I've had the Chest Cold From Hell (the one everyone has, apparently) all weekend as punishment for enjoying myself too thoroughly while apple picking on Saturday. So I determined to make my famous Tom Yum Kai soup and cure myself and mollpeartree through the magic of Warming Heat. But today I emptied out my little recipe box and hunted all over the kitchen to no avail: The card for my absolutely perfect Tom Yum Kai recipe had vanished, carried up to Olympus by the jealous gods, most likely.
So I was forced to re-create it in much the same way I created it: Hunting all across the Internet for tom yum kai recipes. I shan't keep you in suspense any longer: I found the Ur-Recipe from which I had derived the perfected dish here; it's by a chef in Bangalore, India, of all things, and it is truly wonderful.
The search was perhaps unnecessarily lengthened by his choice of transliteration: tom yam gai instead of tom yum kai. But while searching, I discovered all manner of other ways to make tom yum soup, and decided to run a change-up on my perfected dish and add more Stuff in the quest for Mega-Health. I think I succeeded, what say you all?
TOM YUM KAI, MEGA-HEALTH EDITION
Makes 3 hearty bowls or 4 normal servings
2 TSP of peanut oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into chunks
1/2 TSP ginger powder
2 or 3 shallots, sliced
4 CUPS chicken stock
2 stalks lemongrass, chopped into approximate 1-inch lengths
5 or so pieces of dried galangal (you can substitute 6 or 7 slices of fresh ginger, but it won't be as good)
3 TBSP nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
2 big cloves of garlic, chopped
2 TBSP lime zest (from 3 big limes; this should be 2-3 Kaffir lime leaves, but they never have them in the store)
4 serrano chiles, sliced into thick roundels (more if you want it spicier)
3 biggish scallions (or 6 little ones), the white part of, sliced up (or just chop half a medium white onion)
1 TSP sugar
5-6 OZ Thai rice noodles (a fat handful)
2 TBSP tom yum paste (or 1 TBSP of that Thai red chili paste you can find at most groceries now)
5 OZ white mushrooms, thickly chopped (or go to 8 OZ if you leave out the noodles, or put in half a can of straw mushrooms)
2 plum tomatoes, each cut in eight pieces (with Health-Giving lycopene!)
The green parts of those scallions, chopped
1/2 CUP cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
4 TBSP lime juice (ideally, the juice of those 3 big limes you zested)
In a deep saucepan or soup pot with a lid, heat the peanut oil over medium-high heat. While you're doing this, chop the lemongrass and then smash the segments with the flat of your big knife to crack them. You have no idea how good this will feel. Saute the chicken, ginger, and shallots just until the chicken is Barely Not Red. It'll cook more in the soup portion. Spoon up the chicken and reserve in a bowl. The fate of the shallots is immaterial; some can stay in the pot while others are carried up with the chicken.
Pour the stock into the pot, add the smashed lemongrass, galangal, garlic, and fish sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 15 MINS. Uncover, and add the lime zest, chiles, onion, sugar, barely-sauteed chicken, and noodles. Stir once and then simmer for 3 MINS. Add paste, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Stir once and then simmer for 2 MINS.
Check the noodles; if they need more time, raise the heat and get them to al dente. (They may not; this is a by-guess process.) When I made this tonight, I forgot the noodles until this stage, so I tossed them in and boiled the soup for 4 MINS. It worked excellent well, although it just pulverized the tomatoes. (No bad thing in my book.)
Add the scallions, and simmer for 30 SECS. Then turn off heat, add lime juice and cilantro. Stir through, and ladle into bowls. Serve with nam pla and lime juice as condiments to add desired increments of salt or sour. mollpeartree usually cuts it with a splash of milk at this point to tone the heat down a bit. N.B.: Also provide a little plate to put the lemongrass, galangal, and chopped serrano chiles on -- REMOVE THEM FROM YOUR BOWL. DO NOT EAT THEM.
A Note on Ingredients: The garlic, shallots, and tomatoes are my additions for Mega-Health, over and above the already mighty health benefits of chicken, ginger, galangal, lime, and chile hotness. Finding tom yum paste probably means a trip to your nearest Thai or pan-Asian supermarket: I bought mine at Broadway Supermarket (4879 N. Broadway) and one tub has lasted me a good while. (I have a spare tub in the pantry.) It also provided massaman curry paste and other wonderful goodies. A return visit snagged me my galangal, which is like ginger and coriander having a party in your mouth. Broadway also has Gigandous Bags of dried shiitake mushrooms for like a nickel, and has thus comprehensively spoiled me for buying shiitakes anywhere else. Broadway has, however, consistently let me down in the matter of Kaffir lime leaves, which is just as well for my Calvinist soul, given the thin-ness of the boundary between this fallen world and the divine when it comes to this soup, and to shopping in Asian supermarkets.