Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Steamed Eggs (Chinese Savoury Custard)

Another very homely recipe to chase away the blues.

It's really cheap and simple and has hardly any ingredients at all, and all the kids (and adults) love it. It's the Chinese household equivalent of the more known Japanese chawanmushi, the Japanese version being steamed in a pretty little cup, with all sorts of hidden goodies. The version I grew up with though, is plain and unadorned and done in a shallow steam-proof dish. The most basic version is called 蒸水蛋 i.e. "steamed water eggs", because it is literally just steaming a water-egg mixture, but using stock (my mum insists!) makes it 10x better.

The test of a good steamed egg lies in the texture. It will be soft and silky with a smooth surface, kind of like a savoury set custard. Done wrong, it will be rubbery with a a pock-marked surface-- like the ones I used to do until I went to research and properly grilled my mum.

I love this old-school fail-proof way of measuring liquid:egg ratio

Steamed Eggs
serves 1-2
2 free-range pastured eggs
6 eggshell-halves of cooled boiled water/ homemade stock (hence, size of eggs don't matter!)
white pepper + 1 tsp Shaoxing wine (opt, but again, my mum insists!)

To serve
traditionally brewed and fermented soy sauce
1 tbsp groundnut oil (or lard from happy pigs) + drizzle of toasted sesame oil
chopped spring onions (opt, as kids we'd pick them out)

1. Beat eggs well with the water/stock. Strain the mixture through a sieve to get rid of the bubbles, into a shallow (mine was about 1/2 inch deep) steam-proof dish.
2. Prepare steamer, or for a makeshift one, just set a metal rack over a pot of boiling water, making sure the metal rack is higher than the water level. Place the dish on the rack, covered with a plate or sealed with foil (my mum's style).
3. Turn to low heat, and steam for about 15 min or till set. If you're not sure, shaking the dish a little, it should be jiggly but firm. Uncover halfway first, wait for steam to escape, then fully uncover.
4. To serve, sprinkle spring onions over. Heat the oils till smoking hot. Pour over, and then dizzle the soy sauce over (adjust according to taste, you may need less if you've seasoned it with a flavourful stock). 

The oils scalds the raw spring onions to release its fragrance, and also helps the soy sauce to 'glide' smoothly over. It's what gives it the extra special something, though you could skip it if you want to go the healthy zen and Japanese route.

My mum, being my mum, will also add minced pork or fish seasoned with a bit of soy sauce and pepper, and she will use her best stock (leftover, made from simmering chicken bones and dried scallops). The one I have here is a lot less deluxe. But it's, oh gosh, so familiar and good. The eggs are just set with a delicate custardy texture, and is seasoned simply by the river of light soy sauce running through. Each spoonful of steamed egg is like a savoury scoop of home.

I think I even saw a little bit of sun peeking through the clouds just now (:


  1. This is one of the simple dish that we love to eat.

  2. Such a simle and extraordinary dish at the same time! I know and love chawanmushi, but have never heard of its Chinese equivalent. It looks different but equally delicious. I definitely must try it (I have recently bought special bowl with lids for chawanmushi, so it means I'll be able to use them for two dishes).
    Your (or your mum's?) way of counting the amounts with half eggshells is a very clever idea.
    It's funny because as a child I hated green salad and my mum used to cut it very thin and pretended it was chives (I loved chives).

  3. ate this a lot when i was little, oh so your mum's trick is to add a little wine to it..quite a nice idea!

  4. In Chinese, this is "Tan Tan"! :)
    Wow, this is a very versatile dish; one as the chawanmushi style where you can serve with rice or the other; make it a little sweeter or take off the condiments, and it becomes a dessert!
    This brought back our childhood memories, excellent post!:D

  5. How very interesting - I've never heard of this before! It sounds wonderful and so simple!

  6. This goes down as one of the best Chinese homemade comfort food of all time!! I love your method of measuring the water with the egg shells haha! So cute and creative... I'd follow your mum's persistence for the ingredients because she seems to know exactly what she's talking about and makes a huge diff haha... Nice one, Shu Han! I'm sure you did your mum proud =D

  7. Hehe, I have fond memories of this! My Mum used to make it lots, it has a yummy texture but it's not for everyone I guess (a bit like tofu). Cheers for sharing!

