I prepare Japanese egg custards (chawan mushi) and modify them so often, I was sure I had posted one of the versions earlier this month. Luckily, it was in March, so I hope it’s not too early to talk about them once more. The egg custard I’m presenting today started with a Japanese base, but ended up combined with kimchi. I have read about Korean savoury egg custard (gaeranjim), but have never seen kimchi as its ingredient and, most of all, I have never tasted or made it, so I’m not sure to what extent this dish is Korean… Whatever the country I attach it to, I now consider kimchi among the best ingredients to put into an egg custard.
Even though I prepare chawan mushi also in colder seasons, I do this much more often in spring and summer. Maybe because I’m not Japanese, I consider this dish as one of the best ways to use up leftovers (grilled chicken, mushrooms, different vegetables…) and am rarely disappointed with accidental versions I obtain while cleaning up the fridge. This one was a bit risky and I have put kimchi only into half of the batch, just in case… As in every dish including old, matured kimchi (see Kimchi Fried Rice or Kimchi Canned Tuna and Tofu Stew), its presence ensured an incredible complexity of flavours. The smell was strong (typical of kimchi), the looks were not particularly attractive, but the custards were perfect. I particularly appreciated their tanginess, pleasantly cooling on a hot June day.
A small reminder about chawan mushi (茶碗蒸し), it is a light savoury egg and stock custard, steamed in individual cups served both hot and cold. Chawan means “tea cup” and “mushi”: “steamed”. I have never managed to source the ingredients necessary to make the traditional version, so this is how my experiments started. 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”, the source of this custard recipe, so I feel entitled to say this without feeling I spoil it).
In case you don’t have/like kimchi, here are some other chawan mushi versions I have already posted here:
TIPS: You can prepare this dish with newly made kimchi too, but it will certainly taste better with at least two weeks’ old one. (I have tested this custard only with Chinese cabbage kimchi, so I’m not sure how other vegetables would behave here, but I guess it’s worth trying!)
As I have mentioned above, I prefer by far chicken stock rather than Japanese dashi, but you can use whichever you prefer. Obviously, homemade chicken stock is the best here since, contrary to more elaborate dishes, you do feel its taste clearly here.
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, if you don’t have a steamer. I have been preparing it for years this way before I finally bought a stovetop steamer.
If you don’t have a nearby Japanese grocery shop, individual, but high heatproof cups may be difficult to get. You can also use ramekins or mini-soufflé dishes, tightly covered with aluminium foil.
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, but it’s still delicious and handy as a quick snack or breakfast the following day.
Mistuba is the traditional herb used in chawan mushi. It goes perfectly practically with every version of this dish, but if you cannot get it, use green onion, chives or any fresh herb that you like (or nothing).
A pinch of turmeric is my own invention. It doesn’t drastically change the taste, but it does bring a yellower hue, especially if your eggs are pale.
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):
4 heaped tablespoons chopped matured Chinese cabbage kimchi (drained)
4 teaspoons of kimchi “juice”
1 chicken breast cut into bit-sized pieces
(mitsuba leaves or green onion or other fresh herbs)
300 ml/about 10 oz homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock or dashi, the Japanese stock
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sake or mirin (with mirin the custard will be slightly sweetish)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
(a pinch of turmeric)
Preheat the oven to 220°C or prepare your steamer.
If you use the hot water bath method 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 kimchi and the chicken breast equally into the four cups. Add the kimchi juice.
Strain the custard mixture and pour into the garnished cups (make sure there is at least 1 cm free space at the top because the custards will slightly rise).
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. Check with a toothpick if the custard is set below the surface.
Garnish with fresh herbs.
Serve hot or cold with bread/toast for breakfast, with a salad for a lunch, as a snack or as a starter.