Chawan-mushi: Japanese Egg Custard


I’m cooking for one these days because Mr. Tess is working in Florida for several weeks. The weather here has taken a sharp turn toward winter so I’m looking forward to a short trip to the sunshine state. Mr. Tess mentioned eating in a seafood restaurant the other night. That made me think about lobster. How good would lobster gyoza be!!!

Fortunately, I have a job; unfortunately that means work. It’s “fun” learning to make how-to videos, but work nevertheless. Despite being engrossed with the new project (and cooking for only myself), I bought a lobster fully, intending to make lobster gyoza. I became so immersed in the work that even hunger didn’t distract me until late in the evening. While gyoza are not difficult to make, they are not quick. Chawan-mushi is both easy and relatively quick to make, with the additional benefit that it can be eaten hot or chilled.


Chawan-mushi is a savory custard—”food steamed in a cup.” Though the egg sets completely in steaming, the added ingredients make the dish a little soupy, and it’s often served in place of soup. It’s so popular in Japan that there are special cups with lids just for serving this dish. It’s also a dish eaten with both chopsticks and a spoon. You can add anything to the custard base which compliments its delicate flavor: chicken breast, scallops, shrimp, mushrooms, spinach, ginkgo nuts, chestnuts, small strips of lemon rind, parboiled carrot slices, bamboo shoots, kamaboko, or even udon. I thought lobster might be nice!
Below is the recipe as written in my project-book. I substituted some meat from the lobster tail for the chicken, and used small shrimp and bay scallops instead of medium shrimp. I had no mitsuba, but picked some Chinese chives from the garden.

Steamed Egg Custard “Soup”

serves 4
page 209

  • 1 chicken breast fillet or 2 scallops
  • salt
  • 4 medium shrimp, headed, peeled, deveined, and cut in halves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons usukuchi shoyu (light-colored soy sauce—not LITE soy sauce! or use regular soy sauce), divided 1 tsp + 1/2 tsp
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups dashi (Japanese stock)
    Chicken stock is really good in this dish as well!
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon mirin (sweet cooking wine)
  • 8 mitsuba leaves, or watercress leaves, stems removed


  • yuzu citron or lemon rind, julienned

Place a bamboo steamer ( or metal one) over plenty of waterter in a deep pot over high heat.
Remove the white string from the chicken breast fillet, lightly salt the meat, and let it stand 15 minutes.

Wipe the chicken with paper towels to remove the salt and exuded juice. Cut the fillet in half diagonally, then halve the two pieces crosswise.

In a small saucepan of salted boiling water, blanch the chicken and shrimp for 10 seconds. Drain them, and wipe them dry with a paper towel. In a medium blowl, toss the shrimp, chicken, and mushrooms with1 tsp. shoyu, and let the mixture stand for 15 minutes.

Wipe the shrimp, chicken, and mushrooms dry with a paper towel, and divide them among four custard soup cups or ramekins.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs lightly with a pair of cooking chopsticks. Add the remaining 1/2 tsp. shoyu, the dashi, 1/2 tsp. salt, and mirin, and mix chopsticks. Be careful not to whip in bubbles! Strain the mixture through a fine sieve. Divide the strained egg liquid among the soup cups or ramekins.
Transfer the cups to the hot steamer. If you use a metal steamer, cover the underside of the lid with a thick cotton cloth to prevent condensed steam from dripping on the custard.

Steam the custard over high heat for 2 minutes then turn the heat to medium. The temperature in the steamer should be about 195°F. If the temperature is too high, the egg protein coagulates, leaving many tiny air pockets, and the custard becomes tough. Chawan mushi should have a silky, smooth texture similar to that of soft tofu.
Steam the custard on medium to low heat for 13 minutes more, untilclear liquid runs out when you insert a wooden skewer in the center. Place a misuba or watercress leaf on top of each ramekin, and steam for another 30 seconds.

Remove the cups from the steamer. Serve the custard garnished with yuzu citron or lemon rind and covered with a lid if possible. Eat with both chopsticks and a spoon.


Notes: I prefer cooking the custard in a bain-marie (covered custard cups placed in a large pan of hot water) for 25 minutes because I’m more certain of the cooking temperature of the oven (350°F).
Shizuo Tsuji (Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art) notes that the cups should be covered with plastic wrap or foil in the steamer—I did find some condensation on my custards even with the bamboo steamer. The volume of the custard does not increase much as it cooks; the custard is overdone it the top is pocked or cracked. He also notes that to adjust the recipe for the number of diners, use a ratio of 3 times the volume of stock to the volume of beaten egg(s).

Mikey and Gracie keeping me company

Mikey and Gracie keeping me company

Other Steamed Recipes from Tess

⇐ Previous Post Next Post ⇒
Spicy Stir-Fried Zuchini and Carrot Lobster Gyoza!

5 thoughts on “Chawan-mushi: Japanese Egg Custard

  1. Hi Tess, your egg custard is so successful! The japanese version is so delicate, thanks for sharing! I must say this needs a lot practice to master it well, without the holes as you say.

  2. Hi Janet Ching,
    I think it was lucky. This was the first time I made it in a steamer. Before, I’ve made it in the oven, bain marie. This tasted good.

  3. Kumiko,
    You might try cooking it in the oven—cover the cups, place them in a large baking pan, pour boiling water about 1″ deep into the pan, and cook in a pre-heated oven.
    With the steamer, I had to watch the boiling water constantly because it would start to boil too fast, then I’d turn the heat down and it would stop boiling…

  4. Pingback: » Silky-smooth chawanmushi | grace & wen - blog

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