Thai Hot and Spicy Soup (Tom Yam Goong)

1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, shelled and deveined, reserve the shells (you can use chicken meat with bones instead)
2 TBS vegetable oil
6 dried japones or arbol chiles (use more or less to your heat preference)
3 15 ounce cans of low sodium chicken broth
10 thinly sliced peeled fresh galangal *or* 7 slices peeled fresh ginger, lightly crushed
6 kaffir lime leaves or 2 1/2 tsp grated lime rind
4 bird or serrano chiles, lightly crushed (use more or less to your heat preference)
4 cilantro sprigs, lightly crushed
2 stalks chopped, peeled fresh lemongrass, lightly crushed
2 large shallots, peeled and halved
2 cloves garlic, coursely minced
3 TBS Thai fish sauce
1 can coconut milk (optional)
3 TBS fresh lime juice
1/2 cup cilantro leaves

1. Peel and devein shrimp, reserving shells. Heat oil over med high heat in a large heavy soup pot or dutch oven. Add the japones chiles and shrimp shells, sautee until chiles are blackened. Add broth and bring to a boil. Add the galangal, lime leaves, bird chiles, cilantro stems, lemon grass, shallots and garlic. Cover, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 30 minutes.
2. Strain soup through a sieve into a bowl, discard residue keeping broth. Return soup to pot. Increase heat to medium high. Add shrimp and fish sauce (and the coconut milk, if using); cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice. Sprinkle with cilantro leaves and serve.
~*~ From Cooking Light Magazine, tweaked by Suzy ~*~