Tom Yum Goong, or hot and sour soup with shrimp, is one of the most popular Thai dishes. It has never been my favorite, partly owing to quality control, but when done well it is hard to beat. Without high quality shrimp the whole soup sort of falls apart. I had been saving the opportunity to make this dish and today was the day. A friend was coming by in the late afternoon and her only stipulation was no land animals so I decided to load up on seafood. I went for the best, and most expensive shrimp I could find. These fresh, wild caught American prawns were closing in on twenty bucks a pound. I picked up a half a pound. Aren't they gorgeous?
I wanted these particular shrimp for their flesh as much as for their shells. My recipe called for the broth to be mostly flavored by simmering the shells until the broth took on a reddish hue. To accomplish this, not just any old shrimp would do the trick. I know, I have tried using shells to make broth on previous occasions and it just hasn't worked. But this time however, the shells, shrimp brains and fat made the broth surprisingly rich and savory.
Once thoroughly cooked I drained the shells and discarded them. From here it was easy. I added only: two stalks of lemongrass, a couple tablespoons of fish sauce, and a few lime leaves. I added the shrimp and simmered until cooked. I prepared a separate bowl with a handful of bruised chillies, juice of a lime, a little more fish sauce, and a handful of cilantro. When the shrimp was cooked, I poured the soup into the waiting bowl.
It was close to perfect. The broth was salty, sour and hot. It was an exercise in simplicity, but it's an exercise that should only be undertaken if your ingredients are top notch.