Chawan Mushi with Chanterelles crossed to my mind a couple of days ago, when I was still half asleep, taking first sips of my morning coffee. This gives you an idea about how much I love this mushroom and, accidentally, how often I think about cooking…. I followed my plan the same evening and must proudly say that it turned out the best chawan mushi and, at the same time, the most sophisticated chanterelle dish I have ever tasted.
Chawan Mushi (茶碗蒸し) is a very light savoury egg and stock custard, steamed in special cups and one of the most versatile (and delicious) Japanese dishes I can imagine. The traditional version calls for a precise list of ingredients, but I have never managed to assemble them and have experimented with the basic custard recipe so many times, I even don’t remember the details of the “standard” version. During my numerous tests I discovered chawan mushi is best served with crusty buttered bread and I definitely prefer it made with chicken or vegetable stock, rather than the Japanese dashi. (The chicken stock version was suggested by renowned Shizuo Tsuji in “The Japanese Cooking. A Simple Art”, so I feel entitled to say this without feeling I have spoilt a genuine recipe).
I must have prepared chawan mushi several dozens of times and tested at least a dozen different versions, but this one is by far the most surprising of all. The delicate custard, made with homemade chicken stock, was an ideal company for chanterelles, in terms of both, texture and flavours. A simple seasoning of salt, pepper and butter were all the chanterelles needed. A pinch of turmeric added a certain je ne sais quoi, without hiding the delicate flavours and I must say I was surprised at how well fresh mitsuba – the usual chawan mushi herb – went with chanterelles. If you like chanterelles, try this combination before their season ends. Having tried different – Asian and European – mushrooms in chawan mushi, I can say that chanterelle beats easily all of them.
If you cannot get chanterelle, you might like some of these chawan mushi versions:
and you look for other ideas to cook chanterelle, these two might be useful:
TIPS: I don’t know about every country in the world, but for me, whether you pick the chanterelle in the forest or buy it, it’s definitely not an everyday fare. If bought, it’s probably not the cheapest food item, so make an effort and prepare your own chicken (or vegetable) stock. Given the delicate ingredients, the stock’s taste is quite pronounced and its quality will make a huge difference (it’s not as important in the above versions of chawan mushi, in my opinion).Don’t skip the butter and under no circumstances do not replace it with margarine!
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 favourite 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, which can be substituted with tightly wrapped aluminium foil), but as soon as I got hold of the beautiful Japanese chawan mushi cups you see above, I stopped using the old ones.
Remember to pre-fry the chanterelles: they are quite firm anyway and you will reduce to a minimum the liquid they might release. Moreover, the final stage of frying with the addition of butter and ground pepper is an important flavouring step.
Chawan mushi can be served with a salad and bread (or rice and pickles) as a light main course, but it’s also a fantastic starter, a delicious breakfast or snack for any time of the day.
Chawan mushi can be reheated in a microwave. Depending on the ingredients it will lose more or less of its flavours (this one was almost as good reheated for my afternoon snack).
individual heatproof cups (at least 6 cm high, mine were 6,5 cm high, with a 7,5 cm diameter) with lids or without lids + aluminium foil to cover them
Preparation: 45 minutes
Ingredients (yields 4 cups):
1 tablespoon oil or butter
500 g/a bit more than 1 lb chanterelles
salt, freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons of butter
(a pinch of turmeric)
300 ml/about 10 oz homemade chicken stock or, if you are a vegetarian, a vegetable stock (normally I would say you can use also dashi, the Japanese stock, but I believe here it will not enhance the chanterelle’s flavours)
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).
Clean the chanterelles. Cut the big ones into pieces and keep the smallest ones intact (for decoration).
Heat the oil or butter in a pan and fry the chanterelles until their size has reduced and they start sticking. Season with salt, pepper and stir 2 teaspoons of butter into the pan.
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.
Divide the chanterelles equally into the four cups, leaving about a dozen of the smallest ones for decoration.
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 15-20 minutes until they are wobbly but already set.
If you use a steamer, steam for about 20 minutes.
If you have mitsuba, garnish with mitsuba leaves just before serving and add the small mushrooms you have kept aside.
Serve hot or cold with bread/toast for breakfast, with a salad for a lunch, as a snack or as a starter.