Chawan mushi is one of those Japanese dishes I've enjoyed in restaurants for years but always thought would be too hard to make at home. A steamed savory custard served in an cup, chawan mushi is made from eggs, dashi and soy sauce, usually with tasty tidbits added like ginko nuts, shrimp, chicken or thin slices of reconstituted dried shiitake mushrooms. When wife Momo decided to make chawan mushi, sans the tidbits, for baby Gen -- who basically loves every food that hits his lips -- I realized that this dish was totally doable in a home kitchen; easy, in fact. But, surprise, surprise, baby Gen didn't like Momo's chawan mushi! I did, though, and resolved to make it myself a few days later to understand the method. The keys are passing the egg mixture through a sieve and steaming for just the right amount of time. Here's the recipe, with chicken, shrimp and dried shiitake. Give it a shot!
3 cups dashi
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 boneless chicken thigh, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 whole small or medium-sized shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 dried shiitake, soaked in 1 cup of water for at least 1 hours, then stemmed and thinly sliced
4 sprigs of mitsuba, a fresh Japanese herb (optional)
Mix together the dashi, soy sauce and salt in a mixing bowl and set aside.
Carefully beat the eggs in a small bowl until the egg whites and yolk are thoroughly combined but not frothy. Set up a sieve or a fine-mesh strainer suspended over another bowl. Now pass the beaten eggs through the sieve, using a rubber spatula to help push the eggs through. Discard any solid parts that can't pass through the sieve. Passing the eggs this way is the most important step in the process. Add the egg mixture to the bowl with the dashi, soy sauce and salt and mix well.
Ready 4 small, heatproof vessels to hold the chawan mushi. Earthenware teacups are perfect (chawan mushi literally means "steamed in a tea bowl"). In each vessel, add 2 pieces of chicken, 1 shrimp and 2 or 3 slices of shiitake. Pour in the egg-dashi mixture to fill each cup.
Set up a steamer on your stove. When the steamer is ready, place the custard cups inside, cover with a sheet of cheesecloth and then cover with the lid. The cheesecloth prevents condensation from dripping onto the custard. Steam for 3 minutes on high heat, then reduce the heat to low and steam for another 10 minutes, or until the custard is set. Make sure to reduce the heat, or the custard will turn out spongy. Serve warm, garnish with a sprig of mitsuba (optional) and eat with a spoon!
(At Japanese restaurants, as a final step, a savory dashi is often poured atop the custard before serving, which I'm skipping for this home recipe.)