This is the ULTIMATE recipe for Seafood Tom Yum, a Thai spicy, savoury, tangy and umami soup.
Tom Yum is probably one of the most important and popular soups globally! Spicy, savoury, full of umami, sweet and tangy, Tom Yum hits all of the flavour zones on the palate. I dare say it’s the ultimate crowd pleaser!
How to make the Best Tom Yum?
Good Tom Yum boils down to two components:
1. A Good Stock
2. The Right Herbs and Aromatics
How to Make the Best Shrimp or Prawn Stock?
The most important ingredient in good Tom Yum is the prawn stock! Prawn/shrimp stock is possibly my favourite stock ever – I have a whole page dedicated to making homemade prawn stock.
To make good prawn or shrimp stock, you need lots of prawn heads and shells.
You have to fry the heads and shells until it’s dry, before pouring in the water. I stress on this, because this is how you ensure a tasty stock that is NOT FISHY! Then simply let this steep simmer for about 20 minutes. Use a potato masher or the back of the spatula to squeeze the prawn heads to really get the juicy essences out into the stock. Strain and your stock is ready.
For more information on how to make the best shrimp stock ever, make sure you check out my post on it.
PRO TIP! If you are making the stock specifically for the Tom Yum, then add all of the aromatics WITH the shrimp stock, as it is infusing! It cuts your steps in half. At the end of your stock-making, you’ll have aromatics-infused shrimp stock ready to go! In this recipe, I added the stock separately since I always have a couple containers of it in the freezer good to go for times like this.
Can I use instant stock? Shrimp stock would be best, but you can of course use ready-made stock. I like either chicken or vegetable stock, or dried anchovy or ikan bilis stock. If you can get good seafood stock, that will work too, but in my experience they tend to be too fishy for Tom Yum.
Can I use Water? Sure, but it will taste empty. It will not be as tasty as using stock! Definitely try to use stock.
What are the Main Herbs needed for Tom Yum?
Tom Yum really requires just three key herbs:
- Kaffir Lime Leaves
- Thai Bird’s Eye Chillies: If it were up to me, this would be absolutely essential to Tom Yum. This adds heat and spice to the dish. You can slice the chillies, but I prefer simply mashing it lightly for a more gentle heat to the Tom Yum. I prefer a drinkable soup!
- Coriander or Cilantro: I use coriander here and it works perfectly, BUT if you have access to Culantro (yes that’s the spelling), use that instead. It’s similar in flavour to Cilantro, but is a lot stronger in taste. Culantro is more authentically Thai, but outside of Thailand this herb is unbelievably hard to find. If using this, toss it in at the beginning stage of making Tom Yum with the rest of the aromatics.
- Coriander Roots: I have to use coriander as garnishing, so I love adding the coriander roots as added flavour in the stock. No wastage!
These are optionaI, but it adds a lot to the Tom Yum flavour! You can also add onions and garlic to flavour the Tom Yum even more.
Once the aromatics infuse the stock, they have completed their purpose. I like to remove the aromatics once they are done infusing for easier eating; no one likes biting into them! That said, if you are serving this to yourself – and too lazy to take the extra step of straining the stock – just leave them in. I like to also leave a couple of aromatics in the soup just to make the Tom Yum look more “full”.
Do I Need to Add Nam Prik Pao and/or Tom Yum Paste?
In this recipe, I used Nam Prik Pao. Nam Prik Pao is a roasted Thai chilli paste that is thick, sweet, savoury and spicy. In Thai restaurants, or in Thailand, this is what is added to Tom Yum to give it that extra boost of sweet, spicy and deeply umami flavour.
This is optional! In fact, rustic, authentic Tom Yum does not need any additional paste. An infusion of the aromatics in good broth – that’s all you need for Tom Yum. I’m used to and prefer the flavour of Tom Yum with the added paste, so to me I love adding this for an extra punch of flavour.
I always buy Nam Prik Pao, my favourite brand is Mae Pranom – back when I travelled to Bangkok for work, I would always lug back jars of this stuff! You can also make your own Nam Prik Pao, I have the perfect recipe for it right here. Plus, if you want to read up more on what the heck Nam Prik Pao is, check that post out.
