Tom Yum Soup (Tom Yum Goong)

This Tom Yum Soup with Shrimp, or tom yum goong, is surprisingly easy to make, as long as you can find a few key ingredients, like Thai chilies, lemongrass, lime leaves, and fish sauce.  It’s tart and tangy, with an incredible shrimp flavor that you get from frying the shrimp shells and making a quick stock out of it! This isn’t necessarily a traditional Thai technique, but I think it adds a ton of flavor and richness to the broth.  What Is Tom Yum Soup? Tom yum soup is a sour Thai soup. It is usually cooked with shrimp, which is called “Tom Yum Goong,” or tom yum soup with shrimp. That’s what we’re making today!  Fragrant herbs and aromatics flavor the broth, including galangal, lemongrass, makrut (AKA kaffir) lime leaves, and Thai bird’s eye chilies.  Thai chili paste, which has shrimp paste in it, may also be added to shrimp-based versions of the soup (I list it as optional, as it isn’t always added). Fish sauce adds saltiness and umami, and you also add fresh lime juice after cooking to preserve its fresh tart flavor.  Note: While the herbs are usually served with the soup, they are generally not meant to be consumed. If you like, you can remove them before serving. I include this optional step in the recipe instructions.  There are many variations of tom yum soup, including tom yum gai (with chicken), tom yum po taek (with mixed seafood), and “creamy versions” made with added coconut milk.  This recipe is for a Tom Yum Goong with a clear broth and lots of fresh flavors. To see how this dish is made in Thailand, check out this Tom Yum Soup video by Mark Wiens (an intrepid traveler, spicy food lover, and YouTuber who covers street food across Asia).  While we can’t always travel to these places, we can travel through the food we make in our kitchens!  Notes on Special Ingredients:  You will need some specialty ingredients to pull off this recipe. Let’s talk about each in turn:  Lemongrass: Lemongrass is becoming a more commonly available ingredient these days, even in some large supermarkets. I can reliably find it fresh in Chinese grocery stores here in the Northeast, usually sold in bundles of 3 or 4 stalks. Ideally, they’ll have bright pale yellow-green stems without too many brown spots or dried bits. Don’t worry about using all of the lemongrass you buy at once. You can peel it (the dry, tough outer layers), cut it into smaller lengths, and freeze it for later use.  Thai Bird’s Eye Chilies: These spicy little chili peppers come in both red and green, and they are relatively easy to get at Asian markets in our experience. They do generally come in large packs, so freeze whatever you don’t use. We freeze them whole and take them out as needed.  Makrut lime leaves (also known as kaffir lime leaves): These are dark green smooth leaves that have a distinct citrus fragrance. You’ll need a small handful of leaves to make this soup. While I have seen fresh lime leaves in some large Chinese grocery stores, this is a rarer ingredient to find. If you can buy them fresh, great! Use them in this recipe, and store the rest in the freezer for later. I actually buy these already frozen from our local Asian market. Note that we use the term “makrut” lime leaves rather than “kaffir,” because the term may be offensive to some people (read our Makrut Lime Leaf entry in our Ingredients Glossary to find out why). Galangal: Finding fresh galangal can also be hit or miss. But you may also be more likely to find it in the freezer section of your Asian grocery store. Store any unused galangal in the freezer. (You can slice it before storing as well, so you can just take out a few discs whenever you need it). Note that it may also be labeled “galanga.” Thai Chili Paste (Nam Prik Pao): Thai chili paste is made from fried chilies, garlic, shallots, shrimp paste, and sugar. I would say it’s sweeter than it is spicy, and balances out the tart and spicy flavors of the soup while adding an extra oomph of shrimp flavor. You can find it in the condiment section of a well-stocked Asian market. Look for it near other southeast Asian ingredients like shrimp paste, laksa paste, etc.  Fish Sauce: Fish sauce is a fairly common ingredient nowadays. Made from salted fermented fish, some say it smells unpleasant, but it goes a long way to adding savoriness to this soup (as well as salt, which is why we don’t season the soup with additional salt). We like the Red Boat brand if you can find it!  Whole Shrimp: I call for using whole head-on shrimp in this recipe for the best results, as the heads have a lot of flavor. However, if you’re not comfortable handling whole shrimp or can’t get them, you can also use shell-on shrimp, and just use the shells to make the stock. The shrimp flavor will just be less intense.  As you can see above, we talk a lot about freezing aromatic ingredients. Find out more about how to freeze ingredients so they don’t go to waste (and so you always have them on hand).  Frozen makrut lime

Tom Yum Soup (Tom Yum Goong)

This Tom Yum Soup with Shrimp, or tom yum goong, is surprisingly easy to make, as long as you can find a few key ingredients, like Thai chilies, lemongrass, lime leaves, and fish sauce. 

