Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chawan Mushi

When I was a kid, my mom would occasionally serve a dish that I loved to look at, loved to dig my spoon into, but didn't actually like to eat.  Fortunately for my mom, I could be convinced to eat foods that were interesting even if I didn't like the taste.  Fortunately for me, my taste buds finally caught up.

This dish is called Chawan Mushi - it's a savory egg custard, typically served with chunks of seafood buried in soft silky custard - the most difficult part is not burning your mouth on it as you inhale it.

That said, I'm pretty sure my mom would say I'm doing it weird, but once I started playing with the custard, I couldn't help tweaking the ingredients.  So here's the tweaked original version, I'm toying with dessert versions - I'll get back to you on that.

It's might seem a little more complicated than it really is, because there are some practical things you need to do to get the texture right, but it's really pretty simple to make.

Prepare a steaming tray/pot, and several heat proof dishes, this recipe yields four servings at about a cup each, but using smaller dishes (ramekins for example) could yield 6 to 8 servings as an appetizer.

The dashi broth is the key here - I specify dashi broth, because you can purchase dashi in powder form to reconstitute with warm water - but you need the volume of the two cups of liquid to make the custard.

You can make a traditional dashi stock using dried bonito flakes and konbu - large pieces of seaweed, which can be found in Japanese grocery stores.  Bring a couple of cups of water to a boil with the konbu, you'll start to notice a heady aroma coming from the pot, then remove the large pieces and set aside.  Add the dried bonito flakes to hot water, letting it steep like tea, then strain.  The resulting clear broth is your dashi.

Alternately you can use dashi powder - I tried both ways myself, and found that a combination of the two (steeping the flakes then adding a little powdered dashi) resulted in the best flavor - the broth should be a little strong as you'll be adding egg to the mixture.  An alternative would be to use chicken stock, or beef or vegetable stock - really any clear broth, boiled down a bit to strengthen the flavor.

Chawan mushi is known for it's earthy flavors, so when making the broth, I like to add the sliced Shitake which lends a nice robust flavor to the broth - if you happen to have Porcini mushroom powder, I'd add that too - yum!  If you add sliced mushrooms, you'll want to strain them out so you can measure the liquid - just run it through a sieve and set aside the mushrooms and stock in separate  dishes.

Make the dashi stock in advance, and set it aside - you can even put it in the fridge to cool, it needs to be cool enough not to scramble the eggs when you mix everything up.  You're aiming for room temperature or near it.
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups dashi (broth style)
  • 2 to 3 small shitake mushrooms, finely sliced
  • 8 prawns (or scallops, or crab stick - I didn't have seafood the first time so I used sliced chicken, soft tofu would probably be redundant, but one of those fried/baked/smoked/grilled tofu steaks is delish!) 
  • Ginko nuts (if you have them)
  • Shiso leaves (a chiffonade works best - fancy word for clever slicing up)
In a small pot, parboil the prawns (or chicken or whatever you're using), I like to add soy sauce to the water for the boil just to season it.  Pull the prawns out of the water and set aside, pour the water into the pot you're going to use to steam the custards (extra step - totally unnecessary but I like to add every bit of flavor I can.).

Crack the eggs into a good sized bowl and blend them - gently - you want to incorporate them thoroughly , without creating bubbles or adding air to them.  Slowly stir in your dashi broth.

In the bottom of the serving/cooking dishes, divide up the prawns, mushrooms from the broth, and ginko nuts - you can get creative adding things here, tomorrow I'm thinking of trying a version with bacon or pork belly...

Divide the egg mixture evenly into each dish, and cover the top with plastic wrap.  Set your steamer on medium heat, and place your dishes in the steamer.

Now walk away - it'll take 15 to 20 min for a one cup dish of custard to cook through,  slightly less for smaller dishes.  You can tell the custard is cooked when you tap the edges of the dish and the liquid no longer runs.

Garnish it with a bit of Shiso chiffonade - take several clean dry shiso leaves (you can get them in Japanese grocery stores) stack them up, and roll them, then slice them thinly - it'll result in ribbons of shiso (also a great technique to have in your pocket for basil and other leafy herbs).  Shiso looks like this;

Chiffonade looks like this;

You can serve these hot or cooled, personally I can't wait long enough for them to cool and my mouth is currently all kinds of burnt.

I'm fussing with a dessert version now -since you can effectively make these low carb and low sugar, I'm thinking some vanilla maybe cinnamon.... like a low carb creme brulee!  Anyhow I'll get back on this one


  1. YUM! I love Chawan Mushi. I've been looking all over NYC for it.

  2. Okay, as a professional chef I am no longer buying the notion that you do not believe you are a chef Chi!