I have written so much about this Japanese savoury custard, I don’t really know where to start… I am still under its charm and my recently bought steamer set increased the frequency of my chawan mushi meals. Thanks to its incredible lightness, no matter how often I have chawan mushi, I don’t need to feel guilty, count calories or cut down on fats… I simply enjoy it, playing with its ingredients as much as I want and share with you my most successful experiments, such as this one.
Mushrooms are among my favourite chawan mushi ingredients. If I have a choice among cultivated (the only ones available in spring), I would almost always pick eringi (also called king oyster mushrooms), which have a subtle taste and a meaty texture. I must have made at least a dozen of chawan mushi with them before realising I could improve immensely both the taste and the aroma by simply grilling them beforehand. Since the first time I tried this method I have never got back to “raw” version and I’m sure all the chawan mushi and/or eringi lovers would share my view.
For those who hear about chawan mushi (茶碗蒸し) for the first time, it is a light savoury egg and stock custard, steamed in individual cups. Chawan means “tea cup” and “mushi” stands for “steamed”. I have fallen in love with it not only because it’s delicious and extremely light at the same time, but also because it’s one of the most versatile dishes I imagine. I have never managed to source the ingredients necessary to make the traditional version, but almost all the version I make up end up delicious. 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).
Here are some proofs of my big passion for this fantastic dish and, as you see, for these particular cups because I love them so much I cannot make myself use any other model… (the shrimp chawan mushi photograph was taken before I bought them):
TIPS: You can make this custard only with eringi or reduce their amount and add some chicken breast (marinate its bite-sized pieces in sake, if possible, for ten minutes). I often do it.
As I have mentioned above, I prefer by far chicken stock rather than Japanese seaweed and dried bonito 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 in the oven).
If you don’t have a nearby Japanese grocery shop, individual, but high heatproof cups may be difficult to get. First, I 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. You can also use ramekins or mini-soufflé dishes, tightly covered with aluminium foil of course..
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.
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 really change the taste, but it does bring a yellower hue if your eggs are pale (quite normal at this time of the year…). I haven’t added it here, but if you want to make your chawan mushi brighter, try adding turmeric.
I find taberu rayu (thick chilli and garlic oil) a perfect company for chawan mushi, so if you like hot dishes, I advise putting some of it on top (or actually any chilli oil).
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
300 g/about1/2 lb eringi mushrooms (or 200 g eringi and 150 g chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces, then marinated in sake for ten minutes)
salt, freshly ground pepper
(a pinch of turmeric)
(mitsuba leaves or green onion or other fresh herbs)
300 ml/about 10 oz homemade chicken stock or, if you are a vegetarian, a 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
Preheat the oven to 220°C (or prepare your steamer).
Slice the eringi. Cut bigger sliced into bite-sized pieces.
Heat the oil in a pan or on a grill and quickly grill the slices on both sides.
Season with salt and pepper.
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 mushrooms and the chicken breast equally into the four cups.
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. If you like chilli, I find chawan mushi excellent with chili oil (especially the Japanese thick chilli oil: taberu rayu).