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Chawanmushi – Japanese Steamed Egg


(serves 5)
Chawanmushi is a steamed egg custard commonly served in Japanese Cuisine. Unlike its Western counterparts, it is a savoury custard. A variety of bite sized food items are burried within the custard, given it a subtle meaty flavour that lingers in the mouth. Chawanmushi contains no milk or cream, giving it a light and delicate texture that is as smooth as tofu. It can be served as an appetizer in any meal, formal or casual, making it a very versatile dish.
 
Main Ingredients ChawanMushi
  1. Eggs (3)
  2. Mirin
  3. Sake
  4. Hon Dashi
  5. Soya Sauce

Other (Optional) Ingredients

  1. Chicken
  2. Shrimp
  3. Kamaboko (fish cake)
  4. Shiitake (mushroom)
  5. Carrot
  6. Ginko Nuts

Preparation DobinmushiCM Ingredients

  1. First we start by making the dobin mushi, which is a stock with bits of meat and vegetables in it. You can basically use any kind of ingredients but I’ll assume you are using the ingredients listed in the photo.
  2. Marinate 5 finger tip sized pieces of chicken and 5 small shrimp in 2T mirin and 1t soya sauce.
  3. Slice a large fresh (i.e. not dried) shiitake mushroom into 5 segments. Cut 5 thin slices of carrot and 5 slices of fish cake.
  4. Bring to a strong boil 1.75 cups of water with 1 heaped T of hon dashi pellets.
  5. Add all the cut and marinated ingredients into the pot, including the marinade. Give it a quick stir and immediately turn off the fire. Leave covered for five minutes.

You may do everything in part I ahead of time

Preparation Chawanmushi

  1. Beat 3 eggs in a pitcher with 2T sake.
  2. When the dashi stock has cooled, fish out all the boiled ingredients and distribute them equally into the tea cups.
  3. Pour the dashi into the pitcher, mixing it well with the egg.
  4. From the pitcher, pour the custard mixture through a strainer into the cups. Don’t fill the cups beyond 85% of their capacity.
  5. Add a cup of water into a large pot with a steaming rack. In any case, ensure that the water does not reach up the rack.
  6. Arrange the cups onto the rack with their covers on. Bring the water to a boil with the (pot) cover off. This serves to warm up the custard a bit.
  7. When the water is boiling, cover the pot and leave on a low simmer for 10 minutes. Leave the pot covered with heat off for a further 5 minutes for custard to firm up.
  8. Serve hot in the original cups, covers still on and with a tea spoon. It is normal for a small amount of dashi(soup) to remain after the chawanmushi is cooked.

Notes

  • ‘Chawan’ means tea cup while ‘Mushi’ means steamed, so chawanmushi translates as ‘steamed cup (of egg)’. Similarly, ‘Dobin’ means teapot and dobinmushi transalates as ‘steamed teapot (of soup)’. It is not an intermediate ingredient but a distinct soup in itself; note the version here is not the way to make a proper dobinmushi. 
  • If you don’t have tea cups with covers, you can just use a double sheet of foil which you crumple snugly over the top of each cup seperately. The cups should however be the oriental type made of thick porcelain. 
  • Do not leave the cups uncovered; condensate will mar the custard surface while the chawanmushi will get cooked unevenly.
  • It is very important to strain the custard mixture. Do not skip this step or there will be bubbles in the chawanmushi. There will also be sediment from the stock and also bits of egg white which do not steam well.
  • If you like, you can put various decorative or fragrant items on the chawanmushi surface immediately after it is steamed, like a perilla leaf or a slice of kamaboko. 
  • If you can’t get some of the other ingredients listed at the beginning that’s ok; you can substitute anything you like as long as you follow these guidelines:
    • it is small (like a ginko nut) 
    • it doesn’t bleed colour (portobello for example stains the custard)
    • it doesn’t have too strong a taste (fisk ok, lamb not so much)
 
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Posted by on January 8, 2014 in Appetizers, Japanese, Poultry, Recipe, Seafood

 

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Japanese Chashu Pork


Chashu is the sliced pork served with Japanese Ramen noodles nine times out of ten. When properly done, Chashu is tender, succulent, infused with taste, the opposite of everything you’d normally expect of pork. The secret is in the recipe of course, and this is where you’ll learn to do it easily, and perfectly. The use of Chashu is not restricted to Ramen. You can also serve it as a main course of stewed pork belly by carving it into blocks or you can do Chashu sandwiches. A useful by-product of cooking Chashu is the stewing sauce, which can be used in a number of different ways.

