Chawan mushi (茶碗蒸し) means “steamed in a tea bowl”. It is a savory Japanese egg custard. Traditional ingredients for this dish are beaten eggs flavoured with usukuchi soy sauce, dashi and mirin with small chunks of chicken, slices of kamaboko (fish paste), shrimp and sliced shitake. Special lidded chawan-mushi cups attest to the popularity of this dish. The secret to a smooth as silk delicate custard lies in controlling the time and temperature at which the custard is steamed. If this is not done correctly, the custard develops a sponge like texture.
A close cousin of chawan mushi would be what us Chinese refer to as “Steamed Water Eggs (蒸水蛋)” because only water is added to the beaten eggs. However, many cooks tend towards using stock nowadays.
For this recipe, I have stepped away from those traditional ingredients and used things which I already had in my fridge. The ingredients I am suggesting are easily obtainable from our Japanese supermarkets and I had bought them for other Japanese dishes. Don’t be reluctant to substitute ingredients when they are appropriate.
Photo above shows 2 cups which are normally used to hold the dipping sauce for Cha-soba (cold green tea noodles). You will need 6 of these cups. Any other heat resistant receptacle of similar size is suitable too. In the stainless steel tray are thawed frozen clams, Japanese dry clams, sliced Naga Negi ( Japanese leeks) and dried sakura ebi ( a rosy and prettier relative of our local dried gragok).
SUBSTITUTE for dashi is chicken stock. My daughter prefers dashi whilst my son likes chicken stock for his Chawan Mushi.
STEP 1. Prepare the dashi using instant dashi granules or making a fresh batch of primary dashi. Add the rounded Tbsp of dried clams into this dashi to soak for 10 mins or so whilst you are preparing the rest of the ingredients for this dish.
STEP 2. Add the sliced leeks, thawed clams and sakura ebi into each cup.
Depending on which method of cooking these filled cups, I may cover each cup with either a piece of aluminium foil or any plastic wrap that can withstand steaming . Alternatively, use a large tea towel to cover the lid of the pot you are using to steam your chawan mushi. During steaming, water droplets will condense on the cover and these will drip into and spoil the chawan mushi.
STEP 3. Lightly beat the eggs with the usukuchi soy sauce using only a pair of chopsticks so that as little foam is created as possible. Strain the egg mixture as you pour it into the prepared dashi. Don’t skip this step if you want that silky smooth texture of chawan mushi. This is the other factor besides the steaming temperature.
STEP 4. Slowly fill each prepared cup with the egg mixture up to no more than 7/8’s of the cup. If small bubbles are present, use a teaspoon to remove them.
STEP 5. Heat a large steamer till water is on rolling boil. Place each filled cup gently into the steamer. Lower heat to moderate and steam for about 15 to 20 mins. Test with a small toothpick – poke it into the centre of the chawan mushi and if it comes out clean, it is cooked.
SERVES: 6 persons
- 18 Thawed frozen clams
- 6 tsp of dried Sakura Ebi
- 1 to 2 Tbsp dried clams
- 3/4 of a length of Naga Negi (Japanese leek)
To make the custard:
- 5 x 60 gm eggs , (beaten only with chopsticks so that very little foam is created)
- 3 cups dashi (using instant dashi granules)
- 1 tsp mirin
- 1 tsp salt or usukuchi shoyu
1. Make dashi following the instructions of the brand you had purchased. If you have time, you will be able to taste the difference if your Chawan Mushi uses a primary dashi using kombu and bonito flakes. Add dried clams into the dashi and stand for 10 mins.
2. Place 5 to 6 slices of Naga Negi, 3 pieces of thawed clams and 1 tsp of Sakura Ebi into each cup.
3. Lightly beat the eggs with the usukuchi soy sauce using only a pair of chopsticks so that as little foam is created as possible. Strain the egg mixture as you pour it into the prepared dashi.
4. Gently pour (don’t create froth) the egg dashi mixture into each cup, to to 7/8ths of the cup.
5. Cover each cup its own cover or with heatproof plastic wrap.
Steaming (using a built-in electric steamer).
6. Steam high heat for 3 mins then lower to 90% heat for 25 to 30 mins.
7. If you like, garnish with a small mitsuba leaf.
Other methods of cooking chawan mushi.
1. Cooking in a steamer pot.
Heat a large steamer till water is on rolling boil. Place each filled cup gently into the steamer. Lower heat to moderate and steam for about 15 to 20 mins. Test with a small toothpick – poke it into the centre of the chawan mushi and if it comes out clean, it is cooked.
2. Baking in Oven.
Pre- heat your oven at 425° F/ 220° C. Place foil-covered cups in a deep baking dish which is big enough to hold all your prepared cups. Add boiling water into the deep baking dish so that the water comes up to half the height of the chawan mushi cup. Bake in a oven for 30 minutes.
Most Japanese meals at home consists of rice and soup with some dishes (usually one is raw, one is simmered, and one is grilled). If you are also having guests, another dish which is deep-fried is added and the crockery is much more ornate and of finer porcelain and lacquer.
The meal is always served with green tea and fresh fruit.
Consider any one or more of the recipes listed below for a complete nutritious tasty Japanese meal. Purchase a plate of sashimi and/or sushi to accompany your servings. This will impress both family and guests alike.
1. Quick Miso Soup and Brown Rice with Barley. Click here.
2. Yawata Maki. Click here.
3. Tofu no Shira -ae. Click here.
4. Simmered Pumpkin. Click here.
5. Japanese Potato Salad. Click here.
6. Pari Pari style Chicken Wings. Click here.
Even though serving a slice of freshly cut seasonal fruits is always an appropriate end to a Japanese meal, you can easily wow your family and guests with one of these other desserts. Any one of them is most suited to our hot tropical climate.
1. Almond Jelly + Longans Click here.
2. Coconut Jelly with Can Lychees. Click here.
3. Sweet Potato Dessert Soup. Click here.
4. Sago Pudding. Click here.
5. Orange Agar Agar. Click here
6. Caramel Custard. Click here.