My Vietnamese lemongrass coconut seafood soup has a mouthwatering medley of spot prawns, mussels, and clams bathed in an aromatic and rich broth.
With spot prawn season going strong, I’m sharing one of our favorite seafood recipes, Vietnamese lemongrass coconut seafood soup. This was adapted from my mom’s lemongrass coconut prawn noodle soup which I’ll share later. It has three different types of shellfish, spot prawns, mussels, and clams in a fragrant and flavorful broth. We usually make this for lunch after coming home from the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market while the spot prawns are still fresh.
- Lemongrass: much of the lemongrass’s flavor is concentrated in its lower, cane-like stalks. Look for firm, pale-green stalks with fat, bulbous bottoms. Trim off the spiky tops and the bases and crush the stalks with the side of a knife to release their aromatic oils.
- Makrut lime leaves: are used often in Southeast Asian cooking. They are one of the most aromatic herbs and a wonderful addition to many soups, curries, and desserts. We grow our own but you can find them in the fresh herb section at many Asian grocery stores. Look for fresh makrut lime leaves that are dark green, shiny, and without any browning or yellowing.
- Coconut cream: for this recipe use coconut cream, not coconut milk. The flavor you get from coconut cream is much richer. My favorite brands are Savoy and Aroy-d.
- Shellfish stock: I used a basic homemade shellfish stock made from simmering a pound of prawn heads and tails with 4 cloves of garlic, 4 cups of water, and letting the volume reduce by half over 30 minutes. You can double or triple the amount to make what you need. If you don’t have time to make your own stock, get a quality stock from your fishmonger or local supermarket.
- Palm sugar: palm sugar is very popular in Vietnamese cooking. It contains less glucose and has a lower glycemic index compared to regular sugar. If you can’t find palm sugar, you can also substitute with coconut sugar, rock sugar, or light brown sugar.
- Fish sauce: use a quality fish sauce. Some of my favorite brands are Three Crabs, Flying Lion Premium Fish Sauce, and Red Boat Fish Sauce.
Tips for prepping the shellfish
I used spot prawns, mussels, and clams for this recipe but feel free to substitute with some of your favorite shellfish.
- Spot prawns: with live spot prawns you have to work fast or they will spoil. Immediately get them into a cooler or on ice after you purchase them. Avoid putting them in tap water or the chlorine in the water will hasten their death. If you’re not cooking them right away, remove their heads and leave the tail on ice. Freeze the prawn heads if you’re not using them right away. Put the tails on ice, cover them with a cloth and keep them in the fridge for up to two days until you’re ready to cook. Spot prawns have an enzyme in their brain that starts spreading as soon as they die and turns the flesh soft and mushy. Before cooking, simply give them a quick rinse in water and let them dry on a few sheets of paper towel.
- Clams: I usually buy manila clams or littleneck clams. It’s important to use fresh live clams for the best taste. Pick clams with shells tightly closed. If the shells are open, give them a quick tap. If they don’t close, discard them. Just before cooking, soak the clams in a large pot of cold water for 30 minutes. Drain well, being sure to remove all sand.
- Mussels: Pick ones that small, black, and glistening and you’ll be rewarded with a sweet, tender, and briny taste. As soon as you get home, rinse them in very cold water which makes their shells shut tightly. Discard any that are open, broken, or cracked. While you’re checking them, remove their beards by gently pulling and twisting at the same time. If you’re not ready to cook them, put the prepped mussels in a dry bowl covered with a damp towel and refrigerate.
Tips for making the soup
- Use the freshest shellfish you can find. They are the heroes of this Vietnamese lemongrass coconut seafood soup.
- Crush the makrut lime leaves and lemongrass with the back of your knife to release their aromatic oils.
- Have all the ingredients measured and ready to go.
- Cook the prawns with shell on to prevent them from shrinking and overcooking.
- Cook the mussels and clams until they open. Discard any clams and mussels that didn't open.
- Taste and adjust your seasoning at the end with additional fish sauce, sugar, or stock.
In 30 minutes you have a steaming pot of Vietnamese lemongrass coconut seafood soup with the most sumptuous spot prawns, mussels, and clams. Peel the prawns with your hands, pick the mussels and clams from the shells, and scoop up the fragrant and rich coconut broth as you pop those delicious morsels in your mouth. My kids love to dunk freshly toasted baguette into the broth along with the shellfish. You can also enjoy the seafood soup with a bowl of jasmine rice. Whatever way you enjoy it, expect a whirlwind of aromas and flavor from this fresh and warming Vietnamese lemongrass coconut seafood soup.
For more seafood inspiration, check these recipes: Vietnamese tamarind prawns, Vietnamese prawn and sweet potato fritters, Vietnamese lemongrass beer steamed clams.
Vietnamese lemongrass coconut seafood soup
- 1 pound spot prawns
- 1 pound clams
- 1 pound mussels
- 2 stalks of lemongrass, pale inner green core, cut into 2 inch batons and crushed
- 5 makrut lime leaves, crushed with the back of a knife
- 1 1-inch ginger knobs, smashed
- 2 shallots, chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsps tomato paste
- 2 cups shellfish stock / fish stock
- 1 can coconut cream, 14 ounces
- 2 ounces palm sugar
- 2 tbsps fish sauce
- ¼ cup cilantro, chopped for serving
- Heat oil in a large nonstick saucepan over medium heat.
- Add lemongrass, lime leaves, ginger, shallot, and garlic and cook until they become fragrant and soft, about 3 minutes.
