Chawanmushi is probably the very first thing I ever made when I was 12 or 13. In a nutshell, this is a savory steamed ‘custard’ enriched with good soup stock (read: umami). When I first made it, I made it with a combination of minced green onion, soy sauce, sesame oil, diced ham and water (as it turns out – the ham+water served as my source of umami). My favorite template for this dish is contained in the Shark Fin and Sea Urchin Pudding recipe in Nobu Now. There is one issue that I have encountered – I have found that I have had to use ‘jumbo’ sized eggs in order to makes sure the ‘custard’ doesn’t break – especially if I’m adding ‘hidden treats’. The other issue is that if you don’t use enough liquid, the custard gets really dense and if you use too much, the custard doesn’t set and it gets too ‘soupy’. I like the Nobu Now version because the custard has a texture even softer and smoother than kinugoshi (“silky”) soft tofu.
In comparing the soup broth to egg ratios
Nobu uses – 10 oz dashi/large egg (Nobu Now)
Morimoto uses – 6 oz dashi/large egg (Morimoto: The New Art Of Japanese Cooking)
Tsuji uses – 5 oz dashi/medium egg (Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art)
I’ve since learned that this dish is common to Chinese, Korean and Japanese cuisines, and you can add ‘hidden’ treats such as scallops, ham, shrimp, etc to make the dish ‘special’. Recalling Robuchon’s criteria for a successful dish, and remembering Iron Chef Michiba saying that, “Ingredients do not recognize national boundaries”, I realized that you could use:
* chinese superior broth for ‘chinese’ chawanmushi
* korean yuksu beef broth for ‘korean’ chawanmushi (see Yongja Kim’s Korean Cuisine)
* western lobster stock for ‘western’ chawanmushi (think Ron Siegel’s lobster custard)
I understand truffles go rather well with eggs. I can only imagine an application with classic fish fumet might form the basis of ‘French’ or even ‘Italian’ chawanmushi.
So I had left over chinese superior broth from the recent corn puree/soup project and thought it might be nice to make chawanmushi, chinese style. Using the Nobu Now chawanmushi template, I blended together: 10 oz chinese superior broth, 1 tablespoon+2 teaspoons+1/4 teaspoon each of
usukuchi soy sauce and sake and 1/2 teaspoon of salt (the chinese superior broth I was using was
created using the Niman Ranch Jambon Royale. If I’d use the smithfield ham, I would have left out the salt altogether).
A note about the salt in the Nobu Now recipe – I think the 1 teaspoon of salt is a misprint/mistake. The first time I used the template, the saltiness in the chawanmushi was overpowering. The total amount of liquid plus the egg comes to about 12 oz. At 1/4 teaspoon of salt/cup liquid, an estimate of the correct amount for the salt would be about 3/8 teaspoon. Adjusting for personal tastes, I settled on the 1/2 teaspoon.
I then combined the seasoned broth with the egg, beat it together with a fork and let it sit to let the
bubbles disappear. I did a quick chiffonade of two ham slices and placed half at the bottom of a
chawanmushi cup and half at the bottom of the other. (Aside: the chawanmushi cups that I have hold about 6 fluid oz). I then filled each chawanmushi cup with the broth/egg mixture and placed
it into my steamer and let it steam on high heat for about 15 minutes. In retrospect, I probably
should have only filled the cups 75% full (~4 oz each) yielding three chawanmushi servings.
One final aside – I actually tried to do an experimental lobster stock version of this dish the past winter using the Bar Harbor lobster stock. If you do try to use this, DON’T add salt or soy sauce. The Bar Harbor lobster stock preparation has enough salt for this application. At some point, I’m going to look into making lobster stock from scratch (probably using the French Laundry procedure) and revisit the lobster stock version of chawanmushi.
Chawanmushi Cups Utsuwa-No-Yakata, Edgewater, NJ (next to Mitsuwa)
Bar Harbor Lobster Stock Auburndale Star Market (see http://www.barharborfoods.com/stocks.php)