Steamed “Water Egg” Custard

May 27, 2021
3 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 10 minutes
  • Serves 1 to 4
Author Notes

In Cantonese, we call this dish shui dan, which translates to "water egg." That name aptly encapsulates this simple dish: Eggs are whisked with just the right amount of water so that, once steamed, it transforms into a custard that is light and silky, with only the gentlest jiggle. Growing up, we ate this dish with white rice, but nowadays, I often eat this for breakfast, without any accompaniments other than a few drops of chile oil, a shower of sesame seeds, and a swig or two of Maggi seasoning.

Recipe excerpted with permission from To Asia, With Love by Hetty McKinnon (Prestel Publishing 2021).Hetty McKinnon

What You'll Need
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (125 milliliters) boiled water, cooled until it’s just warm (not hot) to the touch
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • Rice, for serving
  • Sliced scallions, fresh cilantro leaves, toasted sesame oil, or toasted white sesame seeds, for topping (optional)
  1. Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl until the whites and yolks are completely blended. Place the bowl on a tea towel (to stop it from moving around) and slowly add the water in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Add the sea salt and whisk vigorously until the mixture is very well combined.
  2. Place a steaming rack or trivet in a saucepan (make sure it will hold the bowl you will steam the custard in), then add water until it is just underneath the rack. Bring the water to the boil.
  3. Pour the egg mixture through a sieve into a shallow heatproof bowl (the one I use is about 7 inches wide). Once the water has reached a rolling boil, place the bowl on the steaming rack or trivet. Cover with a lid, and immediately reduce the heat to the lowest temperature possible.
  4. Allow to steam for about 10 minutes, then lift the lid to see if the egg has set in the middle. If not, cover again and steam for another minute or so until it is set with a slight wobble. When the egg is ready, turn off the heat and leave the egg to sit, covered, for 5 minutes before removing.
  5. Serve warm just as is, or with your chosen toppings, but always with rice.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Winnie Lee
    Winnie Lee
  • David H Goldstein
    David H Goldstein
  • Hetty McKinnon
    Hetty McKinnon
  • Bailey

17 Reviews

Bailey November 29, 2021
Made this again the other night—I must have made it half a dozen times since the recipe was published this spring. It comes out lovely every time! I’ve done it in a wider bowl with more time to scale up, and just did it in three small ramekins at 1.5x volume to serve three as a side dish. Simple, fabulous, impressive, nourishing. I just wish I knew what it meant to overcook it! How does the texture change if it steams too long?
gardenchickens November 29, 2021
It will puff up and get a tough, spongy texture. Not pretty. If you are using a lid on the ramekins or dish, it will be lifted up off the rim and leave marks in the custard. When it loses the silky texture, just feed it to the nearest animal. It can't be salvaged.
Bailey November 29, 2021
This is very helpful! Thank you!
M L. October 7, 2021
I can't wait to try this. Reminds me of my Mom's cooking. Where did you get your steamer insert/basket. I've never seen one with the one handle that would help lift it out of the pot when done.
Hetty M. October 10, 2021
Isn’t it fantastic? It’s actually part of a set that comes with the Our Place pan. I’m not sure if they sell it individually but they should because it’s just brilliant. The other thing you could use is a steamer tongs. Google it. I recently got some and they are wonderful. Hope you enjoy this dish!
RLRL May 27, 2021
This is really delightful and it did require hewing closely to the essentials of the instructions. How do you scale it up? I have made 3 bowls at a time in the steamer but could you do larger bowls or what would you suggest? Thanks for sharing this evocative and delicious dish!
Hetty M. May 27, 2021
Hi! Thank you, so happy you enjoyed it! I have doubled the recipe before, using a larger bowl. When I did this recently, I had to double the amount of steaming time. It came out great, just as wobbly and silky. I did check it in the last 5 minutes of cooking, just to make sure it didn't overcook. thanks for cooking this recipe!
gardenchickens May 7, 2021
Perfect in every way. A dash of fish sauce in the water or broth is nice. Green onions on top if cilantro is not available. To give it a nice western topping, saute a halved cherry tomato per serving in olive oil to soften, then add a bit of basil chiffonade til wilted. Pour over the top of the custard and serve. Take a video of the expressions on the faces of your guests.

This is also a excellent food to serve someone who has been ill. It seems to provide a jolt of energy, stimulate the appetite, and is very easy to digest.
Hetty M. May 27, 2021
I love the addition of cherry tomatoes and basil chiffonade! nice touch. Completely different to the usual flavors but I can imagine this is very delicious.
Winnie L. April 17, 2021
Yummy! This dish was one that I craved during this pandemic and missing Mom's cooking. Learned a way to make it in the microwave when in a pinch - 2 eggs, 3/4 broth, 3 mins on high, splash of soy sauce, and served with rice.
Hetty M. May 27, 2021
That's lovely! Yes, this dish is very evocative, a strong reminder of home. So happy you enjoyed it.
cheryl April 16, 2021
reminded me of a childhood comfort food- jing daahn Chinese style or Chawanmushi the Japanese way- using broth making it more savory- so good when you need a warm hug
judy April 10, 2021
In the intro, reports that growing up she ate these eggs with white rice, "but not eat it for breakfast". So what is wrong about rice at breakfast? My Dad's version was egg, water scramble fried in a smear of bacon fat. He cooked the eggs very loosely and runny, pouring them over the fry bread he had also fried in the bacon fat. HIs version he said he learned growing up in Canada. So nothing Asian about it, but this reminded me...
Lauren April 9, 2021
Just mad this & it turned out well. Very light & silky. In the article about this recipe the writer states that their mom sometimes used broth instead of water for this. So I did this to add extra flavor & the only used a scant 1/2tsp of salt. Topped it with cilantro & sriracha. Will be making this again.
Lauren April 9, 2021
Just *made* this ...
jeanfc1 September 22, 2021
sounds good will try soon thanks
David H. April 7, 2021
Made this this morning using duck eggs. Forgot to use warm water, used water right from the tap. Added water all at once, rather than streaming in while beating. Still came out with the most incredible delicate, luscious, creamy texture. All texture, no taste really, however. Next time, I'd add a little garlic powder and paprika, maybe. My wife wanted ground nutmeg on hers....