3-in-1 Steamed Custard: Toddler food, comfort food and dinner party headliner

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Over the years, I’ve simplified my culinary style. Back when I worked from home and had no children, it was possible to indulge in convoluted recipes that took days on end to execute and required traipsing across town to acquire specialist ingredients for. I still love those recipes and appreciate the hard-to-find ingredients, but frankly I just don’t have the time nor bandwidth to make those dishes right now. These days, I tend to prize simplicity of technique. And if I can order my ingredients online and have them delivered, I will.

I believe that when we master foundational techniques we are freed to experiment with flavour and flavour combinations. Simple techniques don’t necessarily limit us to simple dishes.

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This recipe (which is an update of one of our most popular posts) is a prime example. Once you master the fundamentals of a steamed custard, playing with the type of liquid you use in the custard as well the ingredients you place in or over it presents you with endless possibilities.

I first started out with our family favourite, minced pork and salted yolk custard, a dish both Aun and I grew up eating. It’s a dish Aun is happy to have weekly with rice and some napa cabbage stir-fried with dried shrimp and garlic, so over the year’s I’ve worked this recipe down to a science. What I value in a well-prepared custard (apart from its taste) is its smooth, barely set texture. There should be a hint of a wobble when you jiggle it.

I feel that the 100ml liquid to one 60g egg ratio in this recipe helps achieve that oftentimes illusive silken texture. But of late, this ratio has been resulting in custard with an interior (not its surface) pockmarked with bubbles, which drives me insane. I’ve read that a 1:3 ratio of beaten egg to stock is ideal. But when I combine a beaten 60g egg with 150ml stock, the custard is almost watery. So, if you don’t care that your custard has bubbles, go with 100ml stock to one egg. If it bothers you like it does me, I suggest a compromise of 125 to 150ml stock depending on the volume of your beaten egg.

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By substituting the chicken stock with unsweetened soy milk, this dish is transformed into an egg tofu. I frequently replace the minced pork filling with fish and vegetables, transforming it into a toddler friendly dish that my 5-year-old son continues to enjoy with a bowlful of hot rice.

Use dashi, and you have a chawanmushi. I used to make dashi from scratch using bonito flakes and pieces of dried kombu. These days, I opt for convenient bags (that work like teabags) filled with all natural ingredients such as bonito, sardine, kombu and shiitake which I just steep in simmering water for a couple of minutes. Feel free to use whichever you prefer. But if you choose to use dashi granules (which only need to be dissolved in hot water), you might want to adjust the seasoning as they can be a little saltier.

For dinner parties, I use smaller portions of custard since we serve this dish on its own, pop in a couple of cooked ginkgo nuts then steam it. Pair it with as much uni and ikura as your budget allows (alternatively, use cooked or sashimi grade prawns), drizzle with a thickened dashi sauce, top with some grated lime or yuzu zest and this simple custard becomes a luxurious treat.

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In this instance, we brushed the uni with a sugar and soy glaze before flaming it briefly with a butane torch, then garnished it with some Japanese chives. But it isn’t essential. And we use 250ml capacity heatproof egg coddlers for individual portions, but feel free to use your preferred receptacle. All the recipes below make 2 portions, simply multiply the quantities to suit the number of portions you require.

I’d be thrilled to hear about the variations you create using this master savoury custard recipe.

 

About Su-Lyn Tan

Su-Lyn is Aun's better half and for many years, the secret Editor behind this blog known to readers simply as S. Su-Lyn is an obsessive cook and critical eater whose two favourite pastimes are spending time with her two kids and spending time in the kitchen. She looks forward to combining the two in the years to come.

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