IngredientsChashu on Ramen

  1. Laminated Pork Belly (400-600g)
  2. Shallots (6)
  3. Garlic (6 cloves)
  4. Ginger (1 slice)
  5. Soya Sauce
  6. Mirin
  7. Sake
  8. Sugar
  9. Butter
  10. Five Spice Powder

Preparation

  1. The first thing to do is to choose the right sized bakeware for your pork. For 400g of pork belly, its best to use bread loaf shaped bakeware that is just slightly bigger than your meat. This way the pork will not be exposed while it is stewing.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200oC (390oF).
  3. Pour 1/2 cup of Mirin, 1/2 cup of Sake and 1/2 cup of water into your baking container. Add 1T of Soya sauce for a light Chashu and 3T of Soya Sauce for the dark tasty variety. Stir in 1T sugar and 1t five spice powder. Place the pork belly into the stewing liquid.Raw Chashu
  4. Peel 6 cloves of garlic and 6 shallots. Also peel a thick slice of ginger about 2 inches long. Fit them into whatever space that is left (see picture). Top off a knob of butter.
  5. Cover the baking container snugly with aluminium foil and place it in the oven. Total baking time is 2 hours.
  6. When the aroma of the stewing pork is noticeable, this means it is boiling, reduce the oven temperature to 150oC (300oF).
  7. After the 2 hours are up, turn the oven off. You may remove your Chashu from the oven immediately or leave it in the oven (the preferred option) to cool for several hours. Seperate the meat from the liquid when they are at room temperature and place them both in the fridge.
  8. When the meat is chilled, cut it into slices. Place the Chashu on the cutting board with the skin facing up and slice from top to bottom, this solves the problem of the skin being of a different consistency from the meat. You can make the slices larger by slicing diagonally.
  9. When the soaking liquid is cold, a layer of lard will form on its surface, you should spoon it out, to discard or perhaps add to your Ramen soup. Put the stewing sauce through a strainer and keep it in the fridge for later use; it should keep for quite a while.
  10. To reheat, simply drench the Chashu slices repeatedly with the boiling soup from your Ramen. If you wish to go the extra mile, glaze individual slices with a bit of the stewing sauce in the oven/toaster oven or with a kitchen torch.

Notes

  • It is essential that you let the Chashu get thoroughly chilled before cutting or slicing it. It is really tender and will fall apart otherwise.
  • The stewing sauce will congeal into a jelly in the fridge, so thats why it needs to be seperated from the meat before going into the fridge.
  • The restaurant Chashu you normally see is round. This is achieved by rolling up your pork belly, skin facing out, with butcher’s twine before stewing it. You’ll need a slab of pork belly that is about 1.5 kg and a oval Dutch oven to do this. It is not practical to do this at home unless you happen to be inviting 10 people over for Ramen. If you really want to do this, here are some pictures to help you.
  • If you feel very strongly that pork belly has too much fat, the alternative cut to try would be pork shoulder.
  • The colour of your Chashu will depend on the amount of soya sauce used and also the age of your mirin. If you want light coloured Chashu, use a fresh bottle of mirin.
  • If you are serving your Chashu western style, i.e. in blocks, you can use the braising sauce to cook additional vegetables like brussel sprouts or turnip. The braising sauce is also ideal for making  Ajitama, a seasoned semi boiled egg that normally comes with Ramen and for marinating chicken for BBQ.
  • If you are interested in Ramen, you can refer to this post.
 
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Posted by on June 28, 2013 in Appetizers, Japanese, Oriental, Recipe

 

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What is Mirin?


This is the everything you wanted to know about Mirin page. It answers: Where did Mirin come from? How is Mirin made? How does Mirin improve food? When should Mirin be used? What are the types of Mirin? What is the difference between Hon-Mirin and Aji-Mirin? Why is some Mirin light and others dark?  What can I substitute with Mirin?

History of Mirin
Mirin started out as a popular sweet liqueur for women in medieval Japan. During the Edo period, the first sugar cane plantations were still 2 centuries away. Nipponese cooks from the era found Mirin to be an excellet form of sweetness and incorporated it into many of their recipes. With the Meiji Restoration, Mirin as a drink went out of vogue like the samurai, but Mirin as a flavouring agent went from strength to strength. Today Mirin has become an essential part of culinary Japan and at least one bottle of it can be found in every Japanese kitchen. So if you have ever wondered why the miso soup you made at home doesn’t taste as good as the ones from the restaurant – the missing secret ingredient is probably Mirin.

Brewing Mirin
Mirin was, and sometimes still is, made by introducing Sochu to the vat halfway through a quasi-sake brewing process. The Sochu(a vodka-like spirit) kills all the fermenting Koji(a fungus) which would otherwise metabolize all the sugars. This is not dissimilar to the procedure where Brandy is added to half-fermented wine to give us Port. Although Mirin and Sake are made from different types of rice, the similar initial brewing process imparts to Mirin some of the tastes reminiscent of Sake but that is where their similarities end. The alcohol content in Mirin is lower at somewhere between 12-14%. Because Sochu is added, complex sugars and proteins form as Mirin is left to mature, giving it its distinctive sweet taste and golden colour.

