t remember the last time I saw real limes. I thought Baguio lemons might be closer to lime than regular lemons completely based on their green color and they did sub nicely.
Speaking of them lemons/limes, this is a technique I picked up at the school that I think every cook should know. When cutting them to juice, slice the cheeks instead of halving them. They are much easier to juice this way!
The chili paste mentioned is one that’s in oil. I found this Thai brand in the supermarket. I guess it’s similar to the chili oil/sauce we put in siomai sauce and I think that would work too but it’s definitely not the same thing.
From here on, I’ll tell you what the recipe card says followed by what I ended up doing/what I suggest you do. Also, I made about double the above recipe FYI.
1. Bring stock to boil. Add galangal, lemongrass, lime leaves, shallots, mushrooms, chilies, and tomatoes and simmer until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.
I didn’t have any chicken stock so I made a shrimp stock instead with my shrimp heads. You can do the same by bringing the water and shrimp heads to a boil and then letting it simmer for about 5 minutes. Strain out the shrimp heads when done.
I added the above-mentioned vegetables to simmer. A quick note on lemongrass – cut into long diagonal strips for more surface area. More surface area = more surface to extract flavor from.
2. Add prawns and simmer until they have just changed color.
If it’s your first time to make this soup, do not add the prawns here. The next step is seasoning and adjusting the soup to your taste which could take long enough for the prawns to overcook. So instead, season with fish sauce, sugar, lime juice and chili paste and then adjust to taste. When seasoning, remember that this soup should be spicy, salty, and sour and in a vibrant way. Don’t be shy!
3. Season with fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, and chili paste and cook briefly, about 20 seconds, and sprinkle with spring onions. Remove from the heat immediately. Serve garnished with cilantro.
I dropped in my shrimp and added the spring onion. I stirred gently until the shrimp changed color. When done, I stirred in some milk (optional) and served with a garnish of cilantro.
I MADE THAT. As the Thai would say, aroy ma ma!
In back is a massamun curry I made with store-bought curry paste. (So easy!) I can’t just have soup, no? Although if I had to have just soup, it would probably be this one. Every mouthful delivers jets of flavor, enlivens my taste buds like Patong. I mean, have you seen that place? Check out what I saw when I was there!
Fun Food Fact: Turns out lemongrass is quite the powerhouse. It contains citral, a molecule that helps kill cancer cells. It helps combat fever and overcome depression. It’s a digestive in drink form and a relaxant in oils. It even has anti-acne properties. Somebody smoke the stuff.