Chawan Mushi with Asparagus (Japanese Savoury Egg Custard with Asparagus)

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Chawan mushi is a perfect representative of these comforting, universally enjoyable dishes, which are hardly known in Europe and which surprise all those who still associate Japanese food with sushi and raw fish. For me it has all the qualities of a perfect dish: it is light and healthy, but filling; it is extremely versatile, both in terms of ingredients, as well as serving occasions, and, most of all, it tastes wonderful. It can be made in advance, then reheated or served cold and since it is prepared in individual containers, it also looks cute on the table. The only obligatory Asian ingredients here are sake and soy sauce, so I hope it’s accessible for home cooks all around the world. Accidentally, it’s perfect after short food indulgence periods, such as Easter.

Chawan Mushi (茶碗蒸し) was the first recipe I made from “The Japanese Cooking. A Simple Art” by Shizuo Tsuji, one of the best cookery books I have ever had and I have only slightly modified the amounts’ ratio. I have already written about this amazing dish almost a year ago, but here is a quick reminder. Chawan mushi, meaning “steamed in a tea cup”, is a light custardy mixture of seasoned stock (Japanese or Western) and eggs, to which different “fillings” are added. The traditional version includes a long list of ingredients (including ginko nuts!), but in my opinion this is a typical versatile dish that can easily be modified depending on one’s preferences, seasons or simply contents of one’s fridge.

My first chawan mushi was made with shrimp and green peas (see the recipe here), but I have already played with different meats, seafood, vegetables, mushrooms and the results were satisfactory every time. The ways to serve this custard are also endless: it’s perfect as a part of the main course, with rice and some Asian pickles, or Western way, with bread and a bowl of green salad dressed with vinaigrette. I find it excellent as a cold or warm starter, as an afternoon snack, as breakfast, as a picnic snack… Possibilities are endless.

Asparagus and egg are a well known successful pairing, so you will not be surprised if I say this is – at least now – my favourite version of chawan mushi. As a notorious carnivore I have added small pieces of chicken breast marinated in sake, but you can forget them and keep it strictly vegetarian. Shizuo Tsuji advises chicken stock if dashi is unavailable and, I will probably shock some Japanese cooks, but here, with bits of chicken I have definitely preferred chicken stock (I have tested both). (Of course vegetarians can use vegetable stock I guess).

If you don’t like asparagus, you might enjoy chawan mushi with shrimp and green peas:

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TIPS:  Even though chawan mushi is easier to prepare in a steamer, Shizuo Tsuji’s suggestion to use a water bath in the oven gives excellent results. Actually this is the way I prepare it because the steamer plate in my rice cooker is too low for my heatproof cups.

If you don’t have a nearby Japanese grocery shop, individual, but high heatproof cups may be difficult to get. I have found very good ones at IKEA (even though without lids), but as soon as I got hold of the beautiful Japanese chawan mushi cups you see above, I stopped using the old ones.

Mitsuba is the traditional herb served with Chawan Mushi (it is usually steamed on the top of the custard), but as you see I haven’t added it because my mistuba hasn’t even sprouted yet (check the lovely mitsuba decorated version on Nami’s blog (Just One Cookbook)). You can add any herbs on top, as long as they suit the ingredients, but these custards were perfect without any herb too.

Special equipment:

individual heatproof cups (at least 6 cm high, mine were 6,5 cm high,with a 7,5 cm diameter)

Preparation: 45 minutes

Ingredients (4 portions):

10 medium thick green asparagus (less than 1,5 cm thick in the thickest place) or double this amount if you want a vegetarian meal

2 small chicken breasts

1 tablespoon sake

salt

(mitsuba leaves)

Custard:

2 eggs

300 ml dashi (Japanese stock) or chicken stock

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sake or mirin (with mirin the custard will be slightly sweetish)

1 teaspoon soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 220°C (or prepare your steamer).

Cut up the chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces, combine with sake and sprinkle with a bit of salt.

Put aside.

Cut off the toughest part of the the asparagus stalks’ (I usually cut off 1/4 if I use the above-mentioned, medium thick asparagus).

Cut the rest into bite sized pieces.

Boil a lot of water and prepare a big baking dish at least as high as the heatproof cups.

Mix the eggs very delicately in a bowl. In another bowl combine the dashi (or chicken stock), salt (it depends on how salty your stock is), sake/mirin and soy sauce. Pour the stock mixture over the eggs and stir well, without beating.

Strain the chicken pieces. Divide them and asparagus equally into four heatproof cups.

Put mitsuba leaves on top (click here  to see how Nami ties them in a cute traditional way).

Strain the custard mixture and pour into the garnished cups.

Cover the cups with aluminium foil or the lids if you have special cups with lids.

