This is an exceedingly light, delicate dish, whose charm is its simplicity. Known in Japan as chawan mushi, or “steamed thing in a tea bowl,” it is a very silky egg custard made with seasoned stock and a sprinkling of cooked or marinated seafood or poultry, which is steamed and served hot in individual cups. The steaming gives the custard a slightly soft texture, unlike the firm baked custards to which we are accustomed in the West, and I often serve it instead of a soup to highlight its delicacy.
Beat the eggs lightly, until thoroughly mixed but not frothy. Skim off any froth. Combine the stock mixture, wine, and soy, then add to the eggs in a thin stream, stirring lightly to blend. Add the salt gradually, stirring lightly and tasting, until you have added enough. Add a dash of pepper, if desired. Be caring not to beat the mixture, as excess foam or bubbles will result in a custard with holes.
Once blended, strain the egg mixture through a fine sieve to trap all the googly egg bits.
Distribute the drained clams and the scallion rings or chives among the individual cups, then pour in the egg mixture to within Vi inch of the lip. Cover the cups with their own lids or with aluminum foil to keep out condensation, then arrange them on a large steaming rack.
Complete the preparations just before steaming the custards. Do not let the mixture sit.
(For details on steaming and how to improvise a steamer.)
Bring the water in the steaming vessel to a gushing boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium or thereabouts to maintain a steady, gentle steam. Add the steamer rack with the covered cups, cover the steamer, and steam the custard undisturbed for 20–25 minutes. Do not peek at the custard until the time is nearly up, and expect it to look soupy until the final minutes of steaming. The custard is done when a knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Do not worry if it seems slightly loose; that is the character of the dish.
Serve the custard hot. I like to eat it with Chinese porcelain spoons, which, like the custard, feel deliciously slippery on the tongue.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.