How much you add is up to you… or perhaps your spice tolerance. I generally stick to 2-3 tbsps for 1 litre of stock. However much you add, make sure to adjust the added seasonings, that is the salt and sugar, accordingly.
Besides Nam Prik Pao, Tom Yum Paste is sometimes also used. To note, Nam Prik Pao and Tom Yam Paste are two completely different condiments.
Tom Yum paste is easily available in supermarkets, but of course you can make it from scratch! I have a recipe here.
Funnily enough, with Tom Yum paste, you’re suppose to be able to do without the herbs and aromatics infusion… but I find that I do it still! The fresh infusion of the aromatics levels up your Tom Yum, trust me on this.
What Seafood to Use for Tom Yum?
You can use just prawns or shrimps for Tom Yum, and that will be Tom Yum Goong.
In this recipe, I used prawns, squid and some fishballs as well. These tend to be my go-to for Seafood Tom Yum. I like to use fish fillets, but they tend to break apart in the soup so I stick to fishballs.
What if I’m allergic to seafood and prawns altogether? Replace with chicken! Use chicken stock in place of prawn stock, and chicken for proteins. Tom Yum Gai or Chicken Tom Yum is also a popular choice for tom yum soup.
How to Make Creamy Tom Yum?
This is a spicy, clear Tom Yum recipe. If you want a creamy Tom Yum, add evaporated milk! For 1 litre, I would add 1/2 cup of evaporated milk. Add more if you want a creamier, milky Tom Yum.
Evaporated milk is creamier than regular milk, and not thick as heavy cream. If using regular milk, use full fat milk. I’ve tried this with low fat milk before, and it churned out a diluted Tom Yam. The low fat milk also has a tendency to separate.
You can also use coconut milk, but it would not taste like the creamy Tom Yum you have at restaurants. It will still be delicious though! Coconut milk and Thai cuisine, can’t go wrong.
How to Serve Tom Yum Soup
With rice, of course! Rice is the perfect accompaniment to all those bold flavours. I love dunking my spoon of rice into the soup and eating it like that!
You can serve it as is, as a soup. I would definitely lower the spice levels. A bowl of this tangy soup on the side is such a great palate cleanser.
Have leftover Tom Yum soup the next day? Cook some noodles and have Tom Yum Noodles!
More Recipes Like This
If you love this recipe, you might love these too:
- Tom Kha Gai | Thai Coconut Chicken Soup
- Crying Tiger Steak
- Easy Thai Beef Noodles
- Thai Spicy Seafood Dipping Sauce
Seafood Tom Yum SoupCourse: Recipes
1 litre Prawn Stock
2 Lemongrass, bruised
5-6 makrut lime leaves
1 inch Galangal, sliced thinly
1-2 Coriander Roots (optional)
2-3 Thai Bird’s Eye Chillies, lightly mashed
2-3 tbsps Nam Prik Pao
100g or 5 Fishballs
1 small Squid
1 loose cup Mushrooms
1 tbsp Fish Sauce, or to taste
1 tsp Sugar, or to taste
2-3 tbsps Lime Juice, or to taste
2-3 stalks of Coriander
- Pour prawn stock in a pot, and add the bruised lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, bird’s eye chillies and coriander roots. To see how to prepare these ingredients, make sure to watch the video. Let the stock come up to a boil, before lowering the heat to a gentle simmer. Let this simmer to infuse for about 15 minutes or so – or as long as you can!
- Once infused, remove all of the aromatics from the stock.
- Stir in the nam prik pao (or tom yum paste) until incorporated with the stock.
- Add seafood of choice: the prawns, fishballs and squid.
- Add mushrooms and season with fish sauce and sugar. Stir to combine and let the seafood and mushrooms cook.
- Once cooked, immediately turn off the heat. Add lime juice with the heat turned off. Stir to combine, and make sure to always taste test before serving. Add more lime juice, fish sauce or sugar to taste if needed.
- Garnish with coriander and serve!