Updated: Apr 16, 2020
Chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し,Chawanmushi, literally "tea cup steam" or "steamed in a tea bowl") is an egg custard dish found in Japan that uses the seeds of ginkgo. Unlike many other custards, it is usually eaten as a dish in a meal.
As a kid, Chawanmushi was a 'treat' dish me and my siblings got whenever we went to a Japanese restaurant. In fact, back in the 90's in a small town called Kota Kinabalu (where I grew up), there was a true scarcity of Japanese cuisine restaurants which meant that Japanese cuisine came at a premium price. So going for Japanese food was always either a treat or for a special occasion. It's slightly strange revisiting that thought with current society filled with fast food Japanese chains and Australian $2.50 sushi rolls. Oh, how lucky we are now!
The stranger fact to this story is when I learnt that many Australian's don't know what Chawanmushi is and how foreign a savoury custard dish this is to them! This was brought on by the one week I made a big batch of Chawanmushi and brought it to work to eat it for breakfast, only to be followed by questioning stares and surprise - something they've never heard of before!
Nonetheless, Chawanmushi is still one of my favourite Japanese dishes to date. When I asked my mum years ago how to make it, she noted that it was a hard and lengthy process which then hindered me from ever looking up the recipe. Rest assured, after cooking this a handful of times this year, this is a really simple dish to create and I do beg you to try it!
Cook your dashi soup stock first as this needs to cool to a lukewarm temperature before you mix it into your egg mixture. You do not want it to cook the egg if it's too hot. If time is scarce, cool the dashi stock on top of a water bath (bowl of iced water)
The key to a smooth egg custard is to strain the egg mixture. Make sure you have a fine sieve to make sure you remove all the air bubbles and chunky bits.
As much as Chawanmushi looks like it should be a sweet custard, it is indeed Savoury! So try and add little bite size pieces of chicken, mushrooms, crab sticks before pouring the egg mixture in. Trust me, it's like finding gold when you finally find one!
If you do not have a large enough steamer, use a large pot or wok and raise your cups/ramekins so that it's elevated and not touching the water. The cooking process requires steaming, not in a waterbath like a sweet custard. Here, I have used a makeshift steamer, using a pestle and mortar stone base as a 'stage' to raise my ramekins.
Japanese Chawanmushi (Savoury Egg Custard) Cuisine: Japanese Author: Tish Tambakau Prep time: 10 mins Cook time: 15 mins Total time: 25 mins Serves: 4 NOTE* If sake is not available, you can also replace with Japanese mirin. Available at most asian grocers.
2 cup dashi soup stock
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sake*
ADDITIONAL FILLINGS (Optional on preference)
1/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken thigh, cut into bite-size pieces
1/4 enoki mushrooms, chopped, or 4 shiitake mushrooms, stem removed and thinly sliced
8 slices kamaboko or narutomaki fish cakes
Lightly beat eggs in a large bowl. Try not to bubble the eggs.
Mix cool dashi soup stock, soy sauce, salt, sake, and sugar in another bowl. Add the dashi mixture in the egg mixture gradually. Strain the egg mixture.
Put mushrooms, chicken, and kamaboko or narutomaki slices in four chawanmushi cups, or tea cups. Fill each cup to third-forths full with the egg mixture. Cover the cups.
Preheat a steamer on high heat. Turn down the heat to low and carefully place cups in the steamer.
Steam for a few minutes on high heat. Turn down the heat to low and steam for about 10-15 minutes, or until done.
Poke a bamboo stick in the chawamushi and if clear soup comes out, it's done.