project food blog 2: the classics

11:29 AM Sian Mei Yeoh 16 Comments

i was very nervous when i checked my email last thursday cos i knew the results for project food blog (pfb) were announced that day. but boy, was i super happy and excited to know that i got through! :) a very big thank you <3 to those who voted for me. i am very glad that you liked my first post and i hope this next entry will not disappoint.

challenge #2 pick an ethnic classic that is outside your comfort zone or are not as familiar with.

first thought that came to mind, "omigosh, something japanese!"

above photo obtained from google image
in the past months, i've been very much interested in almost everything japanese - the culture, the language, the country itself and the cherry blossoms. hehe...i have even started saving money in my 'trip-to-japan-hopefully-sometime-in-the-near-future' fund and am planning to register for japanese language class next year.  i blame it on my fascination with manga (japanese comics) and the fact that i love japanese food because it's different from other asian food and yet familiar at the same time. i've always said that the best way to learn a country's culture is through its food and this is a great way to start.

typically the cuisine that people commonly associate with japanese food is sushi... but i wanted to make something different. something less common.

so i decided to make chawanmushi.


yup, chawanmushi...lemme share a short background of what this traditional japanese dish is.

chawanmushi is a savory egg custard flavored with dashi that contains small morsels of shiitake mushrooms, chicken, ginkgo nuts and seafood served in a teacup shaped, lidded dish. it is a dish native to japan that is most commonly served as a part of a traditional japanese multi-course haute cuisine called kaiseki ryori under the mushimono (steamed dish) category. traditionally, it is eaten hot in the winter and chilled in the summer as an appetizer or a side dish. surprisingly, chawanmushi is not a common dish served at japanese restaurants here in the US.

so, the story of coming up with the idea to make this dish goes like this. recently, my friend was telling me that her boyfriend made chawanmushi and i thought it would be a neat dish to make. coincidentally, i went shopping at the japanese grocery store last weekend and bought most of the ingredients i needed. (i raided and borrowed the rest of the ingredients including the teacup dishes from my friend's kitchen..thanks christina!) however, i think one of the biggest reasons why i chose chawanmushi is that my parents are not huge fans of japanese food mainly because of the raw fish (think sushi) but i figured this is a dish that my parents might enjoy. :) 

before we get started on the chawanmushi, there is one important ingredient to make - the dashi.

whoah... what's dashi?

it is a seaweed and fish flavored soup stock that is the base of many japanese dishes. it consists of three ingredients: kombu, katsuobushi and water.

kombu is an edible kelp that is harvested and dried in the sun. katsuobushi aka bonito flakes (you can sometimes watch chef morimoto use this on iron chef america) are made by shaving wispy thin flakes with a special tool from a dried, fermented and smoked skipjack tuna. it's pretty easy to make the dashi. it involves soaking the kombu in water for about three hours, then bringing it close to a boil, removing the kombu, then adding the bonito flakes to soak for about fifteen minutes, strain and there you have it: ichiban dashi or "first sea stock". you can find the recipe at the end of the entry...

tip | remove kombu immediately when small bubbles appear at the bottom or side because cooking it for too long discolors the dashi and makes it bitter.

an easier and quicker way to make dashi: use the instant dashi powder and add water. i decided to make it from scratch to make the overall dish as authentic as possible but instant dashi powder is always an option if you happen to feel a lil lazy.

next step was to make the main star of the day. the three eggs which are lightly beaten are combined with the cooled dashi, sugar, soy sauce and some salt. i left out the sake because i didn't have any :( the mixture is then strained through a mesh strainer to give a smoother custard.

the fun part is just beginning: layering the ingredients in the teacup shaped dishes (aren't they so adorable!) in whichever way you want to. the cool thing about making this dish is that you can add whatever ingredients to your egg custard. my choices were shiitake mushrooms, ginkgo nuts, and two types of japanese fish cakes - kamaboko and gobo tenpura.

next step is to fill the cups with the egg mixture up to three fourths of the dish without forming small bubbles. i had so much trouble to keep the bubble formation to a minimum but i did have fun bursting those bubbles..haha.

all i have to do is place them in a steamer at low to medium-low heat and wait patiently as it cooks. patience is key here. i did a test run with one just to make sure the temperature was right.

tip | wrap the lid of your steamer with paper towels so that the steam droplets do not get into your chawanmushi as you steam it.

tip | to check if your dish is done, use a bamboo stick to poke it and if the broth is clear, you're good to go.

i had two friends over at my apartment to be my guinea pigs for my first attempt at chawanmushi... christina who is half japanese (she's the one who suggested chawanmushi and let me borrow her stuff for this experiment) and her boyfriend :) i love how food brings people together! my first chawanmushi looks good but it has some small craters on the surface of the custard. and apparently i overcooked it a tad.. boo! (sad face) but good news is not only did it taste right, it tasted delish with the exception of the texture.

have no fear. i have two more filled cups ready to go. hence, attempt #2 at lower temperature and longer cook time.

verdict | much better than the first one. the egg custard is smooth on the surface and looks soo yummy. garnish the dish with cilantro to make it look pretty and it's ready to serve.

my first bite was warm and silky, savory egg custard. the subsequent bites are the layers of flavors: the earthiness of the shiitake mushroom with its umami echoing the dashi base flavors paired with the slight sweetness of the shrimp and the fish cakes. this is accompanied by the slight nuttiness of the ginkgo nuts coupled with their soft texture. i think i was being overly generous with the amount of filling i stuffed into the dish so it would probably be better to go easy on the ingredients to get a better egg custard and filling ratio. (and remind myself to cut them into bite size pieces!) although i could see the steam emerging as i dug deeper into the dish, every bite was at the right warm temprature. mmm... it felt so warm and comforting with every bite i took.

winter is just around the corner and i think i've found a perfect dish to warm up those chilly days. :) and yes, i think my parents will like this dish too!

if you are interested in making this tiny bundle of silky yumminess, the recipes are found as linked:

o-shokuji wo tanoshinde kudasai!*

*note | it means "please enjoy your meal!"
note2 | please send a vote my way here if you enjoyed this entry :) thanks <3


Wow--what a process! The finished dish looks amazing:) Best of luck in Round 2--you've got my vote!

Duchess said...

Exquisite! I definitely want to try this! Bravo, wonderful entry!

i LOVE chawanmushi. voted for you!

That came out perfect! I always love those little hot pots of surprising deliciousness!

s i a n s said...

thanks for coming by and voting for me :)
definitely give it a try! they sure are yummy :D

This looks amazing and I can't wait to try it. Of all the cuisines I've experienced, I love Japanese food the best. I voted for you, best of luck to you.

Peggy said...

This sounds absolutely amazing and the end product looks gorgeous! You've got my vote!

That sounds amazing. You've got my vote. Best of luck to you.

Quite the process here, but the sound of egg custard makes it worth it. Silky and smooth, right?! Plus, it must be fun to add various ingredients to the "cup" for different combos!
Lick My Spoon

OMG, I love chawanmushi! Great recipe, and I can't wait to try this out for myself. Just voted. Cheers! xx

Danielle said...

Good for you, making your own dashi! Great post and good luck in round 2!

Way to go! I am also a huge fan of anything Japanese! Great work and Good Luck!

Great post! It does sound like the perfect warming winter dish. I voted for you!

Good luck! =)

You can check out my PFB post at :

s i a n s said...

thanks for dropping by and all the support <3

uber happy that you enjoyed this post. :)

I'm glad I got to learn about Chawanmushi here. It sounds absolutely delicious! Good luck!

Simona said...

I have never tasted this dish, but you made me want to try. What a beautiful result! You have my vote.