Bangkok: Going back to School & Tom Yum Soup 101

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tom Yum Soup: All the photos were taken from my Iphone 3 GS - they don't look too bad.
Won't be changing my name to Food Apple anytime soon though.
I love to cook (what's new).

And I love cooking lessons.

If I have the time and opportunity to learn from someone , I will.

My best teacher? My late mum of course.

The best class was her commercial kitchen. Not that she had the time and patience to give me a "class." At a very young age, I became a free extra hand in her kitchen. Something needed to be washed, chopped, pounded, squeezed or stir-fried. When I become strong enough to hold her wok chan in her large commercial work kitchen - which looked even huger to a child - I did. I simply had to learn because she needed help. My Mum was a patient woman and hardly lose her temper when something went wrong. And she had this great sense of humor, which you can imagine, can be rather crude and colorful in her native Hokkien and Cantonese.

I am in Bangkok and interestingly, yesterday, I went back in time as we learnt how to squeeze coconut milk, pound in the granite mortar etc.

It was all 101 stuff. But as it is not the same type of cuisine I grew up with as a child, there was new stuff to learn and old ideas to consolidate. A cook is always a student. Even for the dishes you already know, every cook approaches a dish differently. And it is a good experience to learn it from a Thai using ingredients easily available in his local wet market.

Back to class - on the floor.
Squeezing coconut for the milk - childhood memories
My fellow students (9 of us in this group) were mostly Westerners. How do you effectively teach 101 stuff? How to teach effectively - this was also something to be learnt. There was attention to details. It is a small school house in an apartment with four rooms but the decor and atmosphere were great.

First up was a visit to the wet market. This is familiar ground as we also do have Thai stuff in ours. Some of the info given was helpful.

3 types of Basil Leaves: Sweet, sour , spicy.
How convenient: looks like Basil leaves were made for the Thais

You won't find this being sold in Singapore markets:
Coriander roots
Saw Coriander in the Center
We had to help to wash and prepare the ingredients

All this will go into my bowl of Tom Yum
Then, the classes began.

We learned 6 dishes. I will blog the Tom Yam Soup recipe here.You can compare this to a recipe I blogged earlier.

The instructor said that there are four main (indispensable) ingredients in Tom Yam Soup. Four? I thought I got this locked down. There are three for this: galangal, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves.

Hmm, what is the fourth?

Water. Duh, you need this for soup.

All the Tom Yum "key ingredients" and "fillers" in the wok before it is fired up
Mise en place the key ingredients, plus a protein (prawns, chicken etc), the seasoning (chillis, lime etc) and fillers (i.e. tomatoes, bamboo shoots.) For purpose of control, the mise en place was done in the wok. I thought that was rather unusual but if you are teaching a bunch of students who may not be familiar with the wok, this is practical. With the fire going and the heat rising, many a cook apprentice can quickly lose their sense of order. Some over-enthusiastic ones tried to flip their woks which the instructor quickly discouraged. I really don't think it is necessary to toss your food in the air, at least not in someone else's home. Or even your own. You are not cooking in a hurry are you? Some good wrist action with a spatula or wok chan will do.

Boil the ingredients in water for a few minutes and there you go: Tom Yum Soup. I am sure you can refine this dish further but just start with these basics first and get them right. 

Here is the instructor's recipe:

To serve 1-2 persons:

Key Ingredients:

2 bowls of water
3 Kaffir Lime Leaves
10 slices of galangal
1 stalks of lemon grass, sliced thinly

1/2 Tablespoon Fish Sauce
1 teaspoon lime juice (Thai Lime)
1 teaspoon Thai Chilli Paste (Nam Prik Prao)
2 bird eye's chillies (Chili padi)
2 tablespoons of coconut milk

1/2 Tomato, quartered
Some fresh coriander leaves
Some slices of white onion 
A few stalks of Saw Coriander, chopped
Straw mushrooms
Some spring onions (chopped into an inch length)

A few prawns

Garnish: Fresh Coriander leaves & sliced red chillies

1. Bring key ingredients and fillers to boil.
2. Add seasonings.
3. Add prawns (it is cooked when it turns red - about a minute will do)
4. Serve immediately and garnish with fresh coriander and cut red chillies.

It took about 2-4 minutes to to cook it. It is really simple. Google Tom Yum Recipe and you will find there are many out there. Just remember the key ingredients and be flexible with the rest. Don't bother about the "Saw Coriander" if you can't find it. The three key ingredients are key and they should be fresh, not the dehydrated versions. Adding some coconut milk will add to the taste though the basic bowl of clear Tom Yum soup ("river style") will not need that. 

We also made green curry paste from "scratch", pounding the granite mortar and all. I will blog this (and I did) and the other dishes when I get round to making them back home.  
A bowlful of flavours

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  1. Wow, you are an inspiration to me. I also lost my mum, quite recently in fact, and she was the best cook in my whole family (including uncles and aunties). Unfortunately I didn't have the chance to learn her best recipes before she passed away. So now I'm trying to rediscover them through blogs like yours. You're doing a great job. Thank you.