If you use the oven, place the cups in a big baking dish. Fill the dish with hot water (not boiling). The water should arrive up till 3/4 of the cups’ height.

Put the dish in the oven and let the custards bake for 30 minutes.

If you use a steamer, steam for about 20 minutes.

If you use herbs which do not support well the heat, sprinkle chawan mushi with them just before serving.

Serve hot or cold with bread/toast for breakfast, with a salad for a lunch, as a snack or as a starter.

You may serve it with soy sauce. Personally I think it is not necessary.

Even though the eggs’ mixture sets during the cooking process, the mushrooms or other vegetables might release juices, so think about putting a spoon on the table!

50 thoughts on “Chawan Mushi with Asparagus (Japanese Savoury Egg Custard with Asparagus)

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you so much, A_Boleyn. I still remember very well you have made wonderful chawan mushi too! If you like asparagus, this is a great combination (although probably not very Japanese…).

  1. Barb @ Profiteroles & Ponytails

    Sissi,
    Your post makes me want to try this dish soon — as I have really been getting into Japanese cooking lately. Last weekend I made rice balls, sushi and miso soup — all for the first time. The girls went crazy over all of the dishes and they’ve pronounced miso soup their new favourite soup, seaweed and all. However, I think that I would try the shrimp and peas first — it should appeal to the whole family. It also sounds like an interesting flavour combination with the dashi and the mirin in there too. Thanks for another great recipe.

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you very much, Barb. I am thrilled to learn you and your girls like Japanese cuisine! It’s so healthy (well, most of it… because if you introduce them to the addictive korokke or breaded shrimp or other deep-fried dishes, they will also love them I suppose 😉 ). I have always though there was something homely and comforting about miso soup. I have already heard that many children like maki and onigiri “balls” because they have cute shape and are fun to eat (and to prepare).
      I am crazy for asparagus, so I loved this version, but you can make chawan mushi with anything you want. Just make sure the ingredients don’t give off too much water (for example make sure you thaw well the peas and shrimps, if they are frozen). As I have mentioned, you will have some liquid at the bottom anyway, but it’s delicious. I hope you can try it soon.

  2. Hiroyuki

    Yes, ginkgo nuts are a common ingredients, but I simply leave them out because my daughter doesn’t care for them. A common egg-to-dashi ratio for chawan mushi is 1:3-4, so 2 eggs and 300 ml dashi sound like a good ratio.
    As for me, I’ve never thought that chawan mushi is filling (laugh)!

    1. Sissi Post author

      THank you, Hiroyuki. I simply cannot find ginkgo nuts here… Strangely, when I have the small bowl of chawan mushi, it feels almost as filling as the same volume of rice!

    1. Sissi Post author

      Hi Zsuzsa, I must check. Ok, these contain 250 ml, but you don’t fill them to the rim. I am sure you can adapt chawan mushi to your taste! Please let me know if you have any questions.

  3. Eha

    This to me is one of the most elegant of Japanese dishes and I do make it quite often almost as an amuese guele . . . Don’t think I have had an asparagus version but have nothing against trying! However, being the purist I am, however much I enjoy meats, these somehow simply don’t belong to the genre of the classical . . .

    1. Sissi Post author

      Hi, Eha. Actually the most traditional Japanese version contains, among many ingredients, both shrimps and chicken breasts (for me they fall into meat category). I was almost sure but I have just checked in S. Tsuji’s book.

      1. Eha

        Am sure you are right! Or perhaps it is a later addition: I have been to Japan over 30 times [business/pleasure], but not for awhile and memories do fade 😉 !

        1. Sissi Post author

          I have never had it in Japan, but I think many people modify this recipe because S.Tsuji encourages playing with the basic custard a lot, while he doesn’t say this with majority of his recipes.

  4. mjskit

    I am not at all familiar with mushi, so thanks for introducing me to yet another delicious dish! Oh I do love asparagus. In fact tonight I made an asparagus and mushroom quiche – similar but not similar. I love the little cups that you cook this custard in. Perfect little serving sizes. Not at all familiar with mitsuba leaves. What do they taste like?

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you, MJ. I remember you have already started cooking with asparagus this year 🙂 Asparagus and mushroom quiche sounds excellent. Frankly, I doubt anything with asparagus would taste bad… I must admit these cups are among the cutest things I have in my kitchen. Unfortunately they no longer sell this pattern here because I would buy some more.
      Mitsuba leaves look like something between parsley and trefoil and have a slightly pungent taste (not as strong as coriander/cilantro though, so I think few people dislike them). They grow quite well on my balcony (I cross my fingers for this year because it’s particularly cold). I would send you seeds but I have heard that US customs don’t allow grains. I’m sure however that you can find them on internet (I have found this shop http://www.stokeseeds.com/product.aspx?ProductID=39913&CategoryID=107&checkCookies=1).

