Thursday, April 18, 2013

One Great . . . simple Japanese custard

I'm always drawn to unusual food names. My first bite of smoked salmon on a chewy roll came because I was intrigued by the words "lox" and "bagel."

This time, a new word caught my eye while I was flipping through  "How to Boil an Egg," by Rose Carrarini (Phaidon, 2012): Chawanmushi.

Chawanmushi? I finally discovered it's a cross between soup and egg custard, and it's a favorite comfort food in Japan. Made with vegetables and sometimes seafood covered a simple mixture of egg and broth, it's steamed -- mushi -- in a tea cup, called a chawan.

The crazy thing is the way it turns out: I got a layer of very soft custard similar to fresh tofu on top of broth, all studded with bits of vegetables. Spring vegetables such as green peas, green onion and asparagus are  perfect with the soft texture. For a dinner or lunch for one or two people, it's easy and adaptable.

Chawanmushi With Spring Vegetables
Adapted from "How to Boil an Egg," by Rose Carrarini.

2 eggs
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock, or dashi
1/2 teaspoon shoyu or regular soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of cayenne pepper
3 or 4 stalks asparagus, trimmed and cut in bite-size pieces
1/4 cup frozen green peas, rinsed to thaw
1 spring onion, diced
Fresh herbs, such as chives or thyme leaves (optional; garnish)

LIGHTLY MIX the eggs with a fork, being careful not to beat them so much they're frothy. Stir in the stock, shoyu, sugar and cayenne. Place a sieve over a small bowl or large measuring cup with a lip and pour the egg mixture through to strain and break up the protein in the eggs.

PREPARE the vegetables and place in one or two small, heatproof bowls or cups. Carefully pour in the egg mixture, completely covering the vegetables. Place a pot with a few inches of water over high heat and add a rack or steamer. Place the bowls on the steamer and cover with a dish towel, then cover the pot with a lid.

STEAM for 2 minutes on high heat, then reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and steam for 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the custard comes out clean. Serve hot, or refrigerate and serve chilled.

NOTE: Tender vegetables like asparagus or mushrooms will cook in the custard, but tougher things like diced carrot should be cooked a little first.