Monday, June 25, 2007

In the Land of the Black Dragon: A Voyage to Fujian [iv]

Tea Recipes from Fujian

One reads in American-published cookbooks on Chinese cuisine that the spectrum of variety in real Asian food is overwhelming beyond our capacity even to imagine; and that the kinds of fare made available in most Chinese restaurants in North America usually bear scant resemblance to what one actually encounters in Pacific Asia. Over and over again during my travels I saw the truth of these assertions.

Readers of CHA DAO may remember that some months ago I posted a recipe for Tea-Smoked Chicken. In this post, as promised, are some Fujian-style tea-related recipes that Jing-Xia taught me on the train to Wu Yi Shan. (Two of them are suitable for vegetarians, though none for vegans.) Together, they give a sense of how pervasive a part of Chinese food culture tea has become over the centuries, and not solely as a beverage. In some cases, the amounts are my own specification, based on careful questioning and subsequent experimentation at home. Thanks Nikky!

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6-12 eggs
2 quarts water or chicken broth
tea leaves (a cheap oolong or green tea is fine)
2-3 dried chillis
2 cloves star anise
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt

In a pot over medium-high heat, bring the water (or chicken broth if not cooking for vegetarians) to a simmer. Add a handful of tea-leaf -- enough to brew a fairly strong tea liquor. Stir the liquid to make sure all the tea is moistened. Add the remaining seasonings and eggs.

Simmer the eggs about 5 minutes, or until their shells turn brown from the mixture. Remove the eggs from the liquid, and tap the shells of each gently with a spoon (just enough to craze the surface, compromising the seal). Return the eggs to the simmering liquid. They can stay there as long as you like (but give them at least 5 more minutes). They are then ready to eat immediately; or you may prefer to cool and then chill them before serving.

• We saw big vats of these eggs simmering in restaurants throughout Wu Yi Shan. Nikky assured me that they can continue to remain warming in the liquid as long as you like. That said, you may want to experiment with simmering times; some people like their eggs (even hard-boiled eggs) cooked as little as possible, while others insist that an egg be boiled until the yolk has a blue/green hue to its surface.
• From the color of the cooked eggs, I surmise that most of the vats we saw in Fujian used oolong tea.
• Feel free to experiment with the amounts of tea and spices you include in the water. The tea-eggs I tasted were not hot/peppery at all, which suggests that that spice was used very sparingly. But this may have been a cost consideration as much as one of taste.

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3 cups unbleached flour, plus some extra for kneading
3 eggs
3 tablespoons water (more as needed)
1 teaspoon salt
1 handful of tea (green or oolong) -- say, 0.7 ounce or 20 grammes

Bring the eggs to room temperature. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the tea to a fine powder. [[This could also be done in an electric coffee- or spice-grinder, but particular care must be taken to ensure that there is no residue of any kind in the grinder; otherwise the tea will be flavored, possibly quite unpleasantly, by what was previously ground in the grinder.]]

Prepare a clean flat surface for working. In a large bowl, mix the tea-powder into the flour. Make a well in the center of this mixture (approximately 4" in diameter). In a small bowl, crack the eggs, and beat them together (with the salt) just enough to break the yolks. Pour this mixture into the flour well. Using your fingertips, sprinkle the flour/tea mixture, bit by bit, into the eggs in the center of the bowl. Add the water as you go along, to moisten the mixture. Keep mixing until all of the flour mixture is incorporated. The dough should be sticky, but not very wet.

Place the ball of dough on the flat surface and knead, sprinkling extra flour onto it -- as sparingly as possible -- to make a non-sticky dough. Roll into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest 20-30 minutes.

[[Easy food-processor version of the above: in a food processor, grind tea to a powder; add flour and salt to mix thoroughly; beat eggs together and pour in slowly to mix; slowly add enough water to make a stiff dough. Then remove dough ball from processor and proceed as follows.]]

Dust the flat surface with flour.
[1] Hand-rolled version: Roll the dough flat; fold it into thirds; roll again. Keep rolling, stretching the dough out until it is flat and smooth.
[2] Pasta-rolling machine version: Roll the dough flat on the floured surface; feed through the machine repeatedly until the dough has reached the desired thinness.

Let the rolled-out dough rest for 10 minutes. Then cut it into noodles of the desired width, either by hand (with a very sharp knife) or by feeding the flat dough through a pasta-cutting machine.

• Use these noodles as you would plain 面 (mian) in Chinese recipes.
• These can be cooked immediately, or dried for later use. Bear in mind that freshly-made noodles cook much faster than dried noodles (within a couple of minutes). And is it just my imagination, or do they also usually taste better?
• Chinese noodles are typically boiled longer (and are thus softer) than Italian 'al dente' pasta.
• You can experiment with the amount of tea -- adding more or less to the flour to reach the desired strength of tea flavoring.

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raw shrimp
long jing tea leaves
peanut or sesame oil

Peel and de-vein the shrimp.
Heat a teaspoon or two of oil in a wok. Toss in the tea-leaves and pan-fry for a few seconds; remove them from the wok.
Heat enough oil to sauté the shrimp. Toss in the shrimp and stir-fry; they will turn a bright red/orange color as they cook. When they are almost done, add the tea-leaves and a sparing amount of salt.

• This dish cooks very quickly. The longest part of the recipe is probably the preparation of the shrimp.
• Amounts are purposely not specified here. When Nikky was served this dish in a restaurant, it consisted of more tea-leaves than shrimp; at home, she suggests, the Chinese cook would reverse the ratio (to the extent that one's budget will allow). As the merest suggestion of a proportion, one might begin with a pound of raw shrimp, a half-cup of tea leaves, and a half-teaspoon of salt. But again, the cook should experiment to find the desired proportions.

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These recipes are copyright © 2007 by 程景霞 [Cheng Jing-Xia]. All rights reserved. They are published here for private home use, but may not be published elsewhere in any format, nor used commercially, without express prior permission.

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