I adore tom yam soup with prawns (tom yam koong) as much as the next person. It’s a staple on Thai restaurant menus (both native and overseas) for a reason: quick, satisfyingly hot, and pretty to look at. But sometimes, cute pink springy little prawns don’t do it for me; I want a richer, meatier, and less photogenic tom yam.
Using Leela’s ever-helpful and highly readable Tom Yam 101, I made myself tom yam soup with pork spare ribs. I hacked the bones into small chunks with a big cleaver, hoping that I would not awaken our downstairs neighbours’ baby with the gruesome thuds. The next steps were less violent: an hour and a half’s gentle simmering, infusing the resulting broth with aromatics, and finally stirring in seasonings. The soup is deeply savoury and tangy with a fresh, fragrant bite from the herbs and spices.
Because the aromatics are particularly important in this soup, try to get all of them. Kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and galangal freeze very well, making them much more convenient to use – just be sure to chop them small beforehand. You can find all the spices fresh or frozen in Asian supermarkets. If you can’t locate them, tom yam paste or flavoured stock cubes are an excellent option if you cannot get hold of everything.
. 2-4 pieces lemongrass, each of them about 1 inch long
. 1 lime
. 1–3 Thai chillies, fresh or dried, roughly crushed
. A little sugar
. A few sprigs of coriander
The pork ribs can be hacked into approximately 3-inch pieces using a cleaver, or they can just be left as they are – smaller pieces are slightly easier to handle as you eat, but the meat will easily fall off the bone anyway.
Place the pork ribs, water, and fish sauce in a large heavy-bottomed pot.
Cover with a lid and bring to the boil on a high heat.
Remove the lid and, using a spoon, scoop any unattractive scum off the surface of the water.
Gently simmer the pork bones for 1 ½ hours, partially covered.
Check the pot every half an hour or so to scoop off any more impurities.
By the end of the cooking time, the resulting broth should be mostly clear and slightly reduced, but still covering the pork. The meat should be very tender when pierced with a fork.
Add the shallots, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, and lemon grass pieces to the broth – use more or less of the aromatics depending on how strong you want the soup.
Cover and simmer for a further 10 minutes until the soup is fragrant.
Take the pot off the heat and season to your liking with lime juice, chillies, fish sauce, and sugar.
Start off by squeezing in a quarter of a lime, then taste and adjust: it should be primarily sour and tangy against a savoury, salty background, with a hint of sweetness.
How many chillies you add depends completely on your heat tolerance – taste carefully; you can always add more, but you cannot easily take heat away.
When you’re ready to serve the soup, roughly chop a small bunch of fresh coriander (stems and all) and sprinkle it over.
Tom yam keeps well for about 3 days in the fridge, becoming more savoury. However, you may need to add more lime juice, chilli, and coriander as those fresh, bright flavours won’t be so distinct.
I'm a self-conscious dilettante with a degree in History of Art from SOAS and UCL. I've lived in Greater London all my life, interrupted only occasionally by brief trips to Thailand. The result is that I speak Thai with a Croydon accent (and sometimes Croydon with a posh accent, but that's another story).
Far from being a charming bilingual intellectual of the world who ably holds forth on every topic imaginable at dinner parties, most of what I actually say in either language is "Hello", "That's a nice painting", and "I'm hungry". My idea of a balanced diet is a bowl of Mama instant noodles in one hand and a chip buttie in the other, but I also don't mind a nice bit of duck confit or gaeng paa gai. I don't go to dinner parties, anyway.
I like looking at interesting things. Thai contemporary art, Early Modern English portraiture, and lowbrow art have so far held my attention.
I consume vast amounts of art and food, so I thought I would give something back by writing.