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May 2, 2007 03:12 PM

Tom yum question

I love tom yum soup--the Thai soup that's usually offered with shrimp or chicken. I esp. like tom yum goong, the shrimp version. I've made it at home many times, but I always feel there's something missing. At my very good local Thai restaurants there's a film of red oil on top. What is that? It must come in a jar.

I'm going to move to a place that lacks good Thai food, so I'll have to learn how to make the version I love.

Please help!

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  1. What you are talking about is the seperation of oil that comes from reducing and cooking coconut milk. The oil released from the milk then picks up the color of the other oils (like the red color form the chilis). IMO, this is one of the great secrets to getting an authentic Thai taste at home.

    The frusterating thing is that, since returning to the States, the coconut milk sold in cans at the supermarket (Taste of Thai- I'm looking at you!) doesn't seem to want to seperate. If you can get you hands on fresh cocnut milk you will probably have better resukts.

    Good luck!

    1 Reply
    1. re: jmconcierge

      When I make it, I heat up a can of coconut cream till it seperates, then I add the curry paste, more coconut milk etc. etc.

    2. In my experience, tome yum goong isn't made with coconut milk -- that's tom kha gai.

      I make tome yum goong with a chili paste -- the paste is stirred into the stock near the end of the cooking time, and it does leave a film of red oil on the soup. If there is a specific local restaurant whose soup you love, it might pay off to ask if they use a bottled chili paste, and if so, what brand it is.

      The chili paste I make at home is garlic, shallots and small dried red chilies --- I toss them in a dry skillet over high heat until they are beginning to brown and blister. A little blackening is okay, but not too much. Then I pop the garlic and shallots out of their skins, and run it all through the food processor with a little oil until it's a nice paste. The paste is in then fried in oil in my non-stick pan until it's darkened and fragrant, and I put it in a jar and stick it in the fridge. It keeps well for about three weeks, and you can add things too it -- tamarind concentrate, dried shrimp, etc etc. Sugar if you want to sweeten it up a little for pad thai.

      If you want to look at your local asian markets or on line, the stuff is called nahm prik pao, and is often labeled something like "chilies in soy oil". Commercial pastes specifically for tome yum are a little less versatile then plain chili paste, but can be pretty good too. This is my favorite brand - it's made with dried shrimp --

      4 Replies
      1. re: AnnaEA

        Thanks, you're right. I'm not talking about tom kha gai. I have perfected that--IMO it's way easier to make than the tom yum soups. I appreciate your chili paste recipe. I think that's what I'm looking for. I've tried some of the commercial pastes, and they just don't quite match what I'm looking for. I'll check out your favorite brand. Again, thanks!

        1. re: dumpling

          Glad to be of help! Tome yum is one of my favorite soups , so I love it when it comes up.

          If your chili paste experimentation doesn't get you where you want to be soupwise, you might want to consider the stock -- it's easy to over look with tome yum because of all the other seasonings.

          1. re: dumpling

            Can you post your perfected tom kha gai recipe? I just had some for lunch, and now I want more.

          2. re: AnnaEA

            AnnaEA is exactly right. The oily red film is from the chili paste.

            I use Maesri branad.

          3. It might be from cooking the shrimp in the shell in the stock. The fat and "stuff" from the shells gives stock that red color.

            1 Reply
            1. re: srr

              You get a gold star.

              What you describe is the "correct" way, the way that it is traditionally done in Thailand, but most Thai restaurants in the U.S., and most modern recipes for the dish, cheat and use naam phrik phao, or "roasted chile jam."

              Here is a good primer:



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