Chawan Mushi with Ginkgo Nuts

One of the first Japanese recipes I ever made is this savory custard. It’s more unexpected than exotic, soothing and almost familiar. Twenty years ago, I had no idea what dashi was but I must have found an instant dashi soup mix in a store specializing in foreign foods. Ginkgo nuts, lily root, and chestnuts were impossible to find; eggs, chicken breast, shrimp, and soy sauce were easy.
It’s sometimes called a soup because the solid ingredients release liquid as they dish steams. It’s one of the few Japanese dishes eaten with both a spoon and chopsticks. And like any soup, you can add your favorite ingredients: mushrooms, scallops, kamaboko (‘fish paste’ something like fake krab), parboiled carrots for color, firm tofu, snow peas… And chicken stock is not a poor substitute for dashi!
I’ve posted about Hiroko Shimbo’s traditional version of chawan mushi from her book The Japanese Kitchen, and her all mushroom variation. This recipe is from Shizuo Tsuji’s Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art.
see cooking notes below the recipe…

Savory Cup Custard
Chawan Mushi

from: Japanese Cooking
A Simple Art
by Shizuo Tsuji

4 servings
page 214

  • 2 ½ to 3 ounces (70 -80 gr) chicken breast
  • 1 teaspoon saké
  • about 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
  • 4 small raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 lily root (yuri-ne) (optional)
  • 12 stalks trefoil (or equivalent amount of young spinach or watercress)
  • 12 to 16 fresh gingko nuts (Mr. Tsuji advises not to use canned)
  • 4 chestnuts, peeled and sliced


  • 4 medium eggs
  • 2 ½ cups dashi or chicken stock which is not just a substitute but is a delicious as dashi
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon mirin
  • 1 Tablespoon light soy sauce

Cut chicken breast into ½-inch pieces. Marinate in a scant amount of saké and light soy sauce for about 15 minutes. Drain; discard marinade.
Blanch shrimp in hot water for 30 seconds, remove, and pat dry. If the shrimp are large, split in half lengthwise.

Lily root is worth trying if you can find it. It’s shaped like a flattened garlic bulb, with a mild flavor, and a pleasant, delicate texture. Separate bulb into segments and parboil gently in lightly salted water for 4-5 minutes. Drain.

Wash trefoil or other greens, pat dry, and chop coarsely.
Shell and peel ginkgo nuts. Peel and slice chestnuts.
Assemble, steam, and serve:
Beat eggs in a medium-sized bowl. In another bowl mix the room-temperature dashi (or chicken stock), salt, mirin, and light soy sauce. Pour stock mixture in a thin stream into beaten egg. Mix well, but do not beat. The surface of the mixture should be free of bubbles or foam. Strain.
Divide the prepared solid ingredients among 4 cups, except for the chopped trefoil or greens. Ladle the egg stock mixture into the cups, filling them to about ½ inch (1 ½ cm) from the top. Add chopped greens.
Cover each cup with plastic wrap or foil and set in a hot steamer. Cover steamer and steam over medium heat for 20 minutes, or place foil-covered cups in a bain-marie and cook in a preheated 425°F (220°C) oven for 30 minutes.
The chawan mushi is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The custard should be set but still jiggle freely. The volume of the custard will not increase much. It is overdone if the top is pocked or cracked and tough looking.
Serve hot or chilled and eat with a spoon and chopsticks.

I made a couple of mistakes in making this dish. First of all, I didn’t remember I’d used all the chestnuts. No big problem. And of course no lily root—I’ll have to try it one day. My light colored soy sauce was empty, so the custard is a little browner than ususal. I missed that the recipe calls for medium eggs and all I had were large! To be honest, I think the extra egg volume worked fine. The big mistake, the reason you see my custard looking pitted in places and burned on the dishes, is for some reason I covered the dishes with plastic wrap rather than foil! Plastic wrap works fine in a stove top steamer, but not in a hot oven. Don’t tell, but I scraped the top layer off because I couldn’t be sure that the plastic hadn’t all shrunk to the top edges of the dishes.
Oh, and Mikey went crazy for this stuff.
return to the recipe…


7 thoughts on “Chawan Mushi with Ginkgo Nuts

  1. Hey Tess, it’s going to be in the low nineties again today. I hope that it cools off by Monday, because I’m finally having friends over to my house to entertain. Frits is requesting my Sukiyaki. Actually, there’s a Korean market not too far away that sells perfectly sliced beef and all the right vegetables. Then, because we got started on the subject, chawan mushi. I haven’t made it in some time, but I have the perfect bamboo steamer and little lidded cups. I KNOW that the Korean market will have fresh ginkgo nuts. I really want to “fire up” my fire place too.

