One of the few Japanese dishes that is eaten with a spoon, Chawanmushi is the appetiser which is almost always served in Kaiseki ryori. The egg is mixed with dashi, soy sauce, mirin and salt, then carefully steamed with various ingredients in it. The texture of the egg custard is so smooth and delicate.
The cook time assumes that a steamer or a pot is used to steam. If an oven is used, the cook time will be 25 minutes longer.
Prepare 4 x tea cups (or small deep bowls) of about 200ml (6.8oz) capacity (note 8) that can be heated in steamer.
Mix dashi stock, soy sauce, mirin and salt until salt is disolved. Add the beaten egg and mix well.
Place a sieve over a measuring cup or a bowl and pour the egg mixture through the sieve. This will remove the lumps of egg white and improve custard consistency.
Add equal portions of the egg mixture gently into each tea cup. If there are small bubbles on the surface, remove them. I use the edge of a kitchen paper to do that.
Bring the steamer to the boil. If the lid of steamer is likely to drip water while steaming, wrap the lid with a tea towel, tied at the handle of the lid.
Reduce the heat to low and shift the lid about 1cm so that the steam can escape (to make it a gentle steam and avoid the custard bubbling).
You will need a large pot, a plate that will just fit inside the pot, and either 3 small ramekins or 3 balls of the same size made by scrunching aluminium foil (these are to lift the plate above the water level).
You will also need to wrap the lid of the pot with a tea towel, tied at the handle of the lid.
Add two cups of water to the pot. Place the ramekins or aluminium balls in a triangle position and place the plate on top of them.
Turn the heat on high and bring it to a boil.
Follow step 2 onwards of Steam Using a Steamer.
Fill the baking tray with 1cm (⅜") depth of water.
Chawanmushi should be served immediately with a spoon. This is one of the few Japanese dishes that requires a spoon to eat.
1. My prawns were small and weighed 65g (2.3oz) in total once peeled. I left the tail shells intact for presentation reasons but you don’t need to do that.
If the prawns are large, you need to cut them into bite size pieces.
2. You don’t need to shape the carrots into flowers but if you want to, please visit my recipe Sanshoku Bento (Tri-coloured Rice Bowl), Note 1.
3. You can buy frozen chikuwa at Japanese grocery stores or some Asian grocery stores. They are shaped like a log of about 10cm (4") long with a hole in the centre. There are sold in a pack of 5.
My small chikuwa was just over 30g (1.1oz).
Instead of chikuwa, you could use other fishcakes that are not deep fried.
4. Mitsuba is a wild Japanese parsley or the Japanese version of Cryptotaenia. Japanese grocery stores usually stock fresh mitsuba. Instead of mitsuba, you can use other green leaves such as mizuna, spinach or even snow peas.
5. The golden rule of the egg:dashi:stock ratio is 1:2.5 respectively. If you prefer harder/softer custard, then you will need to reduce/increase the quantity of dashi stock slightly against the quantity of egg. But the quantity of dash should not be more than 3 against 1 portion of egg.
6. Please visit Home Style Japanese Dashi Stock.
7. I use light soy sauce so that I can maintain the light cream colour of chawanmushi. But you can use normal Japanese soy sauce. Dark soy sauce should be avoided as it will make the egg mixture too dark and unattractive.
8. You can use larger or smaller size cups or bowls to make chawanmushi. If using smaller cups, there will be too much egg mixture and for larger cups, it will not fill up the cup. You will need to adjust the number of cups or the amount of egg mixture accordingly.
9. The time required to steam chawanmushi varies depending on the size of the cups and the strength of the heat. As long as they are steamed with gentle steam, they should cook with a smooth surface, even if steamed slightly longer. Strong steam or prolonged steaming will cause the custard to bubble.
10. It is best to serve immediately while chawanmushi is still fresh and hot. If you can't, store it in the fridge and re-heat it either in a pot with 1 cm boiling water for 5-10 minute or in the oven at low temperature for about 15-20 min.