It’s tart and tangy, with an incredible shrimp flavor that you get from frying the shrimp shells and making a quick stock out of it! This isn’t necessarily a traditional Thai technique, but I think it adds a ton of flavor and richness to the broth. 

What Is Tom Yum Soup?

Tom yum soup is a sour Thai soup. It is usually cooked with shrimp, which is called “Tom Yum Goong,” or tom yum soup with shrimp. That’s what we’re making today! 

Fragrant herbs and aromatics flavor the broth, including galangal, lemongrass, makrut (AKA kaffir) lime leaves, and Thai bird’s eye chilies. 

Thai chili paste, which has shrimp paste in it, may also be added to shrimp-based versions of the soup (I list it as optional, as it isn’t always added). Fish sauce adds saltiness and umami, and you also add fresh lime juice after cooking to preserve its fresh tart flavor. 

Note:

While the herbs are usually served with the soup, they are generally not meant to be consumed. If you like, you can remove them before serving. I include this optional step in the recipe instructions. 

There are many variations of tom yum soup, including tom yum gai (with chicken), tom yum po taek (with mixed seafood), and “creamy versions” made with added coconut milk. 

This recipe is for a Tom Yum Goong with a clear broth and lots of fresh flavors. To see how this dish is made in Thailand, check out this Tom Yum Soup video by Mark Wiens (an intrepid traveler, spicy food lover, and YouTuber who covers street food across Asia). 

Picking up shrimp with a spoon from a bowl of tom yum soup

While we can’t always travel to these places, we can travel through the food we make in our kitchens! 

Notes on Special Ingredients: 

You will need some specialty ingredients to pull off this recipe.

Tom Yum Soup Ingredients

Let’s talk about each in turn: 

  • Lemongrass: Lemongrass is becoming a more commonly available ingredient these days, even in some large supermarkets. I can reliably find it fresh in Chinese grocery stores here in the Northeast, usually sold in bundles of 3 or 4 stalks. Ideally, they’ll have bright pale yellow-green stems without too many brown spots or dried bits. Don’t worry about using all of the lemongrass you buy at once. You can peel it (the dry, tough outer layers), cut it into smaller lengths, and freeze it for later use. 
  • Thai Bird’s Eye Chilies: These spicy little chili peppers come in both red and green, and they are relatively easy to get at Asian markets in our experience. They do generally come in large packs, so freeze whatever you don’t use. We freeze them whole and take them out as needed. 
  • Makrut lime leaves (also known as kaffir lime leaves): These are dark green smooth leaves that have a distinct citrus fragrance. You’ll need a small handful of leaves to make this soup. While I have seen fresh lime leaves in some large Chinese grocery stores, this is a rarer ingredient to find. If you can buy them fresh, great! Use them in this recipe, and store the rest in the freezer for later. I actually buy these already frozen from our local Asian market. Note that we use the term “makrut” lime leaves rather than “kaffir,” because the term may be offensive to some people (read our Makrut Lime Leaf entry in our Ingredients Glossary to find out why).
  • Galangal: Finding fresh galangal can also be hit or miss. But you may also be more likely to find it in the freezer section of your Asian grocery store. Store any unused galangal in the freezer. (You can slice it before storing as well, so you can just take out a few discs whenever you need it). Note that it may also be labeled “galanga.”
  • Thai Chili Paste (Nam Prik Pao): Thai chili paste is made from fried chilies, garlic, shallots, shrimp paste, and sugar. I would say it’s sweeter than it is spicy, and balances out the tart and spicy flavors of the soup while adding an extra oomph of shrimp flavor. You can find it in the condiment section of a well-stocked Asian market. Look for it near other southeast Asian ingredients like shrimp paste, laksa paste, etc. 
  • Fish Sauce: Fish sauce is a fairly common ingredient nowadays. Made from salted fermented fish, some say it smells unpleasant, but it goes a long way to adding savoriness to this soup (as well as salt, which is why we don’t season the soup with additional salt). We like the Red Boat brand if you can find it! 
  • Whole Shrimp: I call for using whole head-on shrimp in this recipe for the best results, as the heads have a lot of flavor. However, if you’re not comfortable handling whole shrimp or can’t get them, you can also use shell-on shrimp, and just use the shells to make the stock. The shrimp flavor will just be less intense. 

