Chawanmushi is a silky-smooth savory egg custard that's a popular side with Japanese meals. It's easy to make, adaptable and so delicious.
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I first had chawanmushi in Taiwan, though I didn't know it at the time. The hotel we were staying at in Taipei had a huge range of foods available for breakfast.
On the first day, less adventurous thanks to jetlag, I kept with relatively familiar Continental breakfast options but after that I became more brave. And one of my discoveries was this tasty Japanese savory egg custard.
It has been in the back of my mind to make for many years, but as ever I only got round to it relatively recently. But it's definitely one that I will be having more often as it's something special, for being so simple.
What's in a Japanese savory custard?
The core components of chawanmushi are egg and dashi. The mixture is typically lightly seasoned with soy and sake as well. You can then add various items as filling to the custard, such as thin slices of carrot, mushroom, fish cakes, shrimp or chicken.
I made dashi using Just One Cookbook's recipe, but you can also buy it ready made (or make with dashi powder). It's a great thing to make a slightly larger batch of and use for other dishes such as ramen or kabocha no nimono (simmered squash).
Do you need a special dish?
Chawanmushi is traditionally made in little dishes, similar to teacups, which have their own lid. They are incredibly cute, but I can understand you may not want to rush out and get one.
However you can also make them in ramekins as I did here, then just cover with foil to save any condensation dripping into the dishes as they cook.
The key is to make the custard really smooth and not frothy, so try not to get too much air in it as you beat the egg. Traditionally, you'd beat the egg with chopsticks which is great for breaking them up without making it frothy.
While I had this as part of a breakfast buffet the first time I had it, it's more typical as a side dish for a range of meals. It fits in perfectly as part of a bento box, or simply alongside your favorite main. Or just have it as a light snack any time you like.
Chawanmushi may not be a familiar name for most of us, but this savory egg custard is definitely a dish you should try. Easy to make, and easy to adapt, the custard is so smooth and full of delicate savory flavor. Deliciously comforting.
Try these other tasty Japanese dishes:
- Japanese mushroom rice (kinoko gohan, easy to make and with great umami flavors)
- Tuna tataki (lightly seared tuna with a tasty, simple dressing)
- Japanese milk bread (such a wonderfully soft bread)
- Toshikoshi soba (soba noodles in a seasoned dashi traditionally enjoyed for New Year)
- Plus get more Japanese recipes in the archives.
Chawanmushi (Japanese savory egg custard)
For the egg custard
- 1 egg
- ½ cup dashi 120ml
- ½ teaspoon soy sauce (light usucuchi soy if possible)
- ½ teaspoon sake
- 1 pinch salt
For the filling
- 6 slices carrot thin slices are best
- 2 shiitake mushroom stem removed, cleaned
- 2 cooked shrimp (prawn)
- Use a pan wide enough to hold two cups/ramekins and part fill it with water so that it comes half way up the cups/ramekins. Bring it to a boil.
- Lightly whisk the egg so that it breaks up but doesn't get too much air in it. Add the dashi, soy, sake and salt and mix together.
- Prepare the cups or ramekins with the fillings - split the shrimp in half through the middle and put the two pieces in the bottom, top with a couple slices of mushroom then the carrot slices. (If you like, you can use vegetable cutters to make the carrots into a flower shape.)
- Strain the egg mixture over the fillings, letting the carrot slices float to the top.
- Put the lids on the cups, if they have them, or cover with foil. Reduce the heat of the pan so that it is just simmering and carefully add the cups/ramekins.
- Leave the custards to cook over a low heat for around 10-15 minutes until the custard is fully set. You can eat them warm or cold, as you prefer.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.