    Maybe over the weekend I can make a few origami leaves to sprinkle over the table!

    • Ta! Karla!
      Tomorrow (or even tonight) the forecasts say we are to expect sn-w !!! Note that I have only indicated the blasted four-letter word: I try to avoid ‘bad words’ on my blog. LOL
      Sukiyaki: I can’t believe I’ve not made it yet for this blog. The Korean market on the corner, sells perfectly sliced beef and the veg. Buy the right foods, arrange and eat. J. is working out of town, so I’ll wait ’till he returns. Such nabe-hot-pot meals are not so fun alone. Or I could invite someone over in the new house.
      I’m looking forward to having a fireplace in the new house. And you are no doubt looking forward to temperatures that would make using a fireplace nice without turning on the AC.
      Enjoy your guests and dinner.

      • Hey Tess,
        I don’t eat much beef, lamb, or pork, because my friend Frits cooks up some major French cuisine, and you can bet that I do eat and enjoy it. I have a simple rule here. When someone you adore offers to cook you something incredible, or asks the same of you, show some manners and grace. My beliefs are personal, not religious; which is a very different story. You’ll be sure that my little Korean Market will have the best sliced beef that I can afford. The vegetables at this little place are always lovingly tended to. Pretty much any Japanese ingredient can be bought here as well. But I am thinking of spicing up my dinner with some spicy Korean pickles for the beginning of the meal The Koreans call it Panchan or Banchan. Many little plates of appetizers. YUM!

        They’re forecasting rain for Sunday. It’s hard to believe in this heat.
        I wish that both you and “J” could show up!

        • I love banchan! So fun—those little plates add to the experience of the main dish: hot, soothing, crunchy, sweet, salty… I don’t know that I could make so many myself at home: but I love Korean restaurants.
          They remind me of the more restrained tsukemono that I’ve made. I can’t believe that I have not posted about my favorite one with lotus root and hot red peppers! But if you want to try one I have posted about, look at the Vinegared Julienne Potatoes. It is not spicy, but it’s an unusual dish. It’s one of the tsukemono (of the quick Japanese pickles sort) that you can make ahead of time. Anyway…

          I understand what you mean about animal meat/vegetarian differences. You are lucky to have a friend who can make excellent French dishes! Certainly a good idea to be gracious! ;-) I actually really like vegetarian food; but I don’t care for the ‘fake’ meat and cheese processed foods. Trying to reproduce meat and dairy products is negative. Enjoying the food for what it is, that is positive.

          The trip to visit your area is still in the background. But I misunderstood J: it’s a 2 week commitment! With the new house, and the cats, the whole thing is uncertain, but maybe possible. But, hey, I’ll email ahead of time and not just drop-by if it works. LOL.

          We can have a virtual cuppa, Japanese-tea. Drink to meeting in rl.


          • Hey Tess,
            Banchan sounds like a great way to start off a Sukiyaki dinner! The little Korean Market has quite the variety.
            I’m still not sure about the Chawan Mushi, because I have a tendency to over extend myself, and these are well known friends coming. It will probably take me even longer to get out all of my Japanese Autumn colored dishes, and set a really fun table! Atmosphere is part of the fun!
            There was a time many years ago, that I DID experiment with “meat analogs”, fake chicken, etc… besides the taste, most were loaded with salt. I then learned about Buddhist vegetarian “Monk” cuisine Shojin Ryori. Like I had mentioned, the Sukiyaki is a rare occasion.
            Please e-mail me your schedule and where you will staying if you come out here. A lot going on for you!

            • Chawan mushi with sukiyaki seem not to go together so well—sort of like eating soup and stew at the same meal. Save it for another time!

              J. just told me the company won’t be sending him to your part of the world. :-(
              We have a lot going on, with the house and starting to move…

              It would have been so fun to meet. And also November is nicer there than here in Michigan. LOL!

              • I am so thrilled about your new house, but it seems like a really awkward time for you to come out here. You’ve got some serious wonderful nesting to do! Yea! There will be more times to get together. I agree with you about the chawan mushi and sukiyaki together. Too soupy indeed. Best to stick with the banchan, or mix it up with some tsukemono. Your minty carrots would work well, and the colors would be fantastic. Not too many dishes, just a few. Enhance the vegetable freshness and crunch at the start of the dinner, and instead of increasing the subtly of the dinner with chawan, I’m thinking about these great banchan chunky, spicy cucumbers, and mung bean sprouts, and other little tid-bits.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s