Varieties of MirinMirin 800
Mirin comes in three qualities. First there is the quality stuff that is brewed as described above. No artificial additives or preservatives are added. This type of Mirin can be drunk like Port or Madeira and it takes perhaps 2 years before the Mirin can be bottled. The bottle on the right is my quality mirin. It comes in a nice glass bottle and is brewed by Mitoku Macrobiotic. On the side of the bottle the manufacturer states that its Mirin is made only in the traditional way and koji is given as one of its ingredients. It is from Mikawa province which is where they all make the good stuff and also, there is no better quality assurance than a glass bottle.

Then there is the mediocre factory stuff, a synthetic Mirin, manufactured using enzymes on rice in a high temperature / pressure process. A batch of this type of mirin takes only about 3 months to make. The plastic bottle in the middle is my mediocre Mirin, made by Kikoman. It is of a sub-type called Hon-Mirin, which ironically translates as real-mirin. Its ingredients are given as corn syrup, glucose syrup, rice, alcohol and water. You can always judge Mirin quality by checking the ingredients at the back; factory Mirin invariably contains corn syrup. There is another sub-type called Aji-Mirin, which means tastes-like-mirin. Many people think that Aji-Mirin is inferior to Hon-Ririn but they are exactly the same thing except a little salt has been added to Aji-Mirin so it is not subject to alcohol tax. The ingredients for Kikoman’s Aji-Mirin are the same as their Hon-Mirin except glucose syrup has been replaced by salt. Since you are cooking with it, a little salt won’t matter, so don’t get hung up about whether it is Hon or Aji; both are equally mediocre.

Mirin slowly darkens from a golden colour to a deep amber colour after a bottle is openned. Amber-coloured Mirin has an additional caramelized flavour from the slow oxidation process so don’t think that its going bad. It looks black in the photo because you are looking through 2 inches of the amber Mirin, if you pour it out onto a spoon you’ll see its true colour. I added a third unopened bottle of Hon-Mirin on the left just to show you what virgin Mirin looks like. Keep your Mirin refrigerated after it is openned as the cap tends to get moldy after some time in a hot humid climate.

Finally there is the terrible stuff, something called Shin-Mirin which translates as new-Mirin. This is basically a mirin-flavoured sauce with almost no alcohol content, another even cheaper way to get around the alcohol tax. I’m sorry I don’t have a bottle handy to photograph. Do not bother with Shin-Mirin unless you have a phobia thing about alcohol. You know once you heat Mirin, most of the alcohol will evaporate anyway.

Cooking with Mirin
In Japanese cuisine, Mirin is commonly used in simmered (e.g. Oyakodon) and stewed (e.g. Chashu) dishes. It is basically used each time you want to balance out soya sauce or miso based dishes. You can pretty much make teriyaki sauce by mixing Mirin with sugar and soya sauce.  Mirin is also added to vinegared sushi rice and sesame salad dressing.

When do I use my quality Mirin and when do I use factory Mirin? If the Mirin is to be consumed directly, say like in a salad dressing, I will use my good stuff. Likewise if the recipe calls for small amount of Mirin, like a tablespoon that is added to soup. If the recipe calls for Mirin by the cupful, for example when I are stewing pork, then I will use my mediocre Mirin.

What about using Mirin when it is not specifically mentioned in the recipe? Whenever your recipe calls for a teaspoon of sugar, try using a tablespoon of Mirin instead. Sugar does nothing but make your food sweet but Mirin will help to accentuate the milder flavours. The key is to only use it in limited quantities since it has quite a strong distinct flavour. Mirin is known for its glazing characteristics so you can paint it on seafood prior to grilling. Speaking of seafood, Mirin is also prized for its ability to counteract fishy and gamey smells, so you can often add a tablespoon to your marinades. Finally whenever your recipe calls for a dash of Port or Sherry, try substituting Mirin instead. I sometimes add a dash to my tomato or cheese based pasta sauces/risottos.

Substituting Mirin
In an emergency, in place of Mirin you can use a Sake plus honey substitute. Mix 5 parts of Sake with 1 part of honey, then heat the mixture until it is reduced in volume by half.

