chawanmushiSo. First, dashi. Then, miso. Now, chawanmushi. This simple, savory, steamed egg custard seems–to me at least–the next logical step in our exploration of tasty things Japanese. It is also one of Mr. T’s very favorite things ever.  We first had chawanmushi at the venerable Sushi Taro (which, judging from its website, seems to have undergone a significant overhaul since we were last there) and have kept an eagle eye out for it on Japanese menus ever since. It’s usually served hot with bits of chicken and mushroom secreted away in the light, silky egg custard and decorated with slices of kamaboko (fishcake) on top, though we did encounter an elegant chilled version garnished with edamame and a clear sauce during our cooking lesson with Hirayama-sensei in Kyoto.

These really are little miracles. The are at once both extraordinarily light and quite decadent… there’s just barely enough egg (less than one per serving) to hold everything together, but the resulting custard is gloriously smooth and rich-tasting. The little additions (I used peas, mushrooms, and kamaboko) add just enough contrast to keep things exciting but not take away from this delicious, if simple, pleasure. Do note too, that these CAN be gorgeous little still lifes–in addition to being a crap photographer, I neglected to cover the individual custards when steaming them, so they’re a little mottled. SO! Cover yours, and all will be tasty and lovely.

Tokiko Suzuki, The Essentials of Japanese Cuisine
Serves 4

8 oz skinless chicken breast
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sake
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
4 slices each red & white kamaboko
8 pieces ume-fu, soaked
12 skinned ginko nuts, boiled and skinned
3 eggs
3 c dashi
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sake
1 tsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar

Rinse shiitake mushrooms and soak in warm water 5-6 min. Cut off tough stems and dice. Set aside. Cut the chicken in very thin slices, sprinkle with (additional) sake and light soy sauce. Set aside. Blanch the ume-fu in boiling water. Set aside. (Clearly, I did not do any of this.)

Break eggs into a bowl. Using chopsticks, gently lift up the egg a few times to break the yolks and mix a bit without incorporating air. Add dashi (which should be cool!) salt, sake, and soy sauce. Stir very gently and then pass the mixture through a strainer.

Divide mushrooms and chicken between the four chawanmushi cups (decent sized custard cups with high sides; I used tea cups). Divide the custard mixture between the cups, reserving 5 tbs. Cover them individually–tea saucers or foil would do nicely. Prepare a steamer. Once the water in the steamer has come to a boil, place the covered custards in the steamer, cover, and boil one minute. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook for 15-17 minutes.

Uncover the steamer and the individual custards and arrange remaining toppings artfully on the set surface of the custards. Gently divide remaining custard mixture between the dishes, recover, and steam an additional 2-3 minutes.

Notes & Variations
Obviously, this is a super authentic version that I did not come close to adhering to… If you don’t have gingko nuts or ume-fu or the also-recommended mitsuba and pine-needle yuzu zest (I certainly didn’t), do please make this anyway with your own substitutions, or just leave things out. While there’s no limit on what you stick in these, I’d probably opt fairly bland things that add a little flavor and texture but won’t overpower the delicacy of the custard itself.

Suzuki, Tokiko. The Essentials of Japanese Cooking. (Tokyo: Shufunomoto Co., Inc.) 1995.