I’m starting to think that I’m a complete Japanophile. Japanese food is one of my go-to comfort foods, and many of the ideas that come to me in the middle of the night – yes I’m that obsessive about food – seem to revolve around Japanese flavours and ideas.

So when it came to coming up with canapé ideas for my little dinner party, the classic Japanese chawanmushi came to mind, but I was going to serve them in sake cups! Aren’t they cute??

Now I know that by definition chawanmushi should be steamed in tea cups, but sake cups are just the perfect size for canapés, and allows your guests to try a variety of things without getting too full!

If you’ve never tried chawanmushi, it is a light, moreish, delicate Japanese steamed savoury egg custard that can have a variety of ‘toppings’, from chicken, to gingko nuts, to mushrooms, to fish cakes…whatever floats your boat.

I happened to get given extremely fresh sea urchin from Cando Fishing – who also gave me lots of information about when’s a good time to buy sea urchin – and I thought that I should keep the actual egg custard simple.

I used:

  • 3 large eggs (60g)
  • 2 cups of dashi (500ml)
  • 2 tsp of light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp of mirin
  • Baby shimeiji mushrooms

The important ratio here is that of the eggs to the dashi. You can use some other stock, if you’d like, but I find it simpler to make my own dashi by softening some konbu (kelp) in water, bringing the water up to about 60C, removing the kelp after about 10-20 minutes and adding dried bonito flakes. Simply bring the water up to a simmer, and simmer it till you like the flavour (about 10 minutes for a small batch). Strain, and you’ve got your dashi!

Let the dashi cool before you add them to your beaten eggs and strain. Then pour them into your prepared containers, add your ‘toppings’ (not the sea urchin, though) and steam. Because the egg mixture is so delicate, it’s a good idea to par-cook or fully cook your toppings before adding them into the raw egg mixture. I just lightly simmer the shimeiji mushrooms in some stock or salted water before adding them to the bottom of the cups. Remember to keep the mushroom water though – it’s incredibly tasty and ends up being like a mushroom stock that you can use somewhere else.

Then cover your little cups of goodness with some foil and steam them till they are just set. They will never really stop wobbling till they’re pretty much overcooked, so I find that turning off the heat when they’re at the stage of the softest silken tofu, the mixture changes to an off-white, opaque colour, and leaving it to finish in its residual heat is the most effective.

Then carefully lift them out and using a tea spoon, gently top them with sea urchin – if you’re using any. You can also just serve them straight out of the steamer as is – I know that it’s a breakfast favourite for me. I find that it’s a great starting canapé because it really whets the appetite, and prepares your guests for more.


If you like my sea urchin ideas, why not try my oysters with sea urchin butter, and sea urchin shooters! 

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