I was an extremely picky eater when I was very young. In fact, there was only one single dish that I would reliably eat, and I think I ate it almost every day until I was 5 years old — 汽水肉 (qì shuǐ ròu) “Steam Water” Meat.
“Steam water” meat is a delicate, savory steamed meat and egg custard, kind of a steamed mash-up of meatloaf and Japanese chawanmushi (steamed egg custard). When researching for this piece, I could not find a single English language resource on this dish. Although it’s a 名菜 (míng cài) famous dish in 武汉 Wǔhàn and across 湖北 Húběi province, it’s rarely found outside Hubei province at even the most traditional Chinese restaurants.
Cantonese cuisine has a steamed meat dish called 蒸肉饼 (zhēng ròu bǐng, “steamed meat cake”) and also a steamed egg dish 蒸水蛋 (zhēng shuǐ dàn, “steamed water egg”), but the combination of meat and egg in a single dish of “steam water” meat is unique to Hubei cuisine. Like Wuhan Hot Dry Noodles 武汉热干面, this is a regionally authentic dish that is simultaneously well-known and hard-to-find.
“Steam water” meat: What’s in a name?
The Chinese name for this dish is 汽水肉:
- 汽 (qì) = gas/vapor/steam
- 水 (shuǐ) = water
- 肉 (ròu) = meat
If you put 汽水肉 into an online translator, it will tell you this dish is “soda meat” — the first two characters together 汽水 qishui means soda (literally “gaseous water”). But in our case, 汽水 refers not to carbonated soda but rather “steam water”, the condensation from the lid when steaming the meat custard. The steam condenses back into the bowl of meat and egg to form a flavorful broth.
The best way to eat this dish is mixed with white rice. It’s my absolute favorite food when I’m sick because it’s mild but definitely not bland. On top of that, it’s always a hit with kids. Every family in Hubei has their own version of the dish. Here’s an elevated version of the steam water meat 汽水肉 of my childhood. I hope it becomes a new comfort food for you too.
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Ingredients for Steam Water Meat
The ingredients for this dish are straightforward — it’s amazing that ingredients this simple can make for such a flavorful final result. You’ll need:
- ground pork (about 0.5 lb) 碎猪肉
- eggs (2) 鸡蛋
- corn starch 淀粉
- light soy sauce 生抽酱油
- sesame oil 麻油
- minced ginger 姜末
- scallions and/or cilantro 葱·香菜
- salt and (white) pepper 盐·胡椒粉
- sugar 白糖
- Shaoxing cooking wine or mirin (optional) 绍兴料酒
The cook: just stir and steam
There are two main methods for making this dish. I like to steam the meat before adding the egg custard on top to form two layers. The other way is to mix everything together in one bowl. I find steaming separately gives more control of the cook, so the final result is more tender and also prettier.
First up: meat layer
The bottom layer is steamed ground pork. You could try ground chicken or ground turkey as well, but it won’t be quite as tender. In a heat-safe bowl that fits inside your steamer, mix together:
- 8 oz ground pork
- 4 oz of water
- 1 tsp neutral oil
- 1 tsp corn starch
- 2 tsp light soy sauce
- minced ginger
- pinch of sugar
- dash of salt
- dash of white pepper.
Stir in one direction until very well-mixed, the consistency should be like congee or very runny oatmeal. Steam for 6 minutes on high heat; you want plenty of steam to make the broth.
It’s important for there to be at least 0.5″ of clearance between the rim of your bowl and the lid so that steam can circulate and condense back. You can either use a dedicated steamer pot, or a steamer insert inside your wok or Dutch oven.
Second (and last): Egg layer
While the meat is steaming, gently beat 2 eggs with corn starch slurry (1/2 tsp corn starch in 1 Tbsp water), salt, white pepper, and a roughly equal volume of water as eggs in a Pyrex measuring cup or another bowl. Please be gentle when you stir the egg mixture because bubbles turn into holes when the custard is steamed — not a good look. You can also let the egg mixture rest so that any fine bubbles dissipate.
