Tom yum gai

MasterChef Australia auditions. My Day 2 dish: Tom yum gai. Cooked from scratch in kitchen stadium…well, the Perth Convention Centre… For the second day of auditions, we had access to a stovetop and oven, and we had 40-ish minutes to prepare a dish that would wow the judges.

Knowing I would probably have an attack of the nerves, I made an old faithful: tom yum gai, a Thai hot and sour soup with chicken. Tom yum goong, which is probably more popular, is the same dish with prawns in place of the chicken. The picture below shows the soup with panfried Atlantic salmon. I cook tom yum every 4-6 weeks, and this is my favourite combination yet.

an unbelievably good combination: tom yum with seared Atlantic salmon that I added to the soup with my chopstocks in torn-off morsels

Recipe #39: Tom yum. Serves 4.

You will need:
• 1 tbsp olive oil
• 1 tbsp sesame oil
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly smashed
• 6-8 kaffir lime leaves, torn
• 2 sticks lemongrass, bruised and cut into 2-3cm pieces
• a 4cm piece of ginger or galangal
• 2 tbsp palm sugar
• 3 tbsp mirin (rice wine vinegar)
• 1 small bunch coriander, leaves separated from stalks & roots
• 1 large red chilli, sliced finely (keep the seeds in)
• 1 juicy lime, halved
• 6 tsp fish sauce
• ~600g chicken breast, diced [you can substitute with the meat of your choice — prawns and fish work well]
• 1 tomato, cut into 8 wedges
• 1 Massel chicken stock cube [or you can use liquid stock — fish, vegetable or chicken]
• 1 bunch broccolini, cut into small pieces [or you can substitute with another green vegetable]
• 1 large carrot, sliced very thinly
• 1 small tin bamboo shoots, cut into thin strips
• 1 tin straw mushrooms
• ½ tsp ngapi or belachan (shrimp paste)
• 4 spring onions (eschallots), sliced thinly on the diagonal
• 1 small bunch basil, roughly torn

the raw ingredients

I start by pouring the oils into a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Once heated, add the garlic, lime leaves, lemongrass, ginger, palm sugar, mirin, coriander stalks/roots, chilli, the juice of ½ the lime and 3 tsp of the fish sauce. Cook until the palm sugar is melted and the aromas are released, then add the meat. Poach this in the pot for a few minutes, then turn each piece over and add the tomato. Cook until the tomato begins to disintegrate (3-5 minutes), then crumble in the stock cube and pour in 4 cups water (or 2 cups liquid stock + 2 cups water). Bring to the boil.

Now for the vegies. Add them all at once — the greens, carrot, straw mushrooms and bamboo shoots — and cook for a further minute. Stir in the shrimp paste and add the rest of the fish sauce, then it’s done. Remove the coriander stalks/roots. Note that it should look brothy, with lots of bits in it — not like a runny stew.

pictured again with the Atlantic salmon; I want a bowl of these strong, clean flavours right now

When serving, place a generous pinch of spring onions, coriander leaves and basil in the bottom of each bowl, then ladle the soup in, ensuring there is a decent amount of broth. Always serve with a side plate, for all the ‘inedibles’. I love to suck the concentrated flavour out of the lemongrass and ginger pieces before I discard them.

Creating this dish for my preferences got me into trouble at the audition. For example, I prefer ginger to galangal, chicken breast to thigh, whole lime leaves added at the start vs shredded lime leaves added at the very end. This is a cleansing dish for me, and one that improves markedly by the next day — when the leftovers are just begging to be eaten.

Here, as for my first audition dish, I matched the food with:

  • wine — Alsace Gewurtztraminer; and
  • music — “Ta Douleur” by Camille (French experimental a capella music).



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