Chawanmushi is a classic, comforting and very popular egg side dish: it does wonders warming our bellies and souls.
Chawanmushi, as the word 茶碗蒸し says (chawan “tea cup” + mushi, “steamed”), is a type of egg custard dish steamed inside small cups. Differently than most Western-style custards, this staple of washoku cuisine is actually… a savory dish!
In Japan, chawanmushi is a significantly popular side dish prepared either at home or ordered in several types of izayaka/restaurants. The variety of ingredients and dashi can make each chawanmushi a very unique (and delicious) experience: that’s why you will often see chawanmushi at high-end restaurants. They certainly want to show off the quality of their dashi!
Fun trivia: when I was younger and still learning the very basics of Japanese language, I thought this was called “bug cup” (茶碗虫: also ‘chawanmushi’, but different kanji characters)… I found out later on that lots of people make that same mistake. As a matter of fact… Surprise, that issue about bug or steamed? is also the main topic of a folk song from Kagoshima Prefecture:
"Is it a bug (mushi) in the cup?" in Kagoshima Prefecture's dialect [more details about the song]
Although chawanmushi is an egg custard, you usually only use one egg for two portions. In fact, the largest volume of chawanmushi comes from its dashi stock – that’s why this is a good recipe to experiment with dashi extraction. For today’s post, I used Hida kombu, katsuobushi and corn cobs seasoned with shōyu, mirin and a pinch of salt.
The filling is an assortment of ingredient portions that you add in the mix as small “hidden surprises” for the guests. Crab, chicken, kamaboko, chestnut, matsutake mushrooms, vegetables… Some places serve their chawanmushi with a small piece of umeboshi on top to give it a salty shock that enhances other flavors.
You don’t need to go fancy all the times – at home, sometimes I make chawanmushi only with eggs and dashi. It’s simple, but actually super good too!
The measurements of this recipe yield around four small cups.
- 1 egg
- 200ml of dashi
- 1tbsp of shōyu
- 1 tbsp of mirin
- Toppings of choice (I used for today’s post: shiso leaf, mitsuba, small pieces of chicken thighs, shrimp, umeboshi and Japanese mushroom assortment)
- First, extract the dashi and season it – then leave your stock to cool to room temperature.
- Beat the egg well in a small bowl. Combine it with the dashi and the seasonings.
- Sieve the mixture to remove any remaining solid parts.
- Parboil the raw toppings (chicken and seafood), until half done.
- Afterwards, place the toppings at the bottom of the cup then fill it with the egg and dashi mixture.
- Cook the chawamushi using a steamer or in bain-marie until the center is set.
- Serve the dish.
Hot or cold? Well, in reality chawanmushi is a versatile dish and can be served in both ways!
You may use any kind of dashi for this dish, including vegetarian ones! Try mixing different types of ingredients for different results.
Big families often make this dish using a large tray instead of individual cups. That’s actually a good idea if you are planning to prepare a larger serving of chawanmushi at once.
The secret for an appealing chawanmushi is to steam it without overcooking, remember to pay attention to this key point.