Delicate steamed savoury egg custard (chawanmushi) is a common start to a meal in Japan. It is generally served as part of a set with rice, broth, pickles and grilled meats.
It’s a huge contrast to my early culinary experiences with custard. As a young lad, I would routinely consume a 500-millilitre carton of store-bought pouring custard after a surf. In hindsight that was a really odd ritual.
This version of chawanmushi uses celeriac. In the winters of southern Australia the vegetable selection becomes very lean. Plants begin to divert energy from the foliage to below the ground and this is the time to turn to root vegetables. Multigenerational farmer/producer/scientist/pilot/overachiever Will Bignell has a family property in Bothwell, about an hour’s drive north of Hobart, where they grow – among many other crops – exceptional root vegetables. As well as celeriac, there’s salsify, Jerusalem artichokes, horseradish – all of which could make up a large portion of the menu during the winter months. Celeriac cooks almost like meat and its dense structure lends itself to cooking whole. It also absorbs other flavours imparted, such as butter, and has a fantastic natural acidity my palate always welcomes.
This is a very versatile steamed custard recipe and it’s easy to season and change ingredients according to what is available or what you like. The most important rule is to go by a ratio of one whole egg to every 100 millilitres or so of liquid. Chawanmushi can be served cold as more of a salad but for me the warm temperature is one of its most pleasing aspects.
– 1 large celeriac
– 1 sheet kombu
– 100g dried shiitake mushroom
– 500ml water
– 300ml mirin
– 400ml soy sauce, plus extra for seasoning
– 1 litre grapeseed oil
– 8 eggs
– 50g brown sugar
– 10g fried garlic
– thumb of ginger, shredded
– herbs for serving
– 10ml sesame oil
Peel the celeriac then cut into large dice, about 2.5 centimetres square. Place the scraps into a pot with the kombu, shiitake mushrooms, water and 150 millilitres of the mirin. Simmer gently for 20 minutes. Adjust the seasoning with soy sauce then strain the liquid and let the stock cool to room temperature.
Place the celeriac dice in a pot and cover in the grapeseed oil. Cook at below 90 degrees for one hour before letting the celeriac cool in the oil.
Boil two of the eggs to soft boil (six minutes) then place them in iced water before peeling them. Mix the 400 millilitres of soy sauce with the remaining mirin and the brown sugar, then pour the liquid into a ziplock bag. Place the eggs in the bag of marinade and let steep for two hours.
Once the stock has returned to room temperature, place it in a measuring jug and add one egg for every 100 millilitres of stock, blend well and then transfer into serving bowls for steaming. Blowtorch the top to remove bubbles then cover each one with cling wrap.
Steam the custard for about five to 10 minutes depending on the depth of the vessel. Remove when they have a 50-cent-coin size still wobbling in the centre.
Plate each custard by placing the confit celeriac dice evenly on top, then add the fried garlic, ginger, half of a marinated egg and some herbs. Add the sesame oil to the egg marinade and float a small amount over the top to finish.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 4, 2019 as "On glorious custards". Subscribe here.