      1. mjskit

        Thanks Sissi for the information and the link! I’m planning on working on my herb garden this weekend and starting some new herbs so the timing was great. I’ve tried growing cilantro with no success so maybe I would have better luck with mitsuba. I might even find it here. We have a nursery that prides itself on carrying unique and strange things. 🙂

        1. Sissi Post author

          MJ, mitsuba would go well with many, not only Japanese, dishes and it grows very well on my balcony, so I’m sure you will have no problems. It requires moist soil and not too much sun though.
          I’m surprised your cilantro doesn’t grow well. I find it one of the quickest and easiest growing plants on my balcony… maybe it depends on the sub-variety? (The only problem I have is that if it gets too much sun, it starts growing flowers and the taste is worse…).

  5. furochan

    hello Sissi, thank you for stopping by the blog! it seems fitting that you should have posted about chawanmushi – it is good weather for that at the moment, just a wee bit on the nippy side here. i’d try the water bath method but this being Japan i have no oven *hah* what kind of texture does 20 minutes of steaming produce? i usually steam mine for 8 minutes on a rolling boil, and it comes out smooth and wobbly – any longer and it starts being too tough…

    1. Sissi Post author

      Hi Furochan, thank you for your visit and comment. I have heard that few people have real ovens in Japan. From my experience steaming for example in my steaming plate (in the rice cooker) takes only a couple of minutes, but it always takes longer in the oven, maybe because it’s a bigger space and the heat is not so concentrated, so it’s not really the same… The chawan mushi is still wobbly, not tough. If I were to to the same on the stove (in a pan filled with boiling water) I’m sure it would take less time.

  6. wok with ray

    Custard is always good and I think I would like both versions — asparagus and shrimp. These dishes look very delicate and delicious. Thank you, Sissi and have a good weekend. 🙂

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thanks, Mr. Three-Cookies. Mitsuba is a very popular Japanese herb. Maybe there is a link with mitsubishi 😉 Have a nice weekend too.

  7. Liz

    ALL your ideas for savory custards sound amazing! And your photos always inspire me as well as make me hungry! Have a great weekend, Sissi!

  8. Kelly @ Inspired Edibles

    Sissi, this recipe is so intriguing to me — I don’t think I have ever made an egg custard before. That idea alone is very appealing but what I also really like about this recipe is how you work in the chicken as well. It’s a protein powerhouse with a seasonal touch of spring in the lovely, fresh asparagus. What a delightful recipe. I love how you always introduce us to new ways of doing things Sissi but your style and recipes still feel accessible (rather than intimidating) to the unacquainted which I especially appreciate :).

    1. Sissi Post author

      Hi, Kelly. Thank you so much for all the compliments. I am glad it can be called a “protein powerhouse” 🙂 I am extremely flattered by what you say about the accessibility. I am a lazy cook, so most recipes are really easy. I have been worried though that I don’t know how to put down their simplicity into English words… Thank you!

  9. Gourmantine

    I saw chawan mushi made on one of the masterchef series sometime before and have been thinking of giving it a try since then. Your post is most opportune and it’s a wonderful looking dish, I want to try 🙂

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you so much, Gourmantine. I must admit that when I first prepared it a long time ago I had no idea how it should look (there was no photo in my cookery book). If you like egg dishes, you will like this one too. Just choose the ingredients you are fond of. Good luck!

  10. Eva Taylor

    This is really perfect timing Sissi, I’m doing a low glycemic diet for a few weeks to set my metabolism back on track and I’m always looking for good protein rich dishes. I’m going to give this a go without the yolks (I’m also cutting down fats, just for a couple of weeks). I know you’ll disagree but I must get myself back on track, this cold winter put on a few extra unwelcome kilos!
    I too love the beautiful combo of asparagus and eggs, but then your shrimp versions looks delectable too.

    1. Sissi Post author

      Eva, I wouldn’t dare disagreeing about your eating habits! I can say I wouldn’t be able to skip yolks or limit carbs as much as you do, but even though we both have different ways to do this, I also watch my weight quite closely for quite a long time… Everyone has to find his/her best method to keep or lose weight (not to mention the fact that some people have different health problems too) and in my case any food item elimination simply doesn’t work (then the only thing I crave is the “forbidden” thing 😉 ). If any nutrition plan works for you, if it’s healthy and you feel great, then it’s perfect for you! As for the yolks, I just wanted to emphasize there are not much eggs here… only two for four portions 🙂
      Thank you so much for the compliments! I suppose it looks cute thanks to the individual cups…

  11. shuhan

    Indeed, I feel a lot of asian dishes, especially the more light and delicate ones go unnoticed outside of Asia! You know I love steamed egg sissi 🙂 The chinese have their own version, often plainer and more shallow but the concept is the same and savoury custard is delicious!

