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Japanese Savory Custard (Chawan Mushi)




Serves 4.

Ingredients

4 dried shiitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
4 small prawns or 8 slices kamaboko (fish cake)
4 fresh oysters or 4 small slices fresh tuna

Custard
4 eggs
625 ml/1 1/4 pints/2 1/2 cups dashi
salt to taste
1 tablespoon Japanese soy sauce
2 tablespoons sake, mirin or dry sherry

Directions

Soak mushrooms in hot water for 30 minutes, cut off and discard stems and simmer the caps in a small saucepan with 1 tablespoon of soy, a little of the soaking water and the sugar for 8-10 minutes. Shell and devein prawns. If tuna is used, marinate for a few minutes in remaining tablespoon of soy sauce.

Into each chawan mushi cup (custard cup or ramekin) put a mushroom; a prawn or 2 slices of kamaboko; and an oyster or a slice of tuna. Fill cups with custard mixture and put in a saucepan with hot water to come half way up the sides of the cups. If chawan mushi cups with lids are not available, cover the top of each cup with foil, pressing it close to the outside of the cup. Cover saucepan with a folded tea towel and then with the lid and bring water to the boil. Lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until set. Serve hot. In summer these custard soups may be served cold. They are the only Japanese soups that are eaten with a spoon. Etiquette for liquid soups is to lift the bowl to the lips with both hands.

If more convenient the chawan mushi may be baked in a moderate oven, standing them in a baking pan with hot water to come half way up the cups. An electric frypan is also a convenient method of steaming chawan mushi, with the cups standing in water.

Custard:
Beat eggs, then mix in all other ingredients. When mixture has been poured into cups, carefully skim off the bubbles on the top of the mixture. Note: If preferred, substitute thinly sliced chicken breast for the seafood.

Recipe excerpted from Encyclopedia of Asian Food by Charmaine Solomon (Periplus Editions, 1998)

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