Traditional Tom Yum Kung

Tom Yum Soup
My Tom Yum Soup - true Thai cooking at its best!. Taken by D. Schmidt for About.com
  • 20 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins,
  • Cook: 10 mins
  • Yield: 3 to 4 Servings
Ratings (28)

Tom Yum Kung is the most famous of all Thai soup recipes, and authentic Tom Yum Kung soup is without coconut milk and features all four of the famous Thai flavors--salty, sour, sweet and spicy. This Tom Yum Kung recipe provides a pungent and zesty feast of flavors with every slurp and is an excellent remedy for a cold or flu bug as it will instantly clear your sinuses and warm you up. It's also highly nutritious and is sure to impress at any dinner party.

This recipe does allow you the choice of adding coconut milk (which then makes the soup Tom Kha) or leaving it out. If you prefer a richer-tasting soup, I recommend adding it; whereas if you prefer a clearer soup, try it without.

What You'll Need

  • 6 cups good-quality chicken stock
  • 2 stalks  lemongrass, minced, or 3 tablespoons frozen/bottled prepared lemongrass (or substitute 3 lemon slices)
  • 2 to 3 kaffir lime leaves (can be purchased at most Asian food stores), or 1/2 teaspoon lime zest
  • 3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon grated galangal or ginger
  • 1 fresh red chili, minced, or 1 to 2 teaspoons Thai chili sauce, or 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon dried crushed chili or cayenne pepper
  • A generous handful of fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce (if you dislike the smell of fish sauce, see below for substitution)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 12 medium to large shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • Other vegetables of your choice: 1 handful of broccoli, cherry tomatoes or baby bok choy, optional
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk or Carnation evaporated milk (the latter is often used in Thailand for traditional tom yum kung), optional
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves

How to Make It

  1. Place stock in a large pot over high heat. Add the minced lemongrass (and leftover lemongrass stalks if using fresh lemongrass), plus lime leaves. Bring to a boil.
  2. When soup reaches a bubbling boil, reduce heat to medium, or until you get a nice simmer. Add the garlic, galangal or ginger, chili, mushrooms, lime juice, fish sauce and soy sauce. Stir well and simmer 3 minutes.
  3. Add the shrimp plus other vegetables, if using. Simmer until shrimp are pink and plump (about 3 minutes).
  1. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the coconut milk or Carnation milk (if using). Now taste-test the soup, looking for a balance of salty, sour, and spicy. If not salty or flavorful enough, add 1 tablespoon more fish sauce or soy sauce. If too sour, add more sugar. If too spicy (Tom Yum is meant to be spicy!), add a little coconut or Carnation milk. If too salty, add another squeeze of lime juice.
  2. For those who like additional spice or flavor, add a dollop of Thai Nam Prik Pao chili sauce, either store-bought or homemade. It can also be served on the side in small dishes, so each person can add as much as they prefer.
  3. Ladle soup into bowls and top with a generous sprinkling of fresh coriander. 

For those who dislike the smell of fish sauce, substitute 1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce plus 1 tablespoon regular soy sauce.