If you ever have the pleasure of eating in one of Japan’s more formal kaiseki ryōri restaurants, you’ll probably be served a futamono- “lidded course” between your sashimi and your grilled yakimono course. Your futamono could be a small stew of seasonal ingredients, a soup such as a suimono, or our favourite, chawanmushi- a silky smooth treasure hunt of a dish. Named after the lidded tea-cup or chawan that it is cooked in, chawanmushi is a wonderfully light, delicate egg custard, seasoned with dashi and mirin, and steamed until just set enough to encase and obscure the morsels trapped within its depths. Each spoonful of custard is an edible lucky dip where you might bring up a firm ginkgo nut, a tender prawn, a juicy chunk of shiitake or a sour, palate cleansing bubble of yuzu pulp.
A popular, and to my mind almost compulsory addition to chawanmushi is a spoon or two of ankake sauce added moments before serving. This mildly fishy, faintly smoky sauce adds an extra savoury oomph to each mouthful and helps you appreciate the sweetness of the steamed eggs.
Ankake sauce ingredients.
- 200ml dashi
- 15ml mirin
- 15ml sake
- 10ml soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon potato starch, slaked in 1 tablespoon cold water
- Pour the dashi into a small saucepan, then add the mirin, sake, soy sauce and salt. Set the pan of seasoned stock over a medium heat and bring to a simmer. Once at temperature, take the pan off the heat and quickly stir in the potato starch-water mixture. Mix well to make sure the sauce is evenly thickened, then set aside for use later.
- 3 medium duck eggs
- 500ml dashi
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 30ml mirin
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 4 raw shelled prawns
- 4 boiled, shelled ginkgo nuts
- 1 fresh shiitake mushroom
- 25g enoki mushrooms
- 3cm slice of nagaimo yam
- 1 yuzu (or you can use a lemon if you want)
- 1 chive flower
- Start by preparing the fillings for your chawanmushi. Peel the nagaimo and cut into four evenly sized cubes, then place the cut yam into a bowl of cold water with a dash of vinegar to prevent it discolouring. Bring a small pan of water to the boil, then add the shiitake mushroom, cubes of nagaimo and prawns and boil for two to three minutes, until the prawns are opaque. Remove everything from the hot water, and rinse under the cold tap to halt the cooking. Cut the bunch of enoki into 2cm lengths, remove and discard the tough stem from the blanched shiitake before quartering the mushroom, then rinse the ginkgo nuts under cold water.
- Break the eggs into a large bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Add the dashi, mirin, soy sauce and salt, then mix to combine. Strain the batter through a sieve lined with a muslin cloth- this is to make sure the custard is completely mixed and perfectly smooth.
- Take four chawanmushi cups or heatproof ramekins and place a cooked prawn, one ginkgo nut, a piece of blanched shiitake mushroom and a cube of nagaimo into each one, then fill three-quarters of the way with the egg mixture. Scatter pieces of chopped enoki mushrooms over the surface and cover the top of each cup with clingfilm. Arrange the cups in a bamboo steamer above a pan of simmering water and cook for around fifteen minutes, or until the custard is lightly set with a slight wobble when disturbed.
- Whilst the chawanmushi are cooking, use a mandoline slicer or sharp knife to prepare some thin slivers of yuzu peel, then cut the remaining peel and pith away and segment the fruit. Gently break apart the segments with your fingers to give yourself small clusters of citrus pulp. Peel away the papery outer casing from the chive flower, then snip the individual florets from the head.
- When the eggs have set, take the cups of chawanmushi out of the steamer and spoon a thin layer of ankake sauce over each. Place a shred or two of yuzu peel and a small mound of pulp in the centre of all four of the cups, and finish with a sprinkling of chive florets over the top.
Serves 4 people.