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thanks a lot, Shuhan. I remember the Chinese custard too. You know, quite often, when I discover a Japanese dish or food product I love, then I see it has already been made well before in China 🙂

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thanks a lot, Karen. Mitsuba is not necessary and I’m not even sure if it would go well with such a non-Japanese addition of asparagus…

  12. Kiki

    Oh yes this always tastes so good. A splendid little dish I go with Hiroyuki: could eat more too.
    I did not use green asparagus for this before, but I will. Egg and asparagus makes a very good pairing. I always wondered about the Gingko nuts, they are not as great as I thought. Bought a 250 g pack of frozen nuts month ago and made some chawan mushi, but you should only place 2 or 3 Gingko nuts in a cup because they are not that healthy at all. Now I still have a big amount left and I don’t like them at all :-(.

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you very much, Kiki. You have just convinced me I shouldn’t look for gingko nuts… I have never seen them but never looked at the frozen section. Anyway, I’m sure they are very expensive, so maybe I’ll wait till I go to Japan to taste them…

  13. Nami | Just One Cookbook

    Hello Sissi! Wow, your chawanmushi is so beautiful! I actually haven’t had the appetite for many days (maybe I might have lost some weight, whoo hoo! <– you know why I am excited, unless getting sick, I never lose any weight!), but asparagus and chawanmushi did make me crave for it. I love fresh asparagus and what a great idea to use for chawanmushi. It'll be my new ingredient for chawanmushi. Thanks for your wonderful inspiration. And you are too kind to include my link in your post. Thank you Sissi. xoxo

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you so much, Nami, for the compliments. My chawanmushi doesn’t look half as goo as yours! Something tells me this dish (the wamr version) would be perfect for the sick (it’s so comforting…). Congratulations! Losing weight is at least one good side of your flu! I hope you will get better soon.

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thanks a lot, Sue. I had no idea there was anything similar in Korean cuisine. I must browse through your blog and/or cookery books!

  14. elisabeth@foodandthrift

    Sissi, such a coincidence…I have just seen chawanmushi recipes in one of our recent cooking magazines, I think it was Bon Appetit, but I could be wrong. I did remember the name, and now I’m seeing it on your blog. Totally amazing, and I do love both versions, as well!
    Your individual little cups are the most perfect way to make them and present them the proper way!
    I would not seem surprised if one day you decided to open up a ‘CHIC’ Japanese restaurant right there…in Switzerland; seriously! xo

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you very much, Elisabeth. I wish I were able to open a restaurant… I would open an izakaya (Japanese pub, serving food). I’m sure it would have a huge success. I can always dream…
      It is a dish that merits to be known worldwide, so I’m glad American magazine wrote about it. Such individual cups can be bought here in Japanese grocery shops. I have only two now, but I must expand my collection because they are so cute…

  15. Amy Tong

    These look lovely. It’s one of my favorite dish to enjoy. 🙂 Asparagus are so beautiful in the Spring and they are perfect in these Chawan Mushi.

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thanks a lot, Amy. I am also a big fan of chawan mushi (I had it once more for lunch today).

  16. Charles

    Hi Sissi, I remember your shrimp and pea chawan mushi (I think the name is very apt if I pronounce it in an English way… “mushy”… which I can imagine the egg custard being like, but in a good way (since mushy isn’t normally the most complimentary or words)). I loved the colours in that one with the lovely green peas, and I’m sure this too would be another fine variation.

    One thing – maybe it’s just me being “weird”, but I personally get very… I don’t know the best way of describing it… certainly not as strong a word as “disgusted”, but I guess I find it a little off-putting when I prepare something with egg and vegetable and the vegetables “sweat” into the egg, so you have a lovely egg dish with a load of watery stuff swimming around. Did you ever try doing something to the vegetables first to stop this? I think if I tried it I might try roasting the asparagus first… that would certainly help I think, but like I said – perhaps you don’t care at all and it’s just one of my little idiosyncrasies 😀

    1. Sissi Post author

      Hi, Charles. Thanks a lot. I must say that I prefer the one with asparagus (because of both asparagus and chicken!).
      Actually, I love the “stocky” liquid at the bottom… I mop it up with bread (have I mentioned I have recently been having it only with bread?). It’s delicious. (And the liquid has nothing eggy actually because the egg sets before; otherwise I hate runny omelets and runny egg white).
      I tried once with precooked mushrooms and once with precooked vegetables, but I ended up with water too. Maybe it was because of shrimp or chicken?

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you, Jed. I love custards, but sweet. This savoury version was very surprised at first, but I have fallen in love instantly.

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