Recipes – № 71

Spring Vegetables Chawanmushi

Japanese Egg Custard

Chawanmushi is a Japanese egg custard served for breakfast or as part of a multi-course meal. It has an equisitely moist, smooth texture that seems impossible - at least without some serious skill and practice, like a Hollandaise from scratch. In reality, the preparation is straightforward and almost foolproof and I'm grateful to Nancy Singleton Hachisu for letting me in on the secret.

Serves 4

Approx. 5x6 inches of kombu (dried kelp)

1 handful of katsuobushi (dried "bonito" flakes)

3 large or 4 small eggs

3 thin asparagus spears (green, purple or peeled white asparagus)

2 Tbsp freshly shelled English peas

Other spring vegetables or mushrooms can be substituted for the peas or asparagus, including fava beans (shucked, blanched, iced and skinned), whole fiddlehead ferns, sliced balloon flower shoots, morels or shitake mushrooms.

4 sansho pepper leaves (optional)

2 Tbsp of mushroom broth (see recipe, optional)

2 tsp sake

1 tsp fine sea salt

Equipment: Steamer (steamer oven, bamboo steamer or rice cooker with steam tray)


Warm the kombu in a saucepan with 2 ¼ cups of cold water. Just before the water comes to a boil (it will steam and you’ll see tiny bubbles forming), remove the kombu from the pot and discard. Add the katsuobushi, bring to a boil and simmer for 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and let steep for another 8 minutes. Strain the liquid into a bowl. This broth is called dashi and is an elemental building block in Japanese cooking. Add the sake, mushroom broth (if using) and salt and stir to dissolve.

Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk briefly. Stir in the dashi and pass the mixture through a fine sieve.

Snap the stem ends off the asparagus and slice diagonally, ½-inch thick. Distribute the vegetables and sansho pepper leaves (if using) between 4 ceramic cups and pour the egg mixture, a bit at a time. 

Steam in a steam oven, bamboo steamer or the steam tray of a rice cooker. 10 minutes of actual steaming (from the time the water starts boiling) should be enough but you can insert a small spoon into the middle of one of the cups to make sure all the custard has set. Serve immediately.

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