I first encountered chawanmushi in a Japanese restaurant a few years back. Breaking into its soft surface and discovering the choice morsels hidden beneath is at once a surprising and delightful experience. I’ve since learned that chawanmushi is considered an appetizer. The only one, I think, that is eaten with a spoon. This is a dish that stimulates the palate, one that gets you ready for the main course. In Japan, it is customarily served chilled in the summer, hot in winter.
Traditional chawanmushi includes seasonal ingredients: gingko nuts and shiitake mushrooms that become plentiful towards fall, maybe some chicken or even grilled unagi (eel). A variation could also be made using squid, prawns, fish, or scallops. The most important ingredient of course, is the star of this dish—farm fresh eggs.
3 large eggs
3 Tbsps. light soy sauce
1 tsp. sake (may be skipped if you don’t have sake)
2 cups fish stock or dashi stock
1/2 tsp. rock salt
3 fresh shiitake mushrooms, chopped (stems removed)
4 pieces large shrimp, (shelled & de-veined)
1 fillet of cream dory fish or other white deboned fish, cut into 4 pieces
1 small piece carrot, cut into flower shapes
spring onion leaves, sliced diagonally, for garnish
Break the eggs into a large bowl. Stir with chopsticks to mix egg yolk and white, but do not beat. Good chawanmushi, as with any custard, must be silky, with no froth. In another bowl, combine soy sauce, sake, fish stock, and salt. Slowly stir in the eggs into this mixture, so as to avoid forming bubbles.
You can also strain the egg mixture into another bowl to make sure the liquid is smooth.
Distribute the pieces of fish, shrimps, carrots, and shiitakes among the 4 cups. Pour in the egg mixture, filling each cup up to 1/2 inch from the rim.
Place slices of spring onion leaves on top for garnish.
Put the lids on or cover the cups tightly with cling wrap.
Boil water in a saucepan large enough to contain the cups, with the water reaching a little over halfway of the sides of the cups. When the water reaches a brisk boil, turn the heat to low and place the cups into the water. Cover the pan and let simmer for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, check the chawanmushi by inserting a toothpick into the middle of the custard. When the toothpick comes out clean, the chawanmushi is done. I’ve made this dish several times, and I no longer need the toothpick, I can tell it’s done just be the look of the surface of the custard.
Remove cups from the pan, uncover, and serve.