Tom Yam Cray – An Aussie Asian Classic

This dish is a natural follow-up from the cook-up of a cray or a mud crab or prawns. It’s not the sort of dish I’d make from scratch, without the fun of the night before. It does make for a classic dinner party opener, a natural partner for sparkling wine.

The classic Thai soup, Tom Yam, is pretty much a broth of chicken or shellfish, given heat with chillies, acid flavour from lemon grass and lime, and extra flavour with fermented fish sauce and garlic and coriander and chilli paste and the like. Then come the variations: should you add coconut milk, or sugar or palm sugar, for a little sweetness, or chicken, or mushrooms, or basically whatever’s around, fresh, and suits your palate?

I reckon if you start with a stock made from crayfish shells, you’re several lengths ahead of the field. A ripping stock eliminates the need for the added fish sauce. It also means you can control the background of the dish, while adding your own personality to the front.

If you want to make a soup like this without a stock, then fish sauce and chilli paste and the like are reasonable approximations. In the end, any great soup is given lengths of value from the effort that goes into its stock. This soup needs length, value-added sweetness and the sourness that comes from limes and lemons and lemon grass, and that wonderful aroma that comes from bruised and just-heated coriander. This is not a Tom Yam from Thailand. It’s my interpretation. Make your own choices of what flavours you want to come through. It’s up to you, and your cupboard. Remember, the underlying sweetness of the cray stock will dominate. The rest are for other spots on the palate.


2 L vegetable stock

1 crayfish, cooked

4 chillies, roughly chopped

black pepper

zest of 2 lemons or limes

lemon grass, chopped roughly



Make up several litres of vegetable stock. Tear all the flesh from the cray shell (if you have not eaten it for last night’s dinner) and cut up the shells into little pieces. Place the chopped up shell in a pot with the vegetable stock. Add the chopped chilli, black pepper, the lemon or lime zest and some chopped lemon grass. In my view, the sourness and the underlying heat comes through better if added as a flavourer of the stock, rather than an addition at the end. It gives the end result much more length. If you’re in doubt about the heat of the chillies, take a bite before they go into the pot. It’s fun.


Cook gently for about 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, letting all the flavours take hold (this is done beautifully in half the time in the pressure cooker). The stock should reduce to about a litre. Check for salt.


When the stock has reduced and fulfilled all its flavour opportunities, strain (through a clean Chux or equivalent) and set aside.


12 mushrooms, peeled and stalked – You can use dried mushrooms if you wish.

3 baby carrots, sliced finely like matchsticks

½ cup of port

zest of 1 lime

juice of 2 limes

juice of 1 lemon

2 cups shelled peas

handful of prawns or leftover crayfish (optional)

1 leek, sliced finely like matchsticks

handful of coriander leaves

handful of chives, chopped finely


lf you are using fresh mushrooms, cook them on their backs in the microwave for 15-20 minutes on high, to remove much of their moisture.


Gently cook the carrot and the mushrooms with the port, the lime zest and a quarter of the citrus juices, until 95 per cent of the port and the juices have been cooked off, or drawn in by the carrots and the mushrooms. The idea here is to give a sweetness to the end result. In the last minute or so, add the peas. Set aside and keep warm.


If you are feeling particularly flamboyant, get hold of a handful of green prawns and cook them in the stock, gently, keeping them underdone. Add the remainder of the citrus juices to the stock, and bring it all together.


Into shallow bowls, place the leek, coriander, chives, carrot and mushroom mix and whatever else you feel like, remembering to maintain that mix of sweet and sour. Add the prawns or crayfish, and cover with the stock. Remember, you don’t really need the cray meat or the prawns to enjoy this wonderful mix of summer flavours. It’s pure indulgence!

WINE: There’s only one drink to take with this dish: the best bubbly. The bubbles and the forward chardonnay fruit open the palate for the joys to come from the soup. So, slurp, sip, slurp, sip. It’s delicious.