Chawanmushi is a classic Japanese savory custard that’s steamed and served in a delicate cup. Tender chicken pieces, colorful kamaboko fish cake, and shimeji mushrooms are draped in a smooth and silky custard seasoned with dashi soup stock. Learn how to make this famous appetizer for a true Japanese home cooking experience. Your guests will be impressed! Vegetarian adaptable
Served in a dainty little teacup, chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し) is a classic appetizer on the menu in many sushi or Japanese restaurants. There are many variations based on seasonal ingredients, but some of the most common ones include shrimp, fish, and vegetables. It can be homey or fancy depending on what goes into the egg custard. To get you started, I’ll be sharing a basic chawanmushi recipe with chicken, along with suggestions for vegetarian version.
What is Chawanmushi?
Chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し) literally translates to ‘teacup steamed egg custard’. The egg mixture is filled with ingredients such as ginkgo nuts, shiitake mushrooms, kamaboko (Japanese fish cake), and subtly flavored with dashi, soy sauce, and mirin. It is steamed in a cup and often served as a cold or hot appetizer. With an ivory color and lovely toppings, it is as tasty as it looks.
- The texture: The steamed custard is smooth & silky, while the sweet-savory meat and vegetables lend a contrasting mouthfeel to the dish. And there’s juice from the broth, which makes each bite utterly satisfying and surprising.
- The flavor: You can expect a delicate yet complex flavor from a good cup of chawanmushi. There is a balance of sweetness and saltiness from the different components. And the seasonings—dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and sake—attribute an umami taste, which is key to making a delicious custard.
How to Make Chawanmushi
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Dashi (Japanese soup stock) – I highly recommend making dashi from scratch or using a dashi packet (instead of dashi powder) since the broth defines the taste of the dish. Use kombu dashi for a vegetarian version.
- Condiments: Soy sauce, mirin, sake, and salt
- Chicken – I used chicken tenders today, but it can be chicken thigh or breast. Skip for a vegetarian version.
- Kamaboko fish cake – Skip for a vegetarian version.
- Mushrooms – I used shimeji mushrooms.
- Ginkgo nuts (gin-nan) – optional
- Mitsuba – or diagonally sliced green onion
Instead of using chicken and fish cake, you can use various mushrooms and vegetables. Depending on what you use, you may need to blanch or cook the vegetable first (such as carrot).
Where to buy Chawanmushi Cups:
Chawanmushi is typically served in a special small cup with a lid. You can buy chawanmushi cups at Japanese supermarkets or Asian grocery stores, or online on Amazon or other Japanese cookware retailers.
Alternatively, you can use heat-resistant ramekins, pretty little small bowls, or mugs to prepare the savory steamed custard. Just make sure they are not too thick as the heat will be hard to penetrate.
Overview: Cooking Steps
- Cut all the ingredients.
- Make the custard mixture by combining the eggs, dashi, and condiments.
- Assemble the ingredients and custard mixture in chawanmushi cups.
- Steam for 20 minutes.
- Serve hot.
Chawanmushi must be cooked with gentle heat, or the custard will have small tiny bubbles and the texture of the custard becomes rough. You can use the following 3 methods to cook chawanmushi.
1. Cook in a pot with gently simmering water
I use this method for my recipe here. Please read the instructions on the recipe card below.
Boil water in a large pot that can fit the steaming cups. Once boiling, reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Gently place the cups inside the hot water and cover the pot with the lid leaving it ajar to let the hot steam escape. This creates a gentle steaming condition inside the steamer.
2. Steam in a steamer basket
You can use a traditional steamer to make chawanmushi. You do not need to cover the chawanmushi cups. Instead, wrap the steamer lid with a large kitchen towel so that condensation from the lid won’t drop into the egg custard while steaming. Place the steamer cups in the steamer and leave the lid ajar to let the hot steam escape. This creates a gentle steaming condition inside the steamer.
3. Steam in the oven
Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC) and fill a roasting pan (or deep baking dish) with 1″ (2.5 cm) boiling water. Cover the steaming cups with the lid or aluminum foil and place them inside the roasting pan.
Five Chawanmushi Cooking Tips
Tip #1: The egg-to-dashi ratio is 1 to 2.5.
Many professional chefs and home cooks use the egg-to-dashi ratio 1 to 3. However, I prefer slightly more egg taste in my chawanmushi, so I use 2.5.
