I was about to start this post talking about how cold and miserable San Francisco can be, but then I remembered that I can’t stand it when people belabor the fact that San Francisco is cold and damp. I mean, yeah, it is. Almost unbearably so at times. But if that’s the biggest thing San Franciscans have to complain about, it only proves that it’s one of the most awesomest places to live. Besides, San Francisco has Japantown, where you can find any number of restaurants that serve steaming hot bowls of chawan mushi. This magical savory Japanese egg custard will brighten any day, no matter how foggy, with its silky smooth egg layer concealing an assortment of delectable hidden treasures.
The custard is traditionally made by whisking together dashi (Japanese soup stock, which can be made from seaweed or fish) and eggs. The mixture is then poured into small bowls or teacups over any number of tasty morsels from gingko nuts to mushrooms, chicken, seafood, or other delights. Gently steamed, the custard forms a layer that hides all the tasty surprises within. Armed with a spoon, you’ll become one happy treasure hunter.
Chawan mushi is a true Lazy Gourmet kind of dish: It’s incredibly delicious, insanely easy to make, and, well, clever enough to surprise and delight even the most jaded foodie. My point is, wherever you live, if you’re cold, just make yourself a steaming hot bowl of chawan mushi (or, if you live in a hot climate, serve it chilled, like David Chang does at Momofuku, topped with fresh crabmeat). You’ll be happy you did.Print
Magical Chawan Mushi (Japanese Savory Egg Custard)
This is a super simple version, adapted from a recipe in Harumi’s Japanese Home Cooking, by Harumi Kurihara. Far more elaborate versions are possible, but the simplicity of this version sums up what I love most about Japanese cooking. Plus, these ingredients are all likely to be in your pantry already, or easily obtained from any grocery store. Many recipes call for covering the dishes with either plastic wrap or a tea towel during cooking, but I’ve found that step unnecessary so long as you are careful to keep the steam bath at a simmer, not a rapid boil.
- Yield: 2
- A small handful of enoki or other small mushrooms
- 6 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, cut into pieces
- 1 scallion, thinly sliced
- 2 eggs
- ¾ cup chicken broth
- ¾ teaspoons soy sauce
- 1–2 tablespoons ikura (salmon roe), to garnish (optional)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- A few drops of chile oil, or to taste
- Divide the mushrooms and shrimp between two 8-oz ramekins, teacups, rice bowls, or wide-mouth canning jars.
- In a glass measuring cup with a spout, whisk the eggs gently, just enough to combine the yolk and white without adding too much air. Add the broth and soy sauce and whisk just to combine. Pour the mixture over the shrimp and mushrooms, dividing equally between the two dishes. Sprinkle the sliced scallion over the tops, reserving several slices for garnishing the finished custards.
- Bring water to a boil in a pot with a steamer insert (alternatively, use a bamboo or other steamer in a lidded pot large enough to contain it fully with the lid on). When the water is boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low, and place the dishes into the steamer. Cover the pot with the lid. Steam the custards for about 10 to 12 minutes, until they are fully set and the shrimp is cooked through.
- Transfer the dishes to small plates and serve hot, sprinkled with scallion slices, topped with a spoonful of ikura, if using, and drizzled with a bit of the sauce.