Bites and Pieces: Chawanmushi (or what to do when you have a cook book with ridiculously complicated recipes)

We have a few cookbooks written by chefs. We bought The Figs Table, by Todd English, with some of our wedding money. I haven’t made much from it, though the olive oil & basil emulsion is a lovely addition to many recipes. Pesto without pine nuts. Some years later, a friend of ours gave us a cookbook on ceviche by Guillermo Pernot, the chef of Passión in Philadelphia. Last Christmas, my parents gave us the Bluestem cookbook, by the chef/owners (Colby and Megan Garrelts) of my favorite restaurant in Kansas City. The level of cooking there matches anything I’ve had in NYC/DC/SF.

A frequent problem that arises for me with recipes in such books is a combination of difficult to find ingredients and complicated recipes. Something along the lines of making two cups of basil emulsion of which you will use two tablespoons. That’s great for a menu for which you’ll serve 100 plates. Not so good if you’re left with 1 3/4 cups of basil emulsion. I tend to go out to restaurants where they make something I don’t have the time or skill to make and these cookbooks drive that philosophy home. Tom Sietsema’s recent review of high end steak houses drives that point home. It doesn’t take great skill to cook a great steak. Cassoulet is something else entirely.

Fortunately, there are the occasional gems that you can make at home without tying up your kitchen for a day. Tonight’s offering is one such recipe. It’s a light custard based on dashi stock. Dashi is the basis for miso soup. You can find powdered dashi stock at Asian markets, though the real thing is pretty easy to make. What caught my eye was that I had the ingredients on hand and it looked promising.

Chanwanmusi, hon shimeji, scallion dashi

Heat an oven to 275 degrees.

Dashi stock

1 ounce kombu (dried kelp)

4 cups water

~18 grams bonito flaks

Rinse the kombu under water and cut a few slits into it to release the flavor. Add to the water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, remove the kombu, and add the bonito folakes. Let steep for a minute or two until the bonito sinks to the bottom. Strain the stock and set aside. [Note: you can find freeze dried dashi stock and skip this.]

Chawanmushi broth

Combine 2 ½ cups of the dashi with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of mirin, ½ tsp. of rice wine vinegar, and 3 large eggs. Mix at low speed in a food processor or whisk together. Divide evenly among 4 small bowls and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place the bowls in a casserole dish with one inch of water. [Note: I was a bit nervous about this, but the plastic won’t burn if you’ve plenty of water.] Put the casserole dish with the bowls of chawanmushi in the oven for about 40 minutes. The custard should be just set—a little jiggly in the middle, but firm overall. This is a light custard, so don’t sweat it.

Meanwhile, slice up a few mushrooms and sauté in sesame oil. Well, or butter, because let’s face it. Butter and mushrooms are a transcendent combination. If there’s anything else you want to use as a garnish, go for it. Combine the remaining dashi with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and mirin (about 1 tablespoon of each).

Putting it all together

Take the custards out of the oven. Pour a couple of tablespoons of the spiked dashi over the top, top with the mushrooms (and whatever else you want) and serve. This is a five star dish without that much effort. My guess is that you could get away with using chicken stock in place of the dashi and still have a stunner of a dish.


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