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Chawanmushi, which means "steamed tea cup", is a Japanese dish that involves steaming eggs that have been mixed with other ingredients in a small cup or bowl until the mixture has formed a custard. The eggs themselves often are mixed with other liquids, such as seafood stock and mirin. Seafood such as shrimp, prawns, crab or slices of kamaboko usually are placed in the cup or bowl before the egg mixture is poured in so the ingredients slowly rise as the custard sets. When completed, the egg custard in the chawanmushi will have blended with the liquids from the other ingredients and taken on a loose, soup-like texture as opposed to the thicker texture that some custards have. Once completed, chawanmushi can be served hot, warm or chilled and can be garnished with more seafood, carrot shavings, gingko nuts or Japanese parsley leaves.
The base for chawanmushi normally is made from three distinct types of ingredients. First, the eggs that are used will help the custard set, but they also need to be treated carefully to have the dish cook properly. After being cracked into a bowl, the eggs need to be beaten together to integrate the yolks and whites, but not so aggressively that a large amount of air is incorporated. This will prevent the custard from quickly rising while steaming and overflowing out of the serving cup.
The second ingredient, known as dashi, helps to define the flavor of the chawanmushi. Dashi is a stock that usually is made from seaweed or kelp, sometimes along with cured fish. It can be added directly as a liquid, or dashi powder can be used so the flavor develops as the custard cooks. Sake or mirin, a sweetened type of rice wine, is the last ingredient in the custard base; it adds sweetness and enhances the taste of the other ingredients.
In most preparations of chawanmushi, seafood or meat and vegetables are cooked with the custard and also might be used as a topping or garnish once the cooking has completed. Traditional additions include crab, shrimp, prawn, diced chicken or slices of a type of pressed fish loaf known as kamaboko. Vegetables usually include sliced mushrooms, Japanese parsley, scallions, bamboo shoots and nuts such as cashews. The ingredients are placed in the bottom of the cup or bowl to be used for steaming and the custard is poured on top.
To cook chawanmushi, the cups are placed in a steamer over low or medium heat. Cooking chawanmushi in a steamer that is too hot could result in eggs that are overcooked and a soup that is separated. After some time, the eggs will set and the seafood and vegetables will cook. At this point, the custard can be served hot or warm, or it can be chilled to be served at a later time. The top of the cup can be garnished with more seafood, ginkgo seeds, sliced carrots or fresh herbs.