How to Make Tom Yum Goong, Thailand’s Hot and Sour Soup

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This hot and sour Thai soup captures a full range of classic flavors, from tart lemongrass to spicy bird's eye chiles.

I grew up in a Chinese and Thai family, though my mom cooked mostly Chinese dishes. We would enjoy Thai cuisine on the rare occasion we ate out or when visiting my Thai relatives. One of my favorite dishes to order at Thai restaurants was tom yum goong because the fiery soup was served in a heated tureen, complete with a moat! Bubbling vigorously, the hot and sour broth whet my appetite for the rest of the meal to come.

I love to turn to the bright and punchy tom yum to wake up my taste buds. It may not come with a moat, but my version of tom yum goong lures you in with bright, citrusy aromatics, followed by a punch of umami and tartness, with a spicy, hot finish.

What Is Tom Yum Goong Soup?

Tom yum is a Thai hot and sour soup with many versions including shrimp, chicken and tofu. The tom in tom yum translates as “boil,” while yum means “to mix or blend.” This recipe I’m sharing is made with shrimp, or goong, because shrimp adds a rich seafood flavor to the broth.

Believed to originate in central Thailand near the Chao Praya River, tom yum has evolved from containing ingredients such as snakehead fish, shredded green mango, madan fruit and pickle brine to what is now considered the three essential ingredients of tom yum today: lemongrass, makrut lime leaf and galangal. The citrusy taste of lemongrass and makrut lime leaf combined with the sharp piney flavor of galangal results in the tart and distinct flavors of Thai cooking.

Tom yum has continued to evolve in Thailand today. You can find a creamy, milky version (nam khon) made with the addition of evaporated milk or cow’s milk. Both nam khon and tom yum are close siblings to tom kha soup and khao soi.

How to Make Tom Yum Goong

Tom Yum GoongMarsha Ungchusri for Taste of Home

The recipe below is for tom yum goong nam sai, or clear broth tom yum with shrimp. Check out this list of essential Thai ingredients for details about the specialty ingredients in this recipe!

Ingredients

  • 10-12 large shrimp with shell (and head, if available), deveined
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, woody layers removed, cut into 2-3 inch segments and smashed
  • 2-inch long galangal, sliced into 5-6 slices and smashed
  • 4-5 makrut lime leaves, roughly torn
  • 2 Thai bird’s eye chiles, chopped
  • 5 ounces beech mushrooms, ends trimmed
  • 4 tablespoons nam prik pao (Thai chili paste)
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice, plus extra for serving
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Editor’s Tip: Fish sauce brands vary greatly in salt content. This recipe was developed using Squid brand fish sauce. If you’re using a saltier fish sauce like Red Boat, start with half the amount stated in the recipe, adding gradually to the desired level of saltiness.

Tools You’ll Need

  • Mortar and Pestle: An essential kitchen tool for Thai cooking! Great for smashing, bruising or grinding ingredients to release their aromatic compounds and make pastes or powders. In this recipe, it’ll work wonders on the lemongrass and galangal to help release the flavorful aromatic compounds.
  • Spider Strainer: A handy kitchen tool shaped like a round basket with a handle to quickly remove shrimp shells, aromatics or other ingredients from your finished soup.
  • Dutch Oven: This heavy enameled pot is perfect for simmering soups, thanks to its even dispersal of heat and excellent heat retention.

Directions

Step 1: Make the shrimp stock

Twist shrimp to remove the head and peel. Reserve head and peel for shrimp stock. Place shrimp meat in a separate bowl and season with 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium pot (at least 3 quarts) over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the shrimp shells and heads, which should sizzle immediately. Stir fry for 1-2 minutes, until the shells turn a deep orange and release a toasty shrimp aroma.

Add 2 cups of chicken stock and 4 cups of water to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer for 15-20 minutes. Using a spider strainer or slotted spoon, remove the shells and heads from the pot and discard them.

Step 2: Add the aromatics

Add the lemongrass, galangal, makrut lime leaves and chiles to the stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for 8-10 minutes. If desired, remove the aromatics from the pot using the spider strainer or slotted spoon; however, aromatics are traditionally left in the pot to continue infusing the broth.

Editor’s Tip: If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, smash the lemongrass and galangal with the handle end of a heavy chef’s knife or a rolling pin (one without handles) before adding them to the stock pot.

Step 3: Cook the mushrooms and shrimp

Add mushrooms and cook for 1 minute, until softened but not mushy.

Adjust heat to medium-low so the broth is just simmering. Add the shrimp and cook for 30 seconds before turning off the heat. This helps to prevent over-cooking the shrimp. Allow the residual heat to cook the shrimp until opaque and orange, about another 30 seconds.

Step 4: Season the broth

Stir in fish sauce, sugar and nam prik pao until completely dissolved. Remove the pot from the heat. Add the lime juice.

Editor’s Tip: It’s important to remove the pot from the heat before adding the lime juice, because cooking lime can result in an undesirable bitter taste.

Step 5: Finish the soup

Taste the broth and adjust the flavor to achieve a balance between saltiness, umami, acidity and spiciness. The broth should have a balance of savory seafood sweetness from the shrimp and fish sauce, with a punch of flavor and brightness from the lime, herbs and aromatics. The nam prik pao also adds sweetness and umami to the broth.

Garnish with cilantro and serve hot!

How to Serve Tom Yum Goong

Tom Yum GoongMarsha Ungchusri for Taste of Home

Tom yum goong can be served as a first course to prime diners’ appetites. The soup can also be served with steamed jasmine rice or rice noodles as a satisfying meal in itself. Often, additional slices of lime, cilantro, fish sauce, sugar and chili garlic sauce are served at the table to encourage diners to customize the soup to their personal tastes.

Tips for Making Tom Yum Goong

Where do I find Thai ingredients?

Many of the specialty ingredients can be found in Asian grocery stores like 99 Ranch and H Mart, as well as through online Asian grocery retailers like Weee! or Umamicart. While fresh is ideal, lemongrass, galangal, bird’s eye chiles and makrut lime leaves can also be found frozen. Personally, I tend to steer away from the dried or powdered options.

Can I use ginger instead of galangal?

While galangal may look very similar to ginger, the flavors are quite different. If you cannot find galangal, simply omit it from the recipe.

How can I make this soup extra spicy?

The heat content of Thai chiles can vary depending on the season. While two bird’s eye chiles offer a moderate amount of heat, if you enjoy spicy food, add more chiles to your liking.

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Marsha Ungchusri
I am a freelance writer, recipe developer, and registered dietitian nutritionist (RD/RDN) with an interest in food history, cookbooks, and recipe development. You can find me in the Peddler Journal, Inheritance Mag, and Diverging Mag.