Chawan Mushi (茶碗蒸し) with Chicken and Thai Basil (Horapha)

basil_chawanpChawan Mushi is together with Okonomiyaki, among my favourite Japanese dishes. Its base, ( light savoury egg custard) is neutral enough to receive even the craziest ingredients, such as Thai basil, which I have been using more often than ever due to my recent Thai cooking frenzy. One day, ready to cut some mitsuba leaves, the chawan mushi herb par excellence, I turned to Thai basil and took it from my balcony instead. I wasn’t taking big risks, but I was glad this first Thai-inspired Chawan Mushi proved fantastic.

For those who hear about Chawan Mushi(茶碗蒸し) for the first time, it’s a delicate savoury egg and stock custard steamed in cups. “Mushi” means (more or less) “steamed” and “chawan”: tea bowl (or cup). My first chawan mushi was made according to Shizuo Tsuji’s instructions in “The Japanese Cooking. A Simple Art”, but already then I omitted some ingredients and created my own version. Apart from being easily modified, chawan mushi is perfect with buttered crusty bread (my favourite way!) and a green salad or other raw vegetables, but also with rice and Asian pickles. It can be served both hot and cold (the latter is particularly appreciated cooling meal on hot summer days). I have served this Thai cuisine-inspired chawan mushi with this chilli jelly:

Chilli Jelly
Chilli Jelly

but I’m certain it would taste perfect with sriracha or with the popular Thai sweet chilli sauce. 

Thai basil (also called Asian basil and Bai Horapha/Horapha in Thai) is not the only basil used in Thai cuisine (usually three basil varieties are cited), but it’s very easy to recognise in Asian grocery shops by its very strong sweet licorice (or anis-seed) scent. Its leaves are usually green, but sometimes slightly coloured with violet hues and its flowers are always dark violet. It is very easy to grow from seeds (I have very good results even on my balcony), so if you cannot find it fresh, try sowing it. From my observations this basil is usually served cooked, added to hot dishes in the last stage of preparation. This use in Thai cuisine gave me the idea to steam horapha in Japanese custards, exactly the way the Japanese treat mitsuba and also the way I did with edible chrysanthemum leaves (shungiku, see below). I have decided to use chicken stock instead of dashi (I do it quite often in chawan mushi anyway) since it seemed to suit this herb better. As I have mentioned above, the experiment was a success and I advise it to all the Thai basil fans.

If you don’t like Thai basil (or cannot find it), you might like one of these:

Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard) with Asparagus
Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard) with Asparagus
Shungiku no Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard with Chrysanthemum Leaves)
Shungiku no Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard with Chrysanthemum Leaves)
Chawan Mushi with Shrimp and Green Peas
Chawan Mushi with Shrimp and Green Peas

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.

If you want, you can use some vegetables together with chicken (reduce the chicken amounts), but  remember that certain vegetables and mushrooms will release juices. The custards will be watery, but the taste will be good of course. (You might want to precook or quickly fry them).

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):

3 small chicken breasts (or 2 big)

1 tablespoon sake


one handful of Thai basil leaves (+some for decoration)


2 eggs

300 ml chicken stock (usually dashi, the Japanese stock, is used here, but I often replace it with chicken stock and here I found it a better choice for Thai basil) 

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.

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 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 the Thai basil leaves equally into four heatproof cups.

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.

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, but I found it great with my chilli jelly and, as I have mentioned above, it must be good with sriracha or the Thai sweet chilli sauce.

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!

14 Replies to “Chawan Mushi (茶碗蒸し) with Chicken and Thai Basil (Horapha)”

  1. I think the combination of chicken and thai basil is inspired for this custard. I made okonomiyaki a few days ago. By the way, I picked up that container of gochujang and hope to make something amazing pretty soon.

    1. Thank you, A_Boleyn. Good luck with gochujang experiments! I’m looking forward to discovering them.

  2. What a perfect marriage — I love how you’ve fused Japanese and Thai here Sissi. As you know, I’m a big fan of Thai cuisine (and Thai Basil is among my favorite seasonings) so I have no doubt that this lovely dish would go down easy and well :). I’ve yet to try Chawan Mushi but I can tell from your description that this too would quickly become a favorite (I’ve been eating gently steamed eggs for breakfast for days now…my traditional warm oatmeal/seeds feels too heavy in the summer whereas the eggs are also satisfying but much lighter and delicious dressed up with savory seasonings). Great idea Sissi.

    1. Thank you so much, Kelly. I know you are a fellow Thai cuisine lover 🙂 I think you would like this one. It’s “eggy” in taste, but since the eggs are diluted with stock, the taste and texture are much lighter and more delicate…
      It would be a perfect breakfast, indeed! I often make several more and keep them for a couple of days in the fridge. Reheated in the microwave, they are not as delicious as freshly made, but they are still a great snack, so I can imagine them for a breakfast too.

  3. Lovely ones, especially with the chicken bite too
    never try to au baine raie them, but i guess it’s interesting since when i’m using steames my cawan mushi used to be bubbly….

    1. Thanks a lot, Dedy. I practically always add some chicken. I have to use the bain marie method because my favourite cups are too high for the steamer…

  4. Mushi is such a different cuisine for me. There is very little that I steam but maybe I need to change that. I do have an Asian market close by and I do believe they have those cups. I saw them there the other day and wondered what they were used for. I’m growing Thai basil because it is my favorite of ALL basil, so all I need know is some chicken. A delicious looking mushi my dear!

    1. Thank you so much, MJ. Chawan mushi cups are so cute, aren’t they? I suppose it’s the main reason why I started to prepare chawan mushi 😉 I like it because it’s a bit like having a lighter omelet in a bowl…

    1. Thank you so much, Nami. You are very kind! I think some Japanese cook would look at my experiments with horror 😉

Comments are closed.