A fresh fish on a grid surrounded by lemon, wild asparagus, a knife and peppercorns. (Photo by: Xavi Talleda/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Food - Drink
Tom Yam Pla: The Spicy Thai Soup That Uses A Whole Fish
One of Thai cuisine’s most unique qualities is the delicate harmony of flavors found in many dishes, with sweet, sour, savory, and spicy coming together as one. If you want to taste a beautiful accord of Thai flavors for yourself, one of the best dishes to try is tom yam pla, a soup made with a whole fish and plenty of quintessential Thai ingredients.
The flavor of tom yam pla depends on the fish used, and while a white fish filet will get the job done, the head and tail of the fish are best included for extra flavor. Aromatics like lemongrass, galangal (a root similar to ginger), and makrut lime leaves help balance out the fish's flavor and add a bright, citrusy sour-sweetness to the broth.
To make tom yam pla, create a stock by briefly marinating whole fish in fish sauce, then combine it with the aromatics and other ingredients like charred tomatoes or chilis for your flavor base. Most of the aromatics are meant to be fished out before serving, so bundle them together with twine so you can scoop them out of the pot later.
Once your soup is finished simmering, serve it with a side of jasmine rice, or pour the soup over a bigger mound of rice for a complete meal. If you want a creamier broth, try adding evaporated milk or coconut milk, and cooks who aren't crazy about a whole fish or can't find one in stores can swap in chicken, pork, or even shrimp.