“An ingredient is ‘in season’ when it is fully prepared and telling us, ‘eat now,’ ” says Kimio Tomura, owner of a Japanese restaurant who believes 80 percent of the cooking is done if you can capture this moment.
Nowadays, you can buy pretty much anything all year round in Japan, and people seem quite intent on getting ahead of the seasons. Why not relish the spring with clam-flavored “chawanmushi,” an egg custard dish?
“To get a clear flavor, be bold when adjusting the heat,” says the chef of the need to cook over high heat.
Enjoy the remaining clam with ginger-flavored soy sauce or in pasta. Serves four.
500 grams (6-10) hamaguri clams
Kuzu starch (or katakuriko starch)
Wash clams by rubbing shells together under water. If the clam is alive, hitting it will produce a heavy sound. Remove dead clams that give off a light sound.
Place water, sake and clams in pot over high heat. When clam starts to open, keep removing scum from pot. When most scum is gone after 2-3 minutes, slightly turn down heat. Cook for another 6-7 minutes so contents of pot are lightly bubbling. To maintain this state, slowly turn down heat as soup boils down.
Drain stock through paper towel and cool.
Break eggs in bowl and beat with whisk until they lose springiness. Add 400cc of clam stock and taste. It should have the saltiness of Japanese clear soup.
Add salt if bland or a drop of soy sauce for more umami. Strain mixture and pour in containers. Place them in heated steamer. Place a chopstick between steamer and lid. Steam for 8-9 minutes.
Bring remaining 80cc of clam stock to a boil in small pot, add kuzu starch mixed with same amount of water to slightly thicken stock. Pour over egg custard. Drop in a bit of ginger juice.
From the vernacular Asahi Shimbun's Kashikoi Okazu column
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