St Ives Beer Festival 2011

This evening I went to a local CAMRA beer festival. It cost me £3 to get in, and another £2.50 to ‘rent’ a glass (but you can keep it if you don’t want your money back), but since I said “I’m the designated driver” I had free non-alcoholic drinks free all night. Nothing fancy, just lemonade or cola, but at least there’s some benefit to being the driver, for a change.

I always have a go on the tombola, there’s always one at these events, and usually I end up winning another pint glass (which is always useful), some beermats or a useless old Good Beer Guide. This time I won a Good Beer Guide 2010 (last time the one I won was about 5 years out-of-date), which I proceeded to give away to a friend as soon as I saw him. I also won a recipe book, which although I would never have bought if I saw it in the shop, I’m actually very happy I won it.

From a quick skim through, it’s not all about drowning good food in bitter, it looks to be an all-round recipe book, with only the occasional recipe calling for a ale as a main ingredient. Many of the recipes say the dish ‘accompanies’ a good beer, as opposed to containing it within the recipe.

I’m not a drinker (out of choice), but I’m not adverse to cooking with alcohol if a recipe calls for it, so I may try one of the recipes soon.

Tom Yum Gai

Tom Yum Gai

A type of food we love is Thai.  It’s quite a lot different from other Asian cuisines popular in the UK because there’s a lot more variation in tastes and flavours, which makes them extremely fragrant and colourful.  Thai curries and soups are pretty much the only thing I can cook pretty well without looking at the recipe every step of the way.  Something we cook regularly is Tom Yum Gai, a spicy chicken soup with a fragrant citrusy taste.

As we’ve eaten this in a lot of restaurants as well as cooking it with many tweaks, we’re constantly varying the ingredients and quantities based on the flavours and textures we fancy at the time, but I’ll describe the most common version we make, with some notes of tweaks you might want to try.

The recipe we based ours on is from Temple of Thai, which is a wonderful site for anyone keen on cooking thai dishes.


Serves 2 as a main course, 3-4 as a starter

  • 750ml of chicken stock – Works just as well using stock cubes
  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 1 stick of lemongrass – For your own sanity, cut it into large chunks, crush them a little to bring out some of the juices, especially if you’ve got the slightly dry ones from a supermarket
  • 4-5 Kaffir lime leaves – These give a surprising amount to the fragrance of the soup
  • About an inch of Galangal slices – This is somewhat optional, but improves the flavour a little.  You can also use the paste if you can’t find fresh/dried slices
  • 4 tablespoons of lime juice – 2 limes should do it if you squeeze/press the lime before juicing
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 100g mushrooms (either sliced or quartered) – We put more because mushrooms are great in the soup.  I like button mushrooms but chestnut/closed cup mushrooms work just as well
  • 400g diced chicken (raw)
  • 2-3 finger/birdseye chillies
  • Halved cherry tomatoes – 6-8 is a good number, but the quantity is just a preference

Now, for some optional extras:

  • Shallots – Add at the second phase of cooking (along with the tomatoes) to stop them going too soft.  I’d suggest getting the longer ‘french’ variety rather than the small round ones.
  • Spring onion – Add at the second phase or at the end of cooking.  One thing to note is that it can get confusing to notice which bits are spring onion and which are lemongrass.
  • Whole/halved garlic cloves – Adds a little bit of flavour, but they go nice and soft and mild
  • Yellow sweet pepper (paprika) – adds to the colour of the dish and should be added in the second phase along with the tomatoes
  • Pak Choi (chinese cabbage) – It’s good in thai curries and isn’t too bad in this soup either, but this will wilt quite easily, so add it late to the cooking process

The process

There are 2 simple phases to cooking this soup.  The first involves boiling the chicken stock and adding the chicken, as well as all of the ingredients other than the tomatoes and chillies, then simmering for 10 minutes.  Then add the other ingredients (vegetables that don’t need much boiling) and simmer for another 5 minutes.  The recipe says to simmer without a lid, but the choice is yours.

Tom Yum GaiTom Yum Gai

That’s it, very simple… throw it all into a pot and leave it.  If you cook some Jasmine rice at the same time, it adds a great texture and makes the soup more substantial if you’re having it as a main course, as we usually do.  Just put some in the bowl before you dish out the soup.