- Add tomato paste, shellfish stock, coconut milk, fish sauce, and palm sugar and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Put the prawns in the pan and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the mussels and clams and cook for 3 minutes with the pan covered and until the shellfish have opened. Discard any clams and mussels that didn't open.
- Taste the broth and and adjust with additional fish sauce, sugar, or stock to your taste.
- Transfer the seafood to serving bowls, ladle the soup in the bowl, garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.
Hello! Just stumbled upon your incredible page and am drooling over your pictures and recipes. *bookmarked*
I am about to try this recipe with a few adjustments based upon what we have available. I would like to know, flavor-wise if ginger is essential to the recipe or if it is subbed for galangal? I have both and am accustomed to the chillies/makrut lime leaves/galangal/garlic/lemongrass flavors of Thai cooking, such as in Tom Yum soup... curious to try this combination with the ginger and tomato paste but wondering if you used the ginger just because it's easier to find in the west or if that is what gives the authentic flavor profile to this soup...? I am making this with prawns, clams and scallops. Also potatoes. And I may put some mushrooms in there too, and maybe a little tiny bit of red curry paste.
So thrilled to find this recipe and to try something new. Thank you for sharing!
Hi Anna! We use ginger a lot in Vietnamese cooking as compared to galangal so it's definitely not a substitute. It gives it a gentle heat however I would say the ginger is not as essential as the lemongrass. If you skip the ginger it will still taste good. The potatoes and definitely mushrooms would work in this soup but I wouldn't put too much as the stars of the soup are the seafood. And a little red curry paste won't hurt either. I hope the recipe works!
I made the soup with ginger as your recipe goes and it was delicious! I had never used ginger in combination with lemongrass and makrut lime leaves but it was nice and definitely different from the Tom Yum-style flavors. I'll make Tom Yum separate another time. The potatoes and mushrooms (our home-canned summer chanterelles) gave the soup a bit more girth and we had it with a crusty baguette as a dinner. The broth is/was incredible! I would add some chilies to make it spicy, but my mother-in-law appreciated the no-heat in this one (I used such a tiny amount of curry paste you couldn't really taste it, and I minced about 1/4 of a seedless chili with the garlic, yet still no detectable heat).
My sincere thanks for the input and sharing your recipes (your pictures, stories and descriptions are great!). I have not yet been to visit Viet Nam, nor have I experienced Vietnamese food at restaurants (I live in rural Oregon), so it's all quite new to me. Wish we could get head-on prawns here! I'd like to grow a makrut lime plant or two or five and some lemongrass too. Right now I'm just using the frozen stuff from our small local Asian market.
So glad to discover your blog, I look forward to learning more about Vietnamese food and flavors from you! 🙂
Excited to try more of your recipes too.
Again, thank you! <3
Hi Anna! I'm so glad you and your family enjoyed the soup. Your canned chanterelles sound delicious! Our kids love seafood soup so we make it non-spicy for them and add the chili in when we eat it. We grow our own bird eye's chilies that are really hot so you only need to add a couple slices to the soup and can taste the spiciness right away. We also grown out own lemongrass, lime, and ginger. If you make it to Portland or another big city, check the nurseries there to see if they have lemongrass and makrut lime plants that you can buy. I've also seen them sold online. The flavors the fresh lemongrass and makrut lime have on your recipes make a big difference. As for the head on prawns, you can find them frozen at the Asian grocery stores. We use both frozen ones when we can't find fresh ones. Please feel free to email me any questions you have about the recipes here or Vietnamese food. I'm more than happy to answer if I know. Thank you for trying this recipe and your detailed feedback!
It's nice to see another cook that uses Savoy coconut cream. IMHO the best coconut cream on the market. That being said I love your recipe here. I grew up in Thailand and had soups like this all through growing up. Thanks for sharing yours.
Hi Don! I'm so happy to hear you enjoyed the soup! We love Savoy and use it a lot for cooking and desserts. I grew up in Vietnam with a coconut tree in our yard and we had an abundance of coconuts. My mom often used the coconuts to make fresh coconut milk which makes the best dessert!
We've been to Vietnam 3 times and discovered that even though we love Thai and Korean dishes,
NOTHING gets close to Vietnamese food. Anthony Bourdain ate his way around the world and
actually said that Vietnamese was by far his favorite.
This soup is as expected. Phenomenal!
hi Eric! That's impressive you've been to Vietnam three times! I grew up eating and cooking Vietnamese food and still am learning about a lot of Vietnamese food and ingredients especially less well known recipes. The influences from French, China, Thailand, and surrounding countries definitely add to the uniqueness of Vietnamese food. If I remember correctly, Anthony Bourdain said he wouldn't mind retiring in Vietnam. Thank you for trying the recipe. I'm glad you liked it!
It turned out delicious! I also added some scallops and they were perfect with the broth.
Alisha C Nguyen
A Vietnamese recipe that doesn't involve slaving for hours in the kitchen! This can definitely be made on a weekday, just pick up some fresh seafood on the way home from work. Unfortunately I live very far away from any Asian stores. But I relied on a few hacks, like always having a tube of lemongrass and shrimp in my freezer, a bag of dried kaffir lime leaves in the pantry. We added scallops like another commentor suggested. Making the seafood broth is easy and so worth it. This recipe is fantastic.
Alisha your comment made me so happy! You're absolutely right about a lot of Vietnamese recipes being labor intensive. I'll try to share more easy recipes.