The Perfect Egg Custard
Egg custard usually makes you think of dessert: something sweet in a tart shell or with caramel. But my perfect egg custard is a savory dish called Chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し). And it so happens to be that the main ingredient, the star of the dish, is dashi. If I make a batch of dashi, I almost always make chawanmushi. The flavors are so elegant and subtle and the smokiness and complexity of the dashi shine through. The high ratio of liquid to egg creates a custard so soft and silky it melts in your mouth. The best part though, is the versatility. You can be as creative as you want with the non-custard ingredients so that every bite is a mystery. It's the perfect snack or accompaniment to your meal.
Achieving the perfectly silky and barely set custard can be a little tricky. Here are some tips to ensure a great texture.
1. Be careful not to aerate the eggs while whisking. Bubbles will prevent silkiness
2. Once the eggs are mixed with the dashi and flavored, strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth to remove any egg clumps
3. Take a flame to the surface of the egg mixture to pop any bubbles or alternatively blow on the surface
4. Control condensation and high heat. Condensation drop can create small crevices all over and high heat will scramble the edges. There are a couple ways to control for these two mistakes. The easiest way is to steam the chawanmushi in a bamboo steamer. The cracks in the weave of the lid allows for enough steam to escape, resulting in the perfect temperature and zero condensation fall. You can crank up the heat all the way high and set the timer for 7-9 minutes. Otherwise, you can place your cup or bowl inside of a pot with an inch or two of water and something (I use chopsticks) to prevent the lid from closing all the way and tilt so the condensation falls down the sides of the lid. You'll have to cook the custard longer in this method and you'll also have to constantly monitor the heat to make sure the water is only simmering. It's a little bit more labor intensive but it also works in a pinch.
5. Don't overcook the eggs. This is easier said than done and to get the perfect texture, you may need to practice. I usually shake the mug or tap on the side to see if the egg has set
I usually like to add shrimp, shiitake mushrooms (rehydrated and sliced), and fish cakes but you can really add any protein or vegetable as long as it's bite sized. Chicken also goes really well (chicken and egg, duh) but make sure to par-cook by boiling for a few minutes or sautéing before adding it to the chawanmushi. For non-garnish ingredients, the order doesn't matter so you can place at the bottom of your cooking vessel. Garnish with fresh herbs like mitsuba, cilantro, or scallions. If you're feeling really baller, garnish with some caviar or uni. Feel free to customize the recipe with your favorite ingredients and experiment, that's the best part.
If you want some of your ingredients suspended on the surface like the shrimp above, add these ingredients in the last 2 minutes so that the egg has had a chance to set. Make sure to top with garnish after removing from heat.