How do we calculate? First, measure the weight of the eggs, and then multiply by 2.5 to get the amount of dashi you need.
For instance, 3 eggs (150 g) x 2.5 = 375. So you will need 375 ml of dashi.
Tip #2: Strain the egg mixture.
Straining the egg mixture through a fine-mesh sieve helps to separate any stringy strands of egg whites so you get a smooth and silky custard.
Tip #3: Use room temperature ingredients.
Make sure your ingredients are not cold or frozen. The egg mixture will cook fast and your ingredients may not cook through. Also, spread out the ingredients so the heat can go through; for example, put the chicken in a single layer instead of stacking up.
Tip #4: Use gentle heat to cook and keep the lid slightly ajar.
When your steamed chawanmushi has a porous texture with tiny visible holes, which we call them “su,” it’s considered a failure.
These holes in the steamed egg custard are a clear indicator for overcooking or using high heat. Your goal is to make chawanmushi without these holes.
To achieve that, you must be careful with cooking time and heat control. Keep your pot lid slightly ajar and use a gentle heat. The simmering water should be 176-194ºF (80-90ºC). Avoid boiling the custard mixture or the finished custard will not be smooth.
Tip #5: Check doneness by inserting a skewer.
When you insert a bamboo skewer into the center of the chawanmushi and clear juice comes out, it’s done. If the juice is not clear, you will need to cook it longer. You can also tilt the chawanmushi cup to see if it is solidified, but be careful as the cups are extremely hot.
How to Enjoy Chawanmushi
Chawanmushi is typically served hot as an appetizer. Since the custard is very delicate and breaks easily, we eat chawanmushi with a small wooden or lacquer spoon.
Where to Buy Chawanmush Cups and Spoons
Other Delicious Chawanmushi Recipes
There is really nothing like a silky custard with a savory broth topped with delicacies to soothe the hungry stomach while you wait for the main meal to be served. I hope you give this recipe a try because it is easy and practical to make at home.
Chawanmushi (Savory Steamed Custard)
Chawanmushi is a classic Japanese savory custard that’s steamed and served in a delicate cup. Tender chicken pieces, colorful kamaboko fish cake, and sweet shimeji mushrooms are suspended in a smooth and silky custard seasoned with dashi soup stock. Learn how to make this famous appetizer for a true Japanese home cooking experience. Your guests will be impressed!
Before You Start…
Each of my chawanmushi cups can hold up to 200 ml. Please note that the size of the cups matters for cooking time. Also, do not choose thick cups as the heat won’t penetrate the cups easily. You can use aluminum foil to cover the cups if they don’t have lids.
To Prepare the Hot Water Bath
In a large pot, place the chawanmushi cups (with their lids on) to make sure they fit in the pot. Then, pour enough water to reach halfway up the sides of the chawanmushi cups. Remove the cups and cover the pot with a lid. Bring the water to a boil and turn off the heat. Meanwhile, prepare the ingredients.
To Prepare the Ingredients
To Make the Custard Mixture
To Assemble the Chawanmushi
Divide equally all the ingredients into the chawanmushi cups: First, add the chicken (in a single layer), followed by the shimeji mushrooms, and finally the ginkgo nuts.
Then, place the more colorful ingredients like kamaboko and mitsuba on top. Gently pour the egg mixture into the cups about 80% full, leaving some of the top ingredients uncovered by the egg mixture. You may not be able to use up all the egg mixture due to the size of your chawanmushi cups and the amount of ingredients you added in the cup. If you see air bubbles, remove them with a spoon or pop them with a skewer. Air bubbles will create a rough texture once the custard is cooked.
Calories: 86 kcal · Carbohydrates: 5 g · Protein: 10 g · Fat: 4 g · Saturated Fat: 1 g · Polyunsaturated Fat: 1 g · Monounsaturated Fat: 1 g · Trans Fat: 1 g · Cholesterol: 122 mg · Sodium: 426 mg · Potassium: 206 mg · Fiber: 1 g · Sugar: 2 g · Vitamin A: 1647 IU · Vitamin C: 1 mg · Calcium: 24 mg · Iron: 1 mg
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on September 7, 2011. It’s been republished on October 2, 2022, with more content, new images, and a slightly revised recipe.