In winter, after a huge break from posting, I decided to write from time to time about my tiny space gardening. I was therefore particularly excited by the perspective of sharing the joys of my summer chilli and tomato harvest, but this year has been by far the worst in my gardening “career”. First, we had the coldest spring in the past thirty years, then, finally, very hot summer days arrived, but they were soon eclipsed by rainy, cloudy, windy weeks. Not the best conditions for chillies, as you might guess! I do keep on harvesting a bit, but the fruits are small and they ripen very slowly. In short, when it comes to gardening, I don’t really have anything to boast or to be happy about this summer… so today I’m writing again about my beloved chawan mushi, and to be precise, about two small twists that make this delicious dish taste even better.
Chawan mushi (茶碗蒸し), is a steamed egg custard, traditionally including several ingredients, for example ginkgo nuts or fish cakes. The first time I heard about this dish was in the extraordinary book called “The Japanese Cooking. A Simple Art” by Shizuo Tsuji and I started to prepare it long before tasting it in Japan. Strangely, it’s not that obvious to find chawan mushi while in Japan! (Actually, the only places where I saw it on the menu were small sushi restaurants, but I hardly ever eat there.) My favourite ingredients are mushrooms (especially chanterelles and grilled eringi, which both don’t get mushy during the cooking process) and bits of chicken breast, but I also love it with green asparagus and I experiment often with other ingredients (see below).
I have already shared different versions of chawan mushi and have also written about mainly colour-improving curcuma, but I’ve never mentioned another tiny twist that improves both the custard’s texture and taste, i.e. an additional egg yolk. It was actually my husband’s idea and I’m glad he suggested it. The yolk-rich custard becomes creamier and simply tastes better. And there is a bonus! While the custards steam, you can prepare quick & easy chewy coconut cookies (macaroons) with the remaining egg white:
Since we are now in the middle of the chanterelle season, I’m sharing below the chanterelle and chicken chawan mushi version, which I’ve already prepared three times in two weeks. If you are not tempted, here are some other chawan mushi ideas, all will be greatly improved by both curcuma and an additional egg yolk:
Traditional custard is composed of eggs and dashi (Japanese stock), but when I followed Tsuji’s advice and used chicken stock instead, I realised the result had a deeper and simply better taste, so I sometimes mix both dashi and chicken stock, but most of the time use the latter and never 100% dashi.
Sake/mirin: if you don’t like sweetish egg dishes, I strongly advise using here cheapest dry sake, I call it “cooking sake”, available in Japanese grocery shops.
Soy sauce: I use Japanese low-sodium soy sauce, but any light-coloured soy sauce can be used instead.
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 special high heatproof cups with lids (available in many Japanese grocery shops), 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. It does changes the texture, but it’s still delicious and handy as a quick snack or breakfast the following day.
Mitsuba is the traditional herb used in chawan mushi (though I prefer it raw, added before serving instead of steaming). 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).
Special preserving/canning tongs are extremely useful to take the hot cups out of the steamer or the oven dish.
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
300 g/a bit more than 1 lb chanterelles
1 big chicken breast (or two small) + marinade (1 teaspoon soy sauce + 1 teaspoon cooking sake)
salt, freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons of butter
(a pinch of turmeric)
(mitsuba leaves or other fresh herbs, such as chives)
2 eggs +1 yolk
300 ml/about 10 oz homemade chicken stock or, if you are a vegetarian, vegetable stock (normally I would say you can use also dashi, the Japanese stock, but I believe chicken stock will taste better with chanterelles)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sake or mirin (with mirin the custard will be slightly sweetish)
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
Clean the chanterelles. Cut the big ones into pieces.
Heat the oil or butter in a pan and stir-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.
In the meantime, cut the chicken breast into small pieces (1.5×1.5 cm or 1inx1in). Marinate briefly in soy sauce and sake.
Bring the water in the steamer to a boil (or preheat the oven to 220°C).Put aside.
If using the oven, 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, soy sauce and turmeric. Pour the stock mixture over the eggs and stir well, without beating.
Divide the chanterelles and the chicken equally into the four 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 15-20 minutes until they are wobbly but already set.
If you use a steamer, steam covered for about 20 minutes, but everything depends on the amounts of water and the heat. Check if the whole custard (especially the center) is set, removing the lid with tweezers.
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.