Savoury steamed egg custards are fairly common in Asian cuisine: the Chinese have steamed eggs; the Koreans have gaeran jim; and the Japanese have chawan mushi. All three dishes are similar in preparation and taste, yet vastly different.
My mom used to make steamed eggs a lot when we were kids; it’s a standard at home-style Chinese meals. It fast, easy and was one of the dishes that we would unfailingly eat.
Everyone has a different way of making steamed eggs: my mom would add a little bit of ground pork and a couple of salted duck eggs. My brother and I would eat around the duck eggs, leaving little orange islands in our wake. Eating a bowl of rice topped with steamed egg reminds me of childhood in the best way. It was and still is one of my favourite comfort foods.
The first time I tried to steam my own eggs it was an ultimate fail. I was in high school and for some reason or other my parents weren’t home so I was making my own dinner. It started out promising: I gently scrambled my eggs the way my mom did, added salt and water and set the whole dish in a wok to boil over high heat. When I opened the lid, my eggs looked like something out of a horror movie. They were bubbly, grey and somehow managed to grow into a strange egg mass that was trying to crawl out of the pan. Not one to waste food, I gave it a try, but it was rubbery and un-soy-sauce-savable, so I left it on the counter to show my mom and ask what went wrong.
When she came home that night she laughed at me for a good fifteen minutes. Turns out you’re not supposed to steam eggs on high heat. There are tonnes of tips out there on how to make perfectly smooth steamed eggs.
If you’ve never had steamed eggs, you’re missing out. The smooth, silky texture is akin to soft tofu, but more savoury and creamy. The Japanese version of steamed egg, chawan mushi is usually made with dashi for a more complex umami flavour.
I found a Chang recipe on foodandwine.com for chawan mushi topped with shiitakes and crab meat. I switched it up a little bit, omitting the cashews and substituting prawns for crab meat. I also didn’t use instant dashi powder, which may be why my custard was not seasoned enough. Strangely enough there is no seasoning in this recipe, so feel free to serve it with soy sauce.
Chawan Mushi Recipe adapted from foodandwine.com
2 cups of dashi
3 large eggs
8 large cooked prawns (I shelled, de-viened and boiled them gently until cooked)
4 small shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and very thinly sliced
1 green onion cut into matchsticks
In a medium bowl, using chopsticks, very gently stir the eggs until blended, without incorporating too much air. Stir in the dashi, then strain the mixture into a measuring cup.
Divide the egg mixture between 4 shallow 1-cup bowls and wrap each bowl in plastic. Preheat a steamer. Add the bowls to the steamer and turn the heat down to medium low. The water should be at a gentle simmer. Steam for 15-20 minutes or until the eggs are set.
Immediately transfer the bowls to the refrigerator to chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Unwrap the custards. Top with the prawns, shiitakes and green onions and serve.