Canh Chua Tom Recipe (Vietnamese Shrimp Soup)

Canh Chua Tom Recipe (Vietnamese Shrimp Soup) Recipe

Canh chua tôm literally translates to "sour shrimp soup" in Vietnamese. The name and the flavor come from the combination of kaffir lime leaves, tamarind and pineapple. A hint of spiciness from Thai chiles makes the soup especially soothing. I've been a bit under the weather the past few days and the warm broth worked wonders on my congestion.

There are many variations of this seafood recipe. In this particular version, I mixed oyster mushrooms and fresh water chestnuts, which added crunch to the soup. I served it as a main course, so I added rice round noodles to make the meal complete. If you decide to serve it at an Asian-themed dinner, this canh (soup) is a light way to start a meal.


Yields: 8 servings

3 stalks lemongrass
4 kaffir lime leaves, torn into thirds
1 quart fish stock
2 teaspoons salt, to taste
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons Tom-Yum paste, or store-bought
2 stalks celery, peeled and cut on the bias
1 (8.25-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
3 tablespoons tamarind powder
3 tablespoons freshly grated palm sugar, to taste
2 ripe grape tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 cups bean sprouts
6 ounces water chestnuts
2 dozen oyster mushrooms, quartered
1 red Thai bird chile, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
10 ounces raw medium shrimp, thawed
1-½ teaspoons black peppercorns
1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped


Prepping the lemongrass: Wash the lemongrass. Remove all the white powder from the leaves. Cut the stalks into thirds. Crush and bruise the younger part with the back of a chef's knife (or a meat hammer) and set it aside.

How to cook water chestnuts: Wash the chestnuts in cold water and then soak them in lukewarm water for about 30 minutes. With a paring knife, make a small criss-cross cut at the root of each water chestnut. Make sure the incision is not too deep so as not to cut the flesh of the chestnut. Place the chestnuts in a pot and cover them with water. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for 30 minutes.
 Allow to cool. As soon as they are not too hot to handle, shell the water chestnuts, then slice them and cut the slices in half.

Prepping the canh chua broth:

In a 5-quart stockpot, bring 1-¼ quarts of water and the fish stock to a boil. Add the kaffir lime leaves, crushed pineapple and lemongrass stalks. Cook for 30 minutes. Strain in a sieve. Discard the solids. Pour the broth back into the pot.

Check the sourness of the broth. Add the tamarind powder. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add salt. Taste again. Finish with about 2 tablespoons of palm sugar (if necessary). The secret is to balance the sweetness and the saltiness. Be sure not to over-salt! Add the water chestnuts, celery and tomatoes. Cook for about 5 minutes. Set aside.

For the shrimp: Remove and discard the head of the shrimp if it's still attached. Carefully shell and de-vein the black part of the shrimp using a sharp hook-like paring knife. Make sure to remove the tip of the tail as well, this part is very delicate. Rinse the shrimp under cold running water and pat dry using a paper towel. There should be as little water as possible. Repeat the same procedure for each shrimp. This step is tedious but essential for good results. Add the chopped red Thai chiles, 1 clove of garlic and 1 teaspoon to the shrimp. Mix well.

Assembly time:

In a small pan, heat 2 teaspoons of oil and add one clove of garlic. Cook until fragrant. Add the oyster mushrooms. Cook for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

In the same pan, add the rest of the oil and the shallots and cook until caramelized. Transfer the shallots to the broth, leaving as much oil as possible in the pan.

Add the remaining garlic to the pan. Cook until slightly golden. Make sure the pan in hot, then add the shrimp. Stir fry for about 2 minutes. Do not over-cook as the shrimp will finish cooking in the broth. Sprinkle with black pepper. Add the tom yum paste (click on the link for the recipe) and about a ladle or two of broth. Turn off the heat.

Bring the broth from the main pot back to a boil, then add the mushrooms and shrimp. Add the bean sprouts and cilantro. Cover and let simmer for 5 minutes.

The broth should be fragrant and properly seasoned.

Accompany the soup with a bowl of pre-boiled rice noodles or steamed jasmine rice.

Serve immediately.

Bon appétit!


The broth should be made in 3 steps in this order: sour, salt and sweet. It's very important that you taste the broth at every single step to ensure a balance of flavors.

We're very lucky to get kaffir lime leaves from our garden. They're very useful and smell so nice. If you have the space to plant a kaffir lime tree, go for it; it's a good investment if you're into Asian cooking.

You can find lemongrass in any Asian market. Lemongrass is sold in bunches of 5 stalks, so plan other dishes using lemongrass. You could also finely chop the remaining lemongrass and store in the freezer by placing a few tablespoons in an ice-cube tray.

You can find fresh water chestnuts in most Asian markets. You could also use the canned version.

The addition of caramelized shallots to the broth prevents the soup from being tanh ("fishy") when the shrimp is added. It's a trick when cooking seafood or meat in broth.

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on September 22, 2011.


comments powered by Disqus

Order my latest book:
Banh Mi

Related Posts


Recent Posts

15 Fall Dessert Recipes for Dinner Parties
15 Fall Dessert Recipes for Dinner Parties
Soyrizo Mushroom Patties
Soyrizo Mushroom Patties
Mango Salsa Appetizers
Mango Salsa Appetizers
Turkey Noodle Stir Fry Recipe
Turkey Noodle Stir Fry Recipe