Chawan Mushi, Japanese Savory Steamed Custard
Chawan mushi is a moist custard, considered a soup in Japanese cooking, and not meant to be unmolded. Chicken and shrimp are traditionally included, but I find them too heavy for the custard’s soft texture and gentle taste, so I use shredded Napa cabbage and mild oyster mushrooms instead. The traditional garnish is mitsuba (trefoil), which is almost impossible to find outside of Japanese markets. Its taste is reminiscent of celery leaf, so I substitute that, and festoon the custard with an extravagant dollop of caviar.
Caviar, the salted eggs of various fish, makes a perfect top note for many dishes. In spite of its reputation as one of the most out-of-reach luxury foods, it need not be so. Outside the kingly realm of beluga and sevruga sturgeon caviars, the roe of flying fish (called tobiko), crunchy and orange red; salmon, large, moist, and bright red-orange; and Great lakes whitefish, small, crispy, and golden, all provide delicious caviars affordable enough to consider using for special occasions.
Cooking Methodpressure cooking, sauteeing
Total Timeunder 1 hour
OccasionFormal Dinner Party
Taste and Texturecreamy, salty, savory, umami
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 3 large Napa cabbage leaves, green parts thinly shredded, white parts finely chopped
- 3 fresh oyster mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
- 2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1½ cups Chicken Broth
- 1½ teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- 5 small celery leaves from the tender, inner ribs, for garnish
- 5 teaspoons tobiko (flying fish) roe (optional), for garnish
Pour 1 cup water into the pressure cooker and set a trivet in it. Use five 6-ounce ramekins, not greased (it’s not necessary because the custards don’t get unmolded),
Heat the oil together with the cabbage, oyster mushrooms, scallions, and salt in a skillet over medium-high heat until beginning to wilt, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the broth, soy sauce, and sugar. Remove from the heat, add the eggs, and whisk to mix.
Divide the mixture among the ramekins. Cover each with foil, pinching around the edges to seal. Set 3 of them on the trivet. Place a second trivet on top and set the remaining 2 ramekins on it. Lock on the lid and bring to pressure over high heat, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit for 6 minutes to finish cooking.
With the steam vent pointed away from your face, gently release any remaining pressure. Carefully remove the lid and let sit another 5 minutes. Using 2 thick terry doth kitchen towels, lift out the ramekins. Remove the foil. Tuck a celery leaf in the top of each custard and place a dollop of the caviar alongside, if desired. Serve right away.
2005 Victoria Wise