How to cook… Tom Yum

By popular demand, we will now start a series of Thai Food Blogs where we show some of the ingredients needed to cook Thai food. We are starting this week with Tom Yum Gai which is something I often cook. For most people, tom yum is a hot and sour soup cooked with prawns. However, when I am cooking, I prefer to use chicken instead! The word “tom” means to boil and “yum” is to mix together. The main ingredients, as you can see in the picture below, are the kaffir lime leaves, galangal, bird’s eye chilies, a lime and lemon grass stalks. I also added straw mushrooms, plum tomatoes, coriander and red shallots. I have noted that some recipes for the chicken version don’t have any galangal. However, I ignored that as galangal is good for your health.

To cook is quite easy. Bring some chicken stock to the boil. Prepare the first wave of ingredients. Trim the bottom of the lemon grass and then peel away the outer layer. Then cut the lemon grass in diagonal slices. Some people discard the top two inches but I slightly crush it with the back of the knife and add it to the pot. Do about four or five fine slices of the galangal. Tear up the kaffir lime leaves which releases the flavour. I usually also add a slightly crushed red shallot. Add these to the stock and bring back to the boil. While this is boiling I am preparing the next wave of ingredients. I chop up the straw mushrooms. I sometimes use oyster mushrooms. Depends on what you have. These go in next. Then I slice the chicken into small pieces and add to the pot. I save these for last because if you cook too long it gets tough. Almost straight away I am adding the seasoning. This is fish sauce and sugar. Then I add the chili jam (nam prik pao) and a little bit of coconut milk. I usually turn the heat off by now. I then add the tomatoes and chopped coriander. Finally I add some lime juice. It is important the latter is only added at the last moment and is not cooked. The taste should be salty, sour and hot.

There are two versions of tom yum. If you don’t say anything when ordering at the restaurant they will give you the clear soup version. However, I prefer the thick soup called “nam kon”. To make this, you need to add some coconut milk and chilli jam (nam prik pao). The chili paste in the jar on the right is specifically for making “tom yum”. I always put a good table spoon into my soup hence the red texture. You can then lighten it with the coconut milk. You need to experiment with this dish a lot in order to get the right mixture of ingredients. In Thai cooking, most cooks don’t do any measurements. They add a little at a time and then give it a taste. Also, don’t be afraid to experiment because that ispart of the enjoyment of Thai cooking.

If you have any questions about Thai food, then you are welcome to post them in our Thai Food Forums. Make sure that you check out the thread on lemon grass where I am posting pictures of my attempt to grow lemon grass in my garden.

Feel free to suggest dishes that you would like us to cook at the Paknam Web offices and we might then feature it in the future at

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