Additional Information
Some sites of Mirin manufacturers with detailed information

If you liked this post on Mirin, you may also be interested in my post on its savoury complimentary, Chinese Cooking Wine.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2013 in Ingredients, Japanese, Oriental

 

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Oyakodon – Japanese Chicken and Egg Rice


(serves 3)
Oyakodon a.k.a. Oyako Donburi a.ka.a Oyako Rice Bowl is a scrumptious mixture of tender simmered chicken pieces with scrambled eggs served on piping hot rice. The chicken is marinated in a semi-sweet sauce which when combined with the flavour from shiitake mushrooms and dashi broth results in the perfect sauce to go with rice. It’s no wonder Oyakodon is one of the most popular rice dishes in Japan. As it is an all-in-one complete meal, Oyakodon is quite a convenient dish to serve, it can be made in under an hour.  
 
Ingredients Oyakodon
  1. Chicken Thigh & Leg (2, boneless)
  2. Onion (1)
  3. Eggs (4)
  4. Dried Shiitake Mushrooms (4)
  5. Cooked Japanese White Rice (3 bowls)
  6. Scallion (3 shoots)
  7. Ginger (1t)
  8. Dark Soya Sauce
  9. Mirin
  10. Hon Dashi
  11. Sesame Oil
  12. Dried Seaweed (optional)

Preparation Part I

  1. Julienne the scallion into small 1/8 inch slices, keeping the white bits seperate from the green bits.
  2. If you didn’t buy your chicken legs deboned, you’ll need to debone them yourself. Seperate the skin from the meat as well. Trim off any large bits of fat from the meat and then cut the meat into bite sized chunks.
  3. In a bowl mix 4T soya sauce, 2T mirin, 1T sesame oil, 1t sugar, 1t pureed ginger and the white part of the scallion. Marinate the chicken pieces in this.
  4. Fry the skin in 1T of vegetable oil in a pan on low heat until the skin gets crispy. There is no need to move the skin save to flip it once.
  5. In the meanwhile dissolve 1t hon dashi pellets and 1t sugar into 1 cup of room temperature water. Soak your shiitake mushrooms in this.
  6. Peel and slice the onion into half rings.
  7. Rinse your rice and set it to cook in a rice cooker.
  8. At this stage the mushrooms would have softened a bit. Snip the stems and discard them. Slice the mushrooms into 1/4 inch strips and continue to soak them in the same liquid.
  9. Remove the skin from the pan, leaving the oil in the pan.
  10. Let the chicken marinate while the rice gets cooked, for about thirty minutes.

You may do everything in part I ahead of time

Preparation Part II

  1. Beat 4 eggs in a bowl with 1T mirin. Leave them in the open to warm up.
  2. Pan fry the onion pieces in the pan with the chicken oil until they begin to soften.
  3. Turn up the heat. When the pan is hot, drain any remaining chicken marinade into the bowl with the mushroom.
  4. Add the chicken pieces to the pan and stir fry the chicken, ensuring all surfaces are browned. Turn the heat down when the meat begins to shrink. Next, add the mushroom slices, including all the liquid. Sprinkle liberally with pepper and continue cooking until the liquid has been reduced by half in volume.
  5. Push the chicken pieces to the side of the pan and pour the egg mix into the middle (which will still contain sauce). Turn off the heat after 30 seconds or until just half of the egg mixture begins to solidify. Mix everything in the pan one last time without smashing up the soft egg too much.
  6. Scoop your cooked rice straight from the rice cooker into 3 large bowls, filling them 3/4 of the way up. Top off each bowl with the contents of the pan, including all the sauce. The egg should continue to cook til it is slightly runny.
  7. Sprinkle on the green bits of the scallion immediately while everything is still steaming hot. You may also add some thin strips of dried seaweed (Nori) if you like.

Notes

  • Oyako means Parent and Child, a reference to main ingredients being Chicken and Egg .  
  • If you are going out to buy mirin for the first time, check out my What is Mirin? page first. If you really cannot get your hands on some mirin, you can also find out how to make a substitute there.
  • What if I can’t find any shiitake mushrooms? The flavour from the shiitake (She-tar-kay) mushrooms is important too. If you really need to, try substituting with dried Porcini or Morel. Don’t use fresh mushrooms as they will impart an unwanted bitter gamey taste.
  • What if I don’t know how to cook rice? Refer to my White Rice Page. It goes without sayinh, it’s best to use Japanese rice for this dish.
  • If you like, you can cut the chicken skin that has been fried crispy into little pieces and sprinkle it on with the scallion at the end. You should not however leave the skin on the chicken. Together, there is no way to cook the skin properly and yet leave the chicken meat tender. 
  • Please note – the egg in the photo is a bit over cooked, it should be a bit runnier. My bad. If you want your egg to have a nicer colour and texture, use 4 yolks with 3 egg whites instead.
 
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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Japanese, Main Courses, Poultry, Recipe

 

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