In Japan, chawan mushi is a very popular savory custard. There are even special cups with lids for preparing and serving the dish. The traditional recipe is made with dashi, eggs, and chicken, shrimp, and mushrooms plus seasonal ingredients like gingko nuts, mitsuba, yuzu citron, kinome, or lily buds. This recipe is a variation of the usual chawan mushi.
Chawan mushi is one of the first Japanese recipes I ever tried many years ago—from Shizuo Tsuji’s Japanese Cooking a simple art
. I bought that book in 1990, an eighth printing. It was on clearance at a specialty kitchen store in Novi that went out of business years ago. My sister and I used to make the trip once a month to that place.
Among the pages, is a strip of purple foil origami paper, yellowed on the back and curled on the top where it has been protruding from the book. There is a receipt from Whole Foods for bread and dairy I bought just after Thanksgiving in 1995. And a torn sheet with some typing about legal protections for service members on one side and some numbers in my writing on the back that do not add up to 100%.
There is part of an article from Gourmet magazine (1980) about Japanese picnic foods including maki-zushi, which I used to make sushi for a work-related picnic 15 years ago. I had to reassure everyone endlessly that there was no raw fish, even so I went home with leftovers. They are still not adventurous eaters.
There is a snapshot of my mother-in-law and her husband, in early winter looking out at the beach up north. I can see someone at the very edge of the waves; it might be my daughter. Their dog, Theo, is in the bottom left corner of the picture, bounding out of the evergreen trees which frame the other three sides of the picture. They are all facing away from the camera.
All-Mushroom Egg Custard “Soup”
serves 4 to 5
- 4 to 6 (3-inch) ramekins or Japanese custom cups⅓ ounce, or ¼ cup tightly packed dried porcini mushroom, covered with boiling water and soaked for 15 minutes
- (I used some of a dried supermarket mix called “Forest Mushrooms” which needed a longer soaking in lieu of some of the fresh shiitake that did not look very fresh at the store—use your judgement for the mushrooms you use)
- 2 ounces, or about 4 medium shiitake, stems removed
- 3 ounces, or about 5 to 6 button mushrooms, stems removed
- 4 ounces, or about 1 cup enokitake, root stems discarded
- 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons mirin (sweet cooking wine)
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon shoyu (soy sauce), depending on the saltiness of the chicken broth
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tablespoons minced parsley (I used basil from the garden)
- I used basil leaves from our garden—the bunnies ate the parsley before we got the fence up
- 1 cup concentrated chicken broth
- (not sure what Ms. Shimbo is referring to, but likely not bouillon cubes which are full of salt and chemicals! I’m wondering if a person were to steep kombu in homemade chicken broth would work to add umami? At any rate, I used part of a can of salt/chem enhanced Campbells Chicken Broth. …OK…)
- 3 large eggs, brought to room temperature
- salt to taste
Place a bamboo or metal steamer basket over plenty of water in a deep pot over high heat. My steamer is small, so I steamed them in the oven in a large pan covered with foil. I pre-heated the oven to 375°F (198°C), and boiled water in a kettle to fill the pan.
Drain the porcini mushrooms in a fine sieve, reserving the soaking liquid. Cut all the mushrooms into ⅓-inch cubes. In a medium skillet over high heat, heat the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add all the mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms for 1 minute, stirring. Add the mirin and shoyu, and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Add the ground black pepper and minced parsley, and give several big stirs. Remove from heat.
Dilute the chicken broth with the water in which the porcini were soaked, and add water to make 2 cups. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs lightly with a pair of cooking chopsticks or a fork, and add the eggs to the chicken broth. Strain the egg-broth mixture through a fine sieve. Add the mushrooms to the egg-broth mixture, and season the mixture with salt.
Fill the custard soup cups or ramekins 80% full with the liquid. Transfer the cups to the hot steamer. (for a metal steamer, cover the underside of the lid with a thick cotton cloth to prevent condensed steam from dripping onto the custard) Steam on high heat for 2 minutes then reduce the heat to medium-low. Steam for 13 minutes more, until clear liquid runs out when you insert a wooden skewer.
For the oven method, I filled the custard cups as directed and placed them in my large pan. Then I poured the boiling water into the pan so it rose about half-way up the cups. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place it into the pre-heated oven. Turn the oven temperature down to 275°F (135°C), and leave it for 20 minutes. Test to see if the custards are set. Cook longer if needed.
Remove the cups from the steamer, cover with a lid (if possible) to keep them hot for serving. My note: this dish is also good served at room temperature.