Chawan Mushi (Recipe - Japanese Egg Custard with Mushroom and Crab)

After a long road trip of really fantastic, yet not so light food, I came home ready for a change. The weather is shifting here, as it is pretty much everywhere, and while Fall is my favorite season, I'm not quite ready to relinquish dishes that keep me in mind of summertime.

I'd been sitting on this recipe for Chawan Mushi, contributed to Food and Wine by one of my favorite chefs, David Chang. David is Korean by birth, but his food heavily features Japanese cuisine and technique. He is, after all, a ramen connoisseur. If David Chang is making it and it's been altered (respectfully) for the humble home cook, I'm trying it.

Chawanmushi literally means "tea cup steam" or "steamed in a tea bowl". It is an egg custard dish found in Japan that normally features the seeds of ginkgo.  The egg custard is seasoned, usually, with a broth like dashi (which is what is used in this recipe), soy sauce, mirin and other numerous ingredients. Toppings vary, but here the custard is simply topped with shiitake mushrooms, lump crab meat and spring onions.

This is a very clean dish with few ingredients. At first glance you might think it wouldn't offer much in the flavor-department as it calls for no salt, pepper, or any other seasonings, really. Rather, it relies on dashi - a clear stock that is often the base for Japanese dishes like miso soup and many noodle soups. Dashi, quite simply, tastes like the sea. It is made by steeping kombu (edible kelp) and katsuobushi (dried, preserved shavings of bonito).

The creamy, flavorful egg custard, topped with earthy shiitake mushrooms and sweet crab meat offers a variety of textures and components, including a surprising crunch from hidden cashew nuts that are placed in the bowl before the custard is included.

This is meant to be served as a dish in a multi-course meal, so I think it's just perfect as an appetizer. Honestly, as it's just me and the pups at my house most often, I'll admit that I've been eating it for breakfast all this week. This recipe serves four - spend a bit of time making this on the weekend and you'll have four out-the-door breakfasts next week!

A quick reminder about quality ingredients: this dish relies on super-fresh ingredients in order for it to shine. Use the freshest eggs, the freshest veg, and the freshest crab you can find and you won't be disappointed.

Chawan Mushi - Japanese Egg Custard with Mushroom and Crab

Contributed by David Chang to Foodandwine.com

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  1. 2 teaspoons instant dashi powder (see Note)
  2. 2 cups warm water
  3. 3 large eggs
  4. 1/4 cup salted roasted cashews, coarsely chopped
  5. 4 ounces lump crabmeat, broken up
  6. 1 scallion, cut into fine matchsticks (2 inches)
  7. 4 small shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and caps very thinly sliced

(Note on dashi - you can find instant dashi powder at most Asian grocers, but I didn't have that. The dashi I found came in "tea-bag" form, where you made the dashi by steeping the tea bag in hot water. I just followed the instructions on the box and used two cups of the dashi (it made three) for the recipe.)

Directions:

  • In a medium bowl, whisk the dashi powder into the warm water until it is dissolved. Let the sediment settle, then pour the clear dashi into a large measuring cup; rinse out the bowl. In the same bowl, using chopsticks, very gently stir the eggs until blended, without incorporating too much air. Stir in the dashi, then strain the mixture back into the measuring cup.
  • Divide the cashews between 4 shallow 1-cup bowls. Top with the egg mixture and wrap each bowl in plastic. Carefully set the bowls in a steamer basket set over boiling water and steam for 14 minutes or until the custards are set. Immediately transfer the bowls to the refrigerator to chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.