Those familiar with Thai cuisine know cooking is all about building layer upon layer of taste. This ensures each ingredient is distinct, identifiable and doesn’t get lost. Still, they make up a chorus of flavors all equally assertive, yet complimenting each other beautifully. That combination is no more exquisitely balanced than in today’s creation, Guay Tiew Tom Yum Goong, Thai Hot and Sour Noodle Soup with Shrimp.
The offering is a loose variation on a more familiar Thai staple, Tom Yum soup, and the recipe ran in the Cook’s Illustrated March & April 2019 issue. This version is a little lighter than is classic Tom Yum, as it foregoes the latter’s coconut milk-based broth. While the absence is noted, the property gives the constituent ingredients an even more pronounced role. This enhanced definition gives taste buds plenty to do.
Running through the cooking list boldly announces each item. Lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves bring sweetly tangy citrus to the party. Galangal, ginger’s floral Thai cousin, also strikes familiar sugared notes, though with a sinus-clearing and stomach-soothing energy. As for the aromatic bulbs, scallions and garlic keep the beat moving with their own enticing melody.
What else? There’s tomatoes’ savory tanginess, cilantro’s countering coolness, fish sauce’s slightly salty mysteriousness…. The list is formidable, as you’ll read below. Flavor enough for all these ingredients, and plenty to spare too. Even the more subtle ingredients, like chicken stock, oyster mushrooms, rice noodles and shrimp, find their gentleness and umami sparkle amidst their neighbors’ flatteringly witty banter.
Most ingenious of all, the soup holds them all in perfect balance. Quite an impressive feat when such vibrant intensity is afoot. With ingredients less artfully combined, any one of them could, and would, run away with things. Instead, the jewels glisten and mesmerize, yet they pulsate beautifully within the bowl. It’s a brilliant balance Thai cooks have spent millennia perfecting.
Guay Tiew Tom Yum Goong
(Thai Hot and Sour Noodle Soup with Shrimp)
- 4 ounces fairly thin rice noodles
- 2 lemongrass stalks, trimmed to bottom six inches and tough outer layer removed
- 4 scallions, trimmed, white parts left whole and green parts cut into 1-inch lengths
- 6 kaffir lime leaves, torn if large (*1)
- 2 Thai chilies, stemmed, with one left intact and the other sliced thinly
- 1 2-ich piece galangal, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch-thick rounds (*2)
- 8 cups chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon sugar (*3)
- 8 ounces oyster mushrooms, trimmed and torn into 1-inch pieces
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed
- 12 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
- 1/4 cup fresh Thai basil leaves, torn of large, for garnish
In a large pot, bring four quarts of water to a boil. Cut the flame and add the rice noodles. Let sit, stirring occasionally, until the noodles are tender, about ten minutes. Drain and rinse well with cold water. Distribute evenly among four soup bowls.
Place the lemongrass, scallion whites, lime leaves, galangal and the whole Thai chile on a cutting board. Smash with a meat pounder until the mixture is moist and fragrant. Transfer to a stockpot.
Place the stockpot over a high flame and add the chicken broth and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for fifteen minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard the solids.
Add the mushrooms, fish sauce, scallion greens, and sliced chile. Simmer for three to four minutes. Stir in the shrimp, and cut the heat. Cover and let sit for four minutes, until shrimp are opaque. Add the tomatoes and lime juice.
Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with cilantro and Thai basil leaves.
1 – If you can’t obtain kaffirs, replace with two tablespoons of fresh lime juice.
2 – Assuming galangal is difficult to locate, you always can use a similar quantity of ginger. Not quite the same, though the difference is subtle.
3 – Use palm sugar, if you have it. More authentic and savory that way. If not, brown sugar is a good substitute.