Steamed eggs, hidden treasures, and the heroism of Metro North employees
When travelling into the city this week I was reminded of an evening a few years ago when I got stranded in Manhattan. A windstorm resulted in so many downed trees that the New Haven line stopped running. (I would not be on-brand if I did not pause to rant about the Metro-North Railroad. Even at the best of times, the MNR does not place a particularly high priority on regular service or punctuality. 10 minutes late is, in the MNR space-time continuum, "on time." I am regularly amazed by the sorts of things that cause this train to come to an unscheduled halt. Leaves on the tracks and the Coast Guard are among my favorites. I have furthermore noted that while time seems to move faster the older one gets, the New Haven line trains keep on moving slower. All the same, I feel sorry for the MNR conductors, who are always so pleasant and professional, even when they have to remind passengers not to clip their toenails. And no less than twice have MNR employees saved the Decavore's clarinet, ensuring I could retrieve it at the Grand Central lost and found! Twice.)
That night it was not exactly the MNR's fault. Wandering the streets near Grand Central, looking to kill a few hours, I had the very good idea of stopping for dinner at a sake bar called Sakagura, located in the basement of a nondescript office building, at the bottom of a cinderblock stairwell. In Japan, the best bars and restaurants are splendid secrets, and frequently hidden underground. (Many years ago I visited a particularly memorable 8-seat Tokyo bar that was inside a buried fuel tank!)
One of my favorite things on the menu, which I ordered again that night, was chawanmushi, a savory steamed egg dish that is traditionally served in a teacup with a matching lid. At the bottom of dish, hidden underneath the silky custard, is usually some little surprise- a gingko nut, mushroom, a fish ball, a tiny shrimp. It reminded me of my favorite childhood cocoa mug that, if you drank its contents, revealed a little porcelain animal inside it.
I found a number of steamed egg recipes online, but most of them had sauces that, if used too liberally, were total salt bombs. I tried to create a (slightly) sweet-and- savory accompaniment to the eggs by using soy sauce seasoned with aromatics and then adding miso.
Please note that this is in no way supposed to be Japanese chawanmushi, or any other traditional steamed egg dishes, which, if you have never tasted, I urge you to try.
This recipe is very quick and easy (half a dozen basic ingredients, no special tools, and takes less than 30 minutes). I recommend you add your own little buried treasure to it.
For the sauce 1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced 2 scallions, sliced 2/3 cup of water 1/4 cup soy sauce (or use tamari to make it gluten free) 1/4 cup of mirin or sweet rice wine, or 2 tablespoons of sugar 1 tbsp white miso
For eggs: 2 large eggs 1/2 cup of vegetable stock (I whisked 1/2 tsp of Better Than Bouillon into half a cup of hot water, and let it cool before adding to the eggs). If you want to use dashi, I have a great recipe for dashi here.
1 scallion sliced into 1/8th pieces, on a diagonal.
Heat sesame oil and fry shallots and scallion until fragrant. Add water and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 5 minutes until liquid reduces to about half. Add soy sauce, mirin or sugar, miso paste. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.
In a microwaveable bowl, combine eggs and stock, and whisk until smooth (for extra smooth custard, you can strain it). Skim off bubbles with a spoon.
Tightly cover bowl with plastic wrap; poke holes for steam. Microwave on 50% power for 4 minutes.
To serve, spoon some sauce over the eggs.. Top with scallion slices.