Cooking in a water bath, just like crème brûlée, makes these Japanese custards set yet incredibly silky. These chawanmushi from Eric Wolfinger are infused with umami-rich dashi and soy. They make a beautiful first course with a drizzle of Yuzu Ponzu and a garnish of fresh crab or uni.

Active Time:
10 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs 30 mins

Dashi — a light, umami-rich seaweed broth — is the cornerstone for so many Japanese dishes, including miso soup. Rather than bones or shrimp shells, this dashi broth from Eric Wolfinger gets its body from kombu (a type of seaweed) and katsuobushi (dried, smoked bonito flakes).


Master Dashi

  • 2 quarts room-temperature water (preferably mineral, such as Volvic or Crystal Geyser, or filtered water)

  • 1 ounce kombu

  • 1 ounce katsuobushi


  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten

  • 1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce

  • 1 teaspoon sake

  • Uni, crabmeat, steamed enoki mushrooms, scallions, and cilantro, for garnish (optional)

  • 1 tablespoon Yuzu Ponzu


Make the Dashi

  1. Pour water into a medium saucepan, and add kombu. Let stand until kombu doubles in size, about 30 minutes. Cook over medium-low until water is steaming and tiny bubbles collect on surface of kombu. Adjust heat to maintain water temperature below a simmer, and let steep for 30 minutes. Remove from heat, and add katsuobushi. Allow katsuobushi to settle at the bottom of the pot, about 2 minutes. Pour liquid through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a bowl. Discard solids.

Make the Chawanmushi

  1. Place eggs in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in 1 1/3 cups dashi, soy sauce, and sake. Pour liquid through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a bowl. Discard solids. Divide liquid among 4 small heatproof bowls or ramekins. Cover tightly with plastic wrap.

  2. Bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in a pot fitted with a steamer basket over medium-low. Add bowls to steamer. Cover and steam until custard is set, about 15 minutes.

  3. Unwrap custards. Garnish with uni, crabmeat, mushrooms, scallions, and cilantro, if desired. Combine 1 tablespoon dashi with yuzu ponzu, and top custards evenly with mixture (Reserve the remaining dashi for another use). Serve immediately.

    Eric Wolfinger
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