  8. This sounds interesting. When i first read the title of the post I assumed it would be a sweet egg custard type recipe. So I was surorised, and intrigued, to see a savoury dish. Nice idea, and dead simple too.

  9. I have come back three times to look at this recipe. The texture as I imagine it is something I crave. I'll try it soon, but I warn you, I will fool around with it. LOL

  10. I've never heard of either the Chinese or Japanese version, but it sounds so interesting - I can't imagine what the texture must be like, though if you say it's like custard then I think I can guess. I think your mother's idea of adding minced pork or fish is a wonderful idea too! Thanks for sharing this :)

  11. yummylittlecooks: yes simple homey chinese food (:

    sissi: this one is steamed in a shallow dish though, so the steaming time will change! beware! haha that's a really funny way of getting you to eat your greens. I liked my greens as a kid but hated chives and spring onions >< will painstakingly pick them out when they're scattered over soup or noodles. same goes for sesame seeds. I would pick tem out of a burger bun ><

    mycookinghut: yum!

    lena: yah, i think the wine helps to counter/complement the raw egg smell. sth like that.

    christy: cool, i nv knew it was called that. we just called it steamed egg! i like how tan tan sounds (:

    farine: yes, try it!

    winston: thanks! yah, i try my best not to cut corners when it comes to her tips!

    zo: haha try describing it as pudding/custard instead of tofu, that should do the trick!

    the grubworm: yup, you could call it a savoury custard also!

    stephen: haha 3 times! wow i'm pleased. no problem, i'm usually one to fool around with recipes anyway. let me know how it went!

    charles: just try it and you'll see (: you can add mushrooms or carrots etc too, that'd be like the japanese version.

  12. This is definitely one of my fave comfort foods and I agree that your mum's version is the deluxe version as that is exactly how we cook it too! Thanks for sharing a beautiful recipe.

  13. yummmm! I love steamed eggs!

  14. Love your mum's notes on the recipe – you just know there's no point deviating from them. Mums always know best.

  15. My husband told me about Chinese egg custard but I haven't had a chance to try it. It looks so silky and delicious! I love the measuring trick - how clever! Thanks for sharing it with us! ;-)

  16. Thank you for precising the dish shape. I will try to do this in a crème brûlée dish then ;-)

  17. Wow, I thought I am quite knowledgeable about Chinese cuisine, but I'd never heard of this custard (only egg custard ;)) until today. Thanks for sharing the recipe, it doesn't just look pretty, it looks delicious too!

  18. chopin: yah i think all mums try to put as much good stuff as they can for the family. deluxe.

    anh: (:

    ginandcrumpets: agree!

    nami: i really love the measuring trick too! so fail-proof!

    sissi: okay let me know how it goes! x

    cooking gallery: thanks! wow, i would have thought all chinese grew up with this. hmm maybe i've been taking it for granted!

  19. I love steamed eggs and ate lots of it while growing up. I have to make some soon. Looks really good!

  20. LIKES!!! Haven't eaten this in a while though. :(

  21. thank u! i've made really batch of steamed eggs, thanks to you! ;)

    1. hurray, always very happy to hear from people who've tried my recipes and had it work for them! (I know this is a late late late reply but I missed this earlier)

  22. We adopted our daughter from Henan and she loved this dish! She still eats eggs every.single.morning. I am elated to find a recipe for this dish and have the chance to make it and pass it along to her.

    1. hey amy! wow really pleased to hear that from you. this is a classic chinese favourite, we love it when our mum makes it too (:

  23. I have tasted this dish several times but never knew how to cook it until now, my mother in-law used to make this and we haven't had this since she died 2 years ago. This just made our Saturday night dinner extra good today. :-) thank you for the recipe.

  24. fish sauce and green onion completes mine. my favorite way to chase away cold, damp days.

  25. Nice written!! I have been a big fan of your blogs. thanks best fishing line

  26. this article, it was really informative yammy and testy your receipe, I’ll be looking forward for your next Kathi roll online order

  27. Creamy, dreamy and heavenly though we had far more of the Korean Ttukbaegi Gyeranjjim version of egg custard. Still love the Chinese and Japanese style which is more delicate and gentle to eat.