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
from: Japanese Cooking
A Simple Art
by Shizuo Tsuji
- 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…