If anyone reading this is Asian, I apologize. I wanted to call this post “Tom Yum for Gringos”. Meaning I sort of came up with my own version of the wonderful Tom Yum and Tom Yum Gai soups you get in Thai restaurants. This is a difficult one to break down into a recipe, but I have tried above to show you some of the ingredients I use. I also often add items that I cannot get (such as Kaffir limes)–but when I am making the broth I often put 5 or 6 leaves from my lime tree into the water. The MOST IMPORTANT part of this recipe is getting the broth to taste great. (not a simple process). So there will be some experimenting as you go. But I am writing what I do as best I can. Here Goes:
BROTH FOR TOM YUM
In a large pot, place 1/2 a bony chicken, or chicken parts–here is where you want lots of bone, and fat, and everything else that helps to flavor a broth. (this is no time for boneless, skinless chicken breasts–no flavor!) I often use 4 nice thighs. Dark meat makes much more flavorful broths. Now add about 1 or 2 tablespoons of crushed GARLIC, slices of GINGER and LEMON GRASS (see above pictures of the squeeze tubes I buy in the Produce section) OR if you can buy the real thing, remove green outsides, cut the stalks in 4″ pieces, smash with a hammer, and add to the pot. Now add LIME LEAVES, one chopped seeded JALAPENO, 1/2 a sliced ONION, salt, pepper, and CHICKEN BOUILLON . Cover all of it with WATER, and bring it to a boil. (Remember my rule: Start with 2 or 3 Tbs. and add more a TEASPOON at a time when you are ready to taste. Do NOT TASTE until the chicken has boiled at least 1/2 hour and is fully cooked). You will probably have to skim some scum off the top at some point. When you have simmered this mixture a good 1/2 to one hour, strain the broth. Discard everything except the chicken. When the chicken has cooled, get your hubby (or kids) to pull it off the bone and add it back into the broth. Add the other half of the fresh onion, sliced, and begin the process of tasting the broth. If you like it, add sliced mushrooms, a few cherry tomatoes, some rice noodles*** and simmer 10 minutes. You can absolutely serve the soup at this point, which is what the TOM YUM is. It becomes TOM YUM GAI when you add the coconut milk. NOTE: be sure you get the coconut milk right. It is NOT pina colada coconut sweet mix. (ask me how I know….) It is found in the Asian section of the store, and I have pictured it above. I like both kinds I pictured. If you are lucky enough to live near an Asian market (like Mee Kong Plaza on Main and Dobson in Mesa, Arizona), you can buy all kinds of wonderful mushrooms and greens to add to this delectable soup. ALSO, the Tom Yum Mix shown above is a much easier way to go. It makes the broth for you without all these steps. HOWEVER, it is VERY SPICY, so I recommend using some of it along with plain chicken bouillon to tone it down. We love spice, but I have found most people don’t go as far as we do on it. Also, adding the coconut milk really helps make it “smoother”. ONE MORE NOTE: this soup can be flavored with Curry too. Start with a couple of tablespoons of curry powder or paste, and experiment with your favorites, red, yellow or green. It’s a nice “twist”.
***Notes on noodles: You can use all kinds of noodles for this. At the Asian markets they have fresh, refrigerated thick Rice noodles which are my favorite. However, they don’t last long in the frid
ge so you have to use them right away. You can also use dry rice noodles, found in the Asian section of almost any store–but I always like to soak or cook these according to the package directions AHEAD of time, then add them cooked and rinsed to the broth. I just don’t like the starch that deposits from cooking the dry noodles in the soup. Also, I recently found a real treasure at Costco: UDON noodles. They are great in this soup, and they come in small packages so you can add as many as you like (these don’t need to be cooked first). Also, if you keep them wrapped they last a few weeks in the fridge. NOTE: RICE NOODLES ARE GLUTEN FREE!
One more note: I have a vegetarian in my family whom I love very much. So I have actually made this soup for him. I used Vegetable Bouillon (Smart & Final has a nice one made by the First Street brand). But it was quite an “advanced” cooking process, with many more complicated steps to get the flavor just right, since the chicken makes the flavoring a lot easier. But if you like to try new things, go for it!