This is a great place to hide some leftover veggies. Feel free to mix in a little finely shredded greens like kale or Chinese broccoli, or finely diced carrots or mushrooms.
After the meat mixture has steamed for 6 minutes — it should be barely set — turn the heat down to low. Pour the egg mixture on top of the steamed meat, and steam everything for another 6 minutes, or until the egg custard has just set. For a more delicate and creamy steam water meat custard, you can add more water in either/both step; just increase the steaming time so that the custard sets in both rounds of steaming.
After the second round of steaming, (carefully!) remove your bowl of steam water meat from the steamer and top with scallions and/or cilantro. Serve piping hot with white rice for the ultimate comfort food!
Steam Water Meat, Hubei steamed meat custard 湖北名菜 汽水肉
- Steamer insert, or wire rack, aluminum foil, kitchen towel
- Large pot with lid for steaming, such as wok, stock pot, Dutch oven
- Heat-safe bowl that fits in your steamer
- 1 scallion chopped, or chopped cilantro (for serving) 1根花或香菜，切碎
Steamed Meat Layer 底层（蒸肉）
- 8 oz ground pork 碎猪肉，200克
- 4 oz water 清水，100克
- 2 tsp light soy sauce 生抽酱油，10克
- 1 tsp minced ginger 姜末，2片切莫（约1茶勺）
- ¾ tsp corn starch 淀粉，5克
- 1 tsp neutral oil like canola 菜油，5克
- 1 tsp Shaoxing cooking wine, or mirin optional 绍兴料酒，5克
- 1 pinch (white) pepper 白胡椒，适量
- ¼ tsp salt 食用盐，2克
- ¼ tsp sugar 白糖，1克
- ¼ tsp sesame oil plus more for serving 麻油，少许
Egg Custard Layer 蒸鸡蛋液
- ½ tsp corn starch 淀粉，3克（搅成湿淀粉）
- water 1 Tbsp for corn starch slurry, plus volume equal to eggs 清水，和鸡蛋同量
- 1 pinch salt about 1/8 tsp 食用盐，少许
- 1 pinch (white) pepper 白胡椒，少许
- Add all ingredients except water for the steamed meat layer into the heat-safe bowl. Add the water in thirds, stirring vigorously in one direction between each addition, until it forms a paste with the consistency of runny polenta.将底层（蒸肉）所有的食材加入耐热的碗中，朝一个方向搅拌均匀。此时的肉末应该形成和米粥相似的肉浆
- On high heat, bring a small amount of water to a rolling boil in your steamer pot, and add the steamer insert. Place the bowl of meat mixture into the steamer and steam on high heat for 6 minutes.锅里加入适量清水，大火烧至沸腾。加入蒸格，将肉浆大火蒸6分钟
- (While the meat is steaming) In a small bowl, make a corn starch slurry of ½ tsp cornstarch with 1 Tbsp water. Gently beat 2 eggs, water equal in volume to eggs), corn starch slurry, salt, and white pepper. Mix gently to avoid bubbles in the egg mixture — the bubbles turn into holes when the custard is steamed.换个小碗，打两个鸡蛋和鸡蛋等量的清水。加入湿淀粉，少许盐和白胡椒，搅拌均匀。打鸡蛋时要轻一点，避免形成气泡。
- Turn the heat down to low so the water is just above a simmer. Pour the egg custard mixture into the bowl, on top of the steamed meat mixture, and steam for an additional 6 minutes until the eggs are just set and the meat is cooked through.转小火，把搅拌好的鸡蛋液倒入蒸肉，再蒸6分钟。
- Remove the bowl from the steamer and garnish with a drizzle of sesame oil and chopped scallions/cilantro to serve.蒸好后，把碗提出，撒上少许麻油和葱花或香菜即可上桌。
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