As you can see above, we talk a lot about freezing aromatic ingredients. Find out more about how to freeze ingredients so they don’t go to waste (and so you always have them on hand). 

Box of frozen makrut (kaffir) lime leaves
Frozen makrut lime leaves. If you can find fresh lime leaves, you can also freeze them for later use.
Package of frozen galangal
A package of frozen galangal.

Ok, on to the recipe! 

Tom Yum Soup Recipe Instructions

Peel the shrimp and remove the heads. Reserve the meat and the shells separately. 

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in your wok over medium high heat, and add the shrimp shells.

Shrimp shells in hot wok

Stir-fry for 1-2 minutes, until the shells turn a bright and deep orange.

Cooked shrimp shells in wok

Add 3 cups of water, and bring to a simmer.

Water added to shrimp shells to make stock in a wok

Cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the shells from the stock using a strainer.

Removing shells from broth using a strainer

Add the chicken stock. 

Adding chicken stock to shrimp stock

Take the lemongrass, and trim away the dry reedy bit about halfway up the stalk, and then trim the base. Peel the tough outer layers away to reveal the more tender center. Smash the lemon grass using a mallet or heavy rolling pin (one without handles). 

Cut the smashed lemongrass stalk into 2-inch (5 cm) lengths, and add it to the broth in the wok. Also add the shallots, cilantro stem, galangal, lime leaves, and thai chilies. 

Lemongrass, lime leaves, chilies, shallots, galangal, and cilantro stem in broth

Bring to a simmer, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, you can remove the inedible herbs and aromatics from the pot using a fine-meshed strainer. However, we like to leave them in, as is traditional in Thailand. 

Add the mushrooms, and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Adding mushrooms to tom yum soup

Stir in the sugar, Thai chili paste and fish sauce. Stir until the chili paste has fully dissolved in the soup. 

Finally, add the shrimp. Simmer for 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on their size, until they’re just cooked through. 

Adding shrimp to tom yum soup

Add the lime juice to your serving bowl, and ladle the hot tom yum soup into the bowl. (You don’t want to cook the lime juice, but preserve its fresh flavor. You also want to avoid putting large amounts of acidic lime juice into your wok, which can wear away the patina). 

Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve immediately. 

Bowl of Tom Yum Goong
Spoon in bowl of tom yum soup with shrimp

5 from 1 vote

Tom Yum Soup

This Tom Yum Soup with Shrimp, or tom yum goong, is surprisingly easy to make with a few key ingredients like Thai chilies, lemongrass, lime leaves, and fish sauce. 

Tom Yum Soup with Shrimp

serves: 2

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Peel the shrimp and remove the heads. Reserve the meat and the shells separately.

  • Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in your wok over medium high heat, and add the shrimp shells. Stir-fry for 1-2 minutes, until the shells turn a bright and deep orange. Add 3 cups of water, and bring to a simmer. Cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the shells from the stock using a strainer, and add the chicken stock.

  • Take the lemongrass, and trim away the dry reedy bit about halfway up the stalk, and then trim the base. Peel the tough outer layers away to reveal the more tender center. Smash the lemon grass using a mallet or heavy rolling pin (one without handles).

  • Cut the smashed lemongrass stalk into 2-inch (5 cm) lengths, and add it to the broth in the wok. Also add the shallots, cilantro stem, galangal, lime leaves, and thai chilies.

  • Bring to a simmer, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, you can remove the inedible herbs and aromatics from the pot using a fine-meshed strainer, but we like to leave them in, as is traditional in Thailand.

  • Add the mushrooms, and simmer for another 5 minutes. Stir in the sugar, Thai chili paste and fish sauce. Stir until the chili paste has fully dissolved in the soup.

  • Finally, add the shrimp, and simmer for 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on their size, until they’re just cooked through.

  • Add the lime juice to your serving bowl, and ladle the hot tom yum soup into the bowl. (You don’t want to cook the lime juice. You want to preserve its fresh flavor. You also want to avoid putting large amounts of acidic lime juice into your wok, which can wear away the patina).

  • Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve immediately.

nutrition facts

Calories: 156kcal (8%) Carbohydrates: 18g (6%) Protein: 19g (38%) Fat: 1g (2%) Saturated Fat: 1g (5%) Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g Monounsaturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 143mg (48%) Sodium: 1397mg (58%) Potassium: 630mg (18%) Fiber: 3g (12%) Sugar: 7g (8%) Vitamin A: 278IU (6%) Vitamin C: 14mg (17%) Calcium: 104mg (10%) Iron: 2mg (11%)