Friday, September 5, 2014

Thai Soup (Tom Yum)

As far as soups go, this is my favourite.

You are probably familiar with the Thai soup that incorporates coconut milk and lemon-grass. It's commonly known as Tom Kha Gai soup and blasphemous as it may sound, I don't like it because I am allergic to coconut.

You have probably have noticed by now, lemony flavours are special to me. Therefore the other, slightly lesser famous variant, Tom Yum, appeals to my taste-buds.

I had this soup when I was six years old and there has been nothing to beat this delicious, steaming concoction, specially on a rainy and/or chilly winter night. I male this frequently (though never end up noting it down, thanks to my horrific busy schedule) and last time when I made it, I had a sore throat. Interestingly (although predictably), it helped soothe my throat.

There are a number of great versions available online but I wanted something that reminded me of the first time I tasted this soup in my hometown. It's Indianised, no doubt, but it's gorgeous! This is my version through repeated trials (based on the varieties I've tasted in Kolkata, India) and it comes really, really close to those.

PS: It's also a good way to get mushroom haters (like my brother) eat mushrooms.

Ingredients

For two
  • Chicken breast – 1 diced
  • Chicken wing* – 1-2
  • Mushroom** – 1-2 medium sized thinly sliced
  • Shrimps – 1 cup (peeled, raw or cooked)
  • Egg white – from 1 egg
  • Lime juice  – 1-2 teaspoon (freshly squeezed)
  • Lemon-grass – 1 stick (peeled)
  • Fish sauce – 1 teaspoon (optional but highly recommended)
  • Soy sauce – 1 teaspoon (optional)
  • Garlic – 4-5 cloves peeled and minced
  • Ginger – 1cm, minced
  • Kaffir lime leaves – 1-2 (optional but highly recommended)
  • Spring onions – 2 stalks finely chopped
  • Coriander leaves – 6-8 stalks finely chopped
  • Cornflour – 3-4 teaspoon
  • Salt – to taste
  • Sugar – no more than a pinch (optional)
  • Vinegar – 1-2 teaspoon (optional)
* This is simply required for enhancing the flavour of chicken because chicken breasts are bland and hardly add any flavour to soups. Skip it if mild flavour is okay.
** The best mushroom would be Shitake. If that's not available try chestnut or button in decreasing order of preference.

Method
  1. Mix soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, vinegar, garlic, ginger and a little salt in a small bowl.
  2. Heat 1 and a half times the serving bowl of water in a saucepan.
  3. Add the chicken wings, salt, the pinch of sugar and the lemon-grass.
  4. Once the water starts boiling add the chicken breasts, shrimps (if they are raw) and Kaffir leaves.
  5. Once the chicken surface looks cooked add the mushrooms (see tip).
  6. After 1-2 minutes, remove the Kaffir lime leaves, chicken wings (and add the shrimps if you are using the cooked ones).
  7. De-bone the chicken wing, add the chicken back to the pan.
  8. Add the sauce-mix into the pan.
  9. Cover and let it simmer for 5 minutes while mixing the cornflour with cold water to make a runny solution.
  10. This step is important and everything must be done in the order specified: remove the pan from the heat, remove the lemon-grass stalk, add the cornflour solution while continuously stirring, and then return pan over the heat to avoid lump (see tip).
  11. Keep stirring until the soup is thick enough to coat the back of a tablespoon with a thin layer but runny enough to drip off within seconds. If it's any thicker add water. If it's too runny keep simmering.
  12. Add the spring onions.
  13. This step must be execute exactly as specified: very, very slowly pour the egg white while vigorously stirring the soup (see tip).
  14. Add the coriander leaves. Taste the soup. Adjust by adding salt and/or lime juice/vinegar to your taste.
  15. Serve immediately.

Tip
  1. The surface should look cooked, not the centre. The two are different. You can't really tell whether the centre is cooked or not but generally the moment the surface turns white, add the mushrooms.
  2. It is important to add the cornflour while off the hob otherwise the cornflour may start lumping. To ensure that it doesn't, stir the cornflour solution before adding to the soup because this solution is actually a suspension and the particles start to settle when left alone. Also, keep stirring the soup when adding. Return after the cornflour is thoroughly incorporated.
  3. Egg white gets cooked the very moment it touches the hot liquid. Therefore adding too quickly will just form a lump of egg white. Not stirring will have the same effect.

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