Monday, May 16, 2011

Tea Eggs

Mine look nothing as pretty as the marbled eggs in Martin Yan's cookbook, but they had that nice smoky, spiced umami flavor and the slightly chewy texture that I expect in a good tea egg.

Something I like about trying foods from other cultures and cuisines is learning a new take on a familiar ingredient. For example, I regularly toss romaine lettuce into ramen because Chinese are fond of cooked leafy greens and a little confused by raw veggie salads. (When we lived in Taiwan, salads were just becoming popular as sort of a system-starter breakfast.) Americans, on the other hand, wouldn't think of cooking the foundation vegetable of a crunchy Caesar salad.

Well, hard-boiled eggs are another ingredient that have a wide range of interpretations in different cultures. Indians and Eithiopians both have dishes that stew them in a thick oniony sauce. The Chinese have some more shocking uses, such as the teeny, fermented, chewy, green-centered "Thousand Year Eggs," which, along with boxes of moon cakes, dried mushrooms and loose leaf tea, are the kinds of goods that are packaged in bright red boxes with golden characters to be given as special gifts. A more humble--and in my opinion, more palatable--version of eggs is the tea egg. As easy to find served up in slow cookers at 7-Eleven as they are in grandma's kitchen, these eggs steep in a tea, soy sauce and spice liquid.

Martin Yan tells us to hard boil the eggs for 10 minutes, then tap the shells all over with the back of a spoon to form a web of hair-line cracks through which the marinade can seep. They then simmer in water enriched with 1/2 cup soy sauce, a couple of black Chinese tea bags, star anise, brown sugar, cinnamon stick, five spice, scallion and ginger. I didn't have all these things, so I substituted with regular white sugar, two "Licorice Spice" herbal teabags, and some onion powder. I actually didn't use any black tea in my marinade... but I think they still qualify as tea eggs because I did use herbal tea. Yan recommends simmering them in their cracked shells for 15 to 60 minutes. I also stored mine in the liquid for a few days in the refrigerator. They will absorb even more flavor if you peel the shells and store them in an air-tight container with some of the liquid, which is what I did after I took the photo above.

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