When I wrote The Japanese Kitchen 14 years ago, introducing chawanmushi, a savory custard, to Americans, who were grown up with sweet custard, was challenging. Today Chawanmushi’s delicateness in flavor, texture and appearance is appealing to Americans.
Instructing Essentials of Japanese Cuisine Course at InternationalCulinaryCenter, NYC, reached to the third year this year. The course covers many areas of Japanese cuisine, including philosophy and preparation techniques, with carefully selected recipes. In addition to the Course Textbook, the students are also given The Japanese Kitchen and The Sushi Experience to use them during and after the schooling. Every students – both professional and seasoned cooks – left the Course very happy. However, there is always one student in the group, who told me that she or he wished to have learned a “chawanmushi” dish, savory egg custard soup. The Chawanmushi recipes are both in The Japanese Kitchen and The Sushi Experience, but here is a recipe again for people who wants to celebrate spring – yes spring is coming even to this north east of America – with chawanmushi and asparagus. We should move fast because summer always takes over spring quickly without leaving us to fully enjoy the spring.
Chawanmushi is very popular in Japan so that there is porcelain cups with lids made specifically for preparing this soup dish. These cups are about 1-cup-size ramekins, so use them instead. The photo here shows chawanmushi made in traditional cups and ramekins.
Chawanmushi preparation requires attention to detail on the temperature of cooking it. Here are some tips on successful chawanmushi.
- Choose good quality, hormone and antibiotic free egg: Egg is a powerful food. It is packed with nutrients, which transfers a fertilized cell into a chicken.
- If you are not owning a professional steamer or bamboo steamer build your steamer yourself with a steamer rack and a pot. My steamer rack, which can be flattened to 10 inch diameter disk, perfectly fit into my 5 1/2 qt pot.
- Have a steamer with high steam production before putting the food items to the steamer. When we bake food items in the oven, we pre-heat it. It is the same idea. In addition, warm the cups, in which you cook chawanmushi, in the pre-heating steamer.
- Control the temperature of the inside of the steamer at around 185 to 194°F, but never let it goes up higher. Higher temperature cooks the egg proteins quickly, leaving many tiny air pockets in the custard, and resulting custard will have a rough appearance and texture. Good chawanmushi has melting silky texture.
- Straining the egg-dashi mixture through a fine strainer is very important to achieve the silky texture.
- You can substitute dashi stock with good quality chicken stock.
- Temperature related to egg cooking: 148°F/65°C cause egg yolk to coagulate; temperature 158°F/70°C cause egg white to coagulate
Makes 4 servings:
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups dashi stock or chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
dash of soy sauce (about 1/8 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon sake – optional
8 bay scallops
3 stalks asparagus, tough bottoms removed, scaled and cut into thin slices diagonally
1/2 small shiitake mushroom, cut into thin slices
1 small kale, cut into thin slices (you need about 1/4 cup)
Prepare dashi stock and reduce to a room temperature. Beat the eggs in a bowl with a pair of cooking chopsticks or fork without making much bubbles. Try to break thick part of egg white. Mix the dashi and egg liquid and strain it through a fine sieve. Add the sea salt, soy sauce and sake to the dashi-egg mixture and stir.
Have a steamer set at high steam production. Add the chawanmushi cups or ramekins in the steamer and keep them warm.
In a small saucepan bring 2 cups salt added water to a boil. Cook the asparagus for 20 seconds. Fish out the asparagus, cool them in a bowl of cold water, and drain. Wipe dry the asparagus with paper towel.
In the same water cook the scallop for 20 seconds. Fish out the scallop, cool them in a bowl of cold water and drain. Wipe dry the scallops with paper towel.
Remove the chawanmushi cups or ramekins from the steamer. Divide and arrange the asparagus, shiitake and shiitake mushrooms on the bottom of the cups. Divide and gently pour in the dashi-egg mixture over the vegetables and scallop.
Transfer the cups to the steamer which is producing high steam production. Cover the pot with a lid and cook for 1 minute. Then, reduce the heat to very low and lift up one edge of the lid. Insert a thermometer between the lid and the pot. Keep checking that the temperature stays within 185 to 194°F. Since the lid is slightly lifted at one open end, condensed steam escapes and won’t be dropping on top of the chawanmushi during cooking. After five times of making it, you won’t need a thermometer, but please remember to lift up one end of the lid with a piece of aluminum foil so that the condensed steam can escape and keep the inside temperature of the steamer below 194°F.