chawanmushi-2

Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

 

I’m at Old Dominion University as a writer in residence and also opening up the annual literary festival, which is devoted this year to food and literature. (If you’re in or near Norfolk, come to the open reading this Monday at 7:30.) Back when I began The Making of a Chef, there really wasn’t a job description “food writer,” or rather it wasn’t something that one aspired to. Yes, newspaper reporters covered food, and there were plenty of food magazines. But you weren’t likely to see lit fests devoted to it.

But that’s changing, for the better, as we recognize how deeply and pervasively food affects our lives. And I think this applies to cooking as well. Cooking our own food (or not cooking it) has a significant impact on the quality of our lives. I can’t say it enough: when we cook our own food, our bodies are healthier, our families are healthier, our communities are healthier, and the environment is healthier.

The following is a recipe from my book Egg, a really cool custard hybrid that clarifies the broth as it cooks. I chose a recipe from Egg because this humble gift was for so long a misunderstood food. Imagine: The egg used to be considered bad for you. We’ve come a long way, and have a ways to go still. But there’s too much good inertia to slow the inertia now.

This savory custard is from one of my key recipe testers, Matthew Kayahara, a French-English translator in Ontario, who spends many off-hours staging at restaurants and cooking at home. Because his paternal grandfather was Japanese, he’s studied Japanese cuisine and suggested this dish, which makes a lovely first course or light meal. Chicken, shrimp, and mushroom bound in a light custard. This recipe requires dashi, the excellent all-purpose Japanese stock made from kombu (seaweed) and bonito flakes.

Chawanmushi

  • 2 ounces/60 grams chicken in ½-inch dice
  • 1 teaspoon sake
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Japanese soy sauce, preferably usukuchi shoyu (Japanese light-colored soy sauce)
  • 4 small or 2 large shrimp, halved lengthwise if large
  • Some pieces of mushrooms (e.g., enoki, maitake, shiitake)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1½ cups/330 grams dashi
  • 2 teaspoons mirin
  • 4 small sprigs of watercress
  • Lemon zest
  1. Combine the diced chicken with the sake and 1 teaspoon soy sauce and marinate for 15 minutes. Drain.
  2. Divide the chicken, shrimp, and mushrooms between four 4- to 5-ounce/120- to 150-milliliter ramekins.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs until smooth. Add the dashi, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and mirin and stir to combine well. Strain the mixture into a measuring cup and then divide among the ramekins. Cover each ramekin with foil.
  4. Prepare a steamer large enough to hold all four ramekins. Once the water is boiling vigorously, reduce the heat to medium, add the ramekins, cover the steamer, and steam over medium heat until the custard is set but still jiggly and the garnish is cooked through, 15 to 17 minutes. Carefully remove the foil from the ramekins, place a sprig of watercress on each, cover the steamer again, and steam for another minute, until the watercress is just wilted. Remove the ramekins, grate a little lemon zest over each one with a Microplane, and serve immediately.

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© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.