Chawan mushi in an onion cup.
The first night we were in Singapore, Hub and Ming had Japanese set dinner and one of the items was this chawan mushi ( savory steamed egg custard) cooked in a large white onion cup. Isn't that clever, and so zen? Unlike most chawan mushi which are steamed in ceramic cups, the onion cup chawan mushi was teppanyakied on a grill plate and covered. The bottom of the cup was cut so that the egg custard had direct contact with the cooking surface. I found out the reason for that tonight when I used a bell pepper to steam my egg custard in. The custard failed to set and I ended up pouring the unset custard into a bowl.
My dad had a rule for making savory steamed egg custard: 1 egg to 3 eggshells of water, I think. Chinese steamed egg custard is firmer than Japanese because chinese steamed egg custard is steamed in a shallow dish and shared, each person taking his share using a serving spoon whereas Japanese steamed egg custard is cooked and served in individual cups and so can be softer.
What makes an excellent cup of chawan mushi besides the flavor? The custard must be soft yet firm enough to hold in a spoon, and the silkier it is, the better. It isn't as easy to get the texture as you think. I have found that other than the proportion of egg to water, you must steam the custard slowly over very gentle flame or there will be bubbles and the texture will be coarse. If overcooked, the bubbles are smaller but the custard will not be smooth, as in the top picture.
The ingredients required for making chawan mushi can be as simple as a couple of gingko nuts and a small quarter of fresh shiitake/Chinese mushroom. I always find the meat (usually chicken or shrimp) unnecessary and too coarse because chawan mushi is all about the silky custard. Of course the meat will add a bit of savory sweetness to the custard, and you can taste that sweetness especially if the meat is at the bottom of the cup.
Serve chawan mushi next time you cook tempura or teppanyaki. The silky soft custard soothes your throat as it glides down, clearing your gullet for your next culinary pleasure.
2 medium-sized eggs (60g each)
400 ml water
1 t dashi granules
1 t light soy sauce
1 T sake
1/4 t salt (or more if like)
1. Stir the dashi granules in the water until it is completely dissolved. Whisk all the above ingredients together. Get ready a wok of steaming water.
4 small (1.5 cm) pieces of chicken or shrimps (seasoned with salt & pepper)
1 fresh shiitake mushroom, in small pieces
2 to 4 slices of carrot
4 to 6 gingko nuts
fine strips of lemon.
You can put the ingredients (except the lemon strips) into 3-4 chawan mushi cups (I used soup bowls because chawan mushi cup servings are too small for my boys) or put them later on the nearly-set custard if you want them to show.
3. Pour the egg mixture through a fine sieve into the cups and cover the cups with a piece of foil so that the steam will not mar the surface of the custard.
4. Steam the custard in gently simmering water for 25 minutes if using a bowl. Custard in chawan mushi cups will take about 20 minutes. If you prefer your fillings to be toppings, put them on the custard carefully after steaming 12 minutes or so and continue steaming.
5. Remove from the steamer and garnish with the lemon strips. Serve hot.