Chawanmushi is one of those dishes that might look difficult to make, but is actually so simple you could whip a batch up without a second thought. Soft, salty, and smooth, chawanmushi is basically a savoury steamed egg custard dish that contains a veritable treasure trove of fillings suspended within, including shrimp, chicken, carrot, shiitake mushrooms, gingko nuts, green onions, and kamaboko (a type of fish cake). Served piping hot, this dish is perfect for a cold winter’s day!
In anime, chawanmushi appears every so often… I saw chawanmushi most recently in a few episodes of Devil Survivor 2, where the reticent Jungo is constantly making it for his friend, Airi – despite being in the midst of the chaos and destruction caused by the Septentriones…. Perhaps his making chawanmushi even in the toughest of times is testament to how delicious and easy this dish is?
About the recipe:
First off, you need a vessel to make the chawanmushi in. Choose something that is heatproof, preferably made of pottery or perhaps even pyrex glass. The size should be about the size of a small teacup or individual-sized ramekin, and should be more cup-like (straighter sides) than bowl-like (gently flared sides). The capacity should be about 150 – 170 ml (about 6 oz).
A lid for your vessel is not required for cooking, and is only used to keep the chawanmushi warm before serving, if required. Some possible candidates for your vessel might be teacups, ramekins (like the ones used for creme brulee), or even a small rice bowl with straight sides.
Once you have a vessel to cook your chawanmushi, you will need an appropriately sized pot or pan to cook it in. Choose something that has a fitted lid, which will allow you to steam the egg custard properly. The dimensions of your pot will depend on the size of your vessel.
Now you’re ready to make chawanmushi! Simply place the fillings into the cup and pour in your mixture of egg and sauce! It’s really very easy…. If you can’t find all of the ingredients for the fillings, don’t worry! You can always omit them to tailor it to your diet. For a vegetarian option, simply omit the meat items, and substitute the bonito dashi with kombu dashi.
The only thing to take note of is that the outcome of the recipe might vary depending on how large your eggs are…. That’s because the egg is what solidifies and turns the liquid into a very soft, but solid, custard. Too much egg and it turns out too hard and a bit rubbery, too little and the chawanmushi will be soupy. It’s all about finding a balance in the ratio between the liquid and the eggs…. and since eggs are all different sizes, your outcome might vary. That said, don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t quite turn out right! Just adjust the recipe as needed until you find your perfect fit. And, take it from me: soupy chawanmushi will still taste wonderful! (And I’ve certainly made my share of soupy chawanmushi!)
About the ingredients:
Dashi is a form of clear Japanese fish stock. It is made from katsuobushi (preserved, fermented bonito fish) and kombu (edible kelp), and commonly comes in the form of powder or granules that dissolve once wet. If you are vegetarian, use kombu dashi instead, which is made using kelp only.
Ginkgo nuts are traditionally used in chawanmushi. They are small, golden coloured nuts that are soft and slightly bitter. They can be found canned or vacuumed packed in plastic in many large Asian supermarkets.
Kamaboko is a type of fish cake that is typically sliced and served in noodles (like with udon, as in the screenshot from Usagi Drop). It is usually found in the shape of a small loaf that can be cut into any desired thickness. It can be all white or white with a pink outline. Kamaboko can be found in many large Asian grocery stores. Freezes very well.
Fresh shiitake mushrooms make a wonderful addition to chawanmushi, especially since mushrooms just seem to love absorbing liquid – or in this case, the flavourful liquid in the chawanmushi! Fresh shiitake mushrooms are preferred since they are not as strongly flavoured as their dried counterparts. If you can’t find fresh shiitake, dried ones can also be used. Just make sure to pre-soak them in hot water, and then squeeze out as much water as you can once they are soft. You may also want to slice the dried shiitake into smaller pieces since it can tend to be a bit chewy. It’s getting easier to find fresh shiitake, so try at your local grocery store!
Makes 2 cups of chawanmushi
- 1 1/2 cups (350 ml) water
- 3/4 tsp dashi granules
- 1 1/2 tsp Japanese soy sauce
- 2 eggs
- 1 green onion, cut into 1 inch pieces and sliced thinly lengthwise
- 2 shrimps, shell removed, deveined, and sliced in half down the centre
- 2 fresh shiitake mushrooms, cut in quarters
- 6 ginko nuts
- 6 thin slices of kamaboko
- 6 thin slices of carrot
- Half a chicken thigh, cut into bite size pieces
1. Prepare ginkgo nuts by filling a small pot with water and bringing it to a boil. Add ginkgo nuts to the pot (drain first if using canned). Turn off the heat and let ginkgo nuts cool in the hot water.
2. In a small saucepan, combine water, dashi granules, and soy sauce, stirring to fully dissolve the dashi. Bring to a simmer on medium heat. Add raw chicken thigh and cook, stirring to ensure all pieces are cooked, about 3 minutes. Remove chicken from sauce and set aside to cool.
3. Evenly distribute green onion, shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, cooled gingko nuts, kamaboko, carrot, and cooled chicken thigh into two heatproof vessels with a 6 oz (175 ml) capacity.
Prepare a steaming environment for the chawanmushi: Fill a pot with a fitted lid with enough water so that the bottom half of the vessels are covered when placed into the water. Bring to a low boil.
4. In a small bowl, whisk eggs until the yolks are well incorporated into the whites. Try not to produce too many bubbles or mix a lot of air into the eggs. Slowly pour the hot sauce used to simmer the chicken in to the eggs, whisking vigorously as you pour. Ensure the egg is incorporated completely into the sauce.
Strain the egg mixture using a fine meshed strainer and remove any foam from its surface. Gently pour egg mixture evenly into each vessel and cover securely with foil or a lid.
4. Immediately place uncooked chawanmushi into the pot of water and replace the lid. Cook for 15 minutes with the water just below the boiling point. When the chawanmushi is opaque, jiggles when gently shaken, and clear broth appears when a spoon or chopstick pieces the egg custard, it is done. Carefully remove from pot and keep covered with foil or lids to keep warm until ready to serve.
Serve hot as an appetizer or side dish to your meal.
Source: My mother-in-law!