If you're Asian, then chances are you grew up eating some version of chawanmushi, a Japanese word that translates to "steamed in a tea bowl." It's essentially a savory egg custard that's steamed — you guessed it — in a small bowl. It's a staple in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean cuisines, but I'm sure you can find iterations of it all over Asia. When most people think "custard," they think dessert, but chawanmushi is eaten as part of a meal. If you go to a Korean BBQ restaurant, you'll likely receive a complimentary bowl of this soft egg delight as part of the set (reason #648037 why I love Korean BBQ so much).
Though the main component (the egg custard) may seem a bit bland, you can flex your creative muscles with the toppings and flavorings you add to it — think of it as a blank canvas upon which to build, kind of like congee. Common toppings include shrimp, chicken, and mushrooms, but there really is no limit to what you can pile on. That's because egg is such a perfect neutral vehicle. You can create a refreshing pickle-topped chawanmushi, a sweeter version with a fish sauce caramel (recipe coming soon), or you can even go American by topping with bacon bits, hash brown, and shredded cheddar cheese. Whatever you want to bring, this egg custard can handle it.
Many chawanmushi recipes call for Japanese ingredients like dashi broth and mirin, but I opted to show you this pared-down version to prove just how easy this dish is to make. Even my toppings are no-fuss. See recipe below.
Serves 1 to 2
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt (or soy sauce)
1/2 cup water (for the egg mixture; more will be needed to fill the pot)
3 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon soy sauce, plus more for drizzling
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil, plus more for drizzling
1/2 scallion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
- Mix the eggs, salt (or soy sauce), and water in a small ceramic tea bowl (you can substitute with a ramekin or any other heat-safe bowl). Whisk until foamy.
- Place the bowl in a larger pot. Fill the pot with hot water until it is about halfway up the sides of the bowl. Cover the pot and cook over low-medium heat for 12-14 minutes, maintaining a gentle simmer. The eggs are done when they are firm and opaque, but still jiggly.
- While the eggs are steaming, combine the shiitake slices, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil and toss to coat (this can be done days beforehand to let the flavor steep in).
- Carefully take the bowl out of the pot and drizzle with a splash of soy sauce and sesame oil. Top with the pickled shiitakes and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and scallions.