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'Tea'chniques: Methods for Cooking with Tea

Tea while cooking is good, but tea IN the cooking is better!
Tea while cooking is good, but tea IN the cooking is better!
Grinding tea with other herbs + spices
Grinding tea with other herbs + spices

Tea lovers have been cooking with this popular beverage ever since the Chinese Emperor S’heng fell in love with the fragrance that resulted when the leaves from a nearby tree hit a caldron of boiling water and started a plethora of Chinese tea-infused dishes like tea-marbled eggs, tea-scented rice, tea-braised fish, to name a few.

No matter what you make, from appetizers to desserts, tea can be added to the ingredients and the results will be dishes that sparkle. Here are the specifics in transferring these techniques of cooking and baking with tea to your favorite recipes:

RUBS:

A combination of granulated spices to which ground tea is added to form a crust suitable for a variety of foods: tofu, poultry, meats, or fish. Check out ours here! This is a technique invented for experimentation. While there is no “basic” recipe, one rule of thumb is for 4 tablespoons of tea add 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and ½ teaspoon of salt. Then, let your imagination go wild in choosing the spices to emulate the cuisine you think best matches the intent of your dish, like for Indian, add chai spices like peppercorns, allspice, cinnamon; for Asian, add lemongrass and ginger; for Mexican, add cinnamon, chocolate, and a touch of chile. In general, rubs are best served using hearty blacks from Assam, Nilgiri, Keemun, or even lighter ones from Ceylon.

HOW TO:Grind the spices in a grinder or with a mortar and pestle then add either crushed or ground tea leaves. Lightly oil each piece of fish, meat, poultry or tofu you choose, then dip into the rub mixture and set aside for at least fifteen minutes to allow the rub to form a crust. Bake or sear as desired.

INFUSIONS:

Two basic items take well to infusions with tea, juices and dairy.

Juices work wonderfully with all types of food, such as apple juice for poultry or pork dishes, grapefruit, orange or lemon are wonderful on either poultry or fish. In general, strong blacks are suitable for meats and tofu and lighter black teas or greens work best with fish.

HOW TO:Heat the juice until boiling, then remove the pan from the heat and add the tea leaves. Brew for up to ten minutes, then sieve out the leaves. Use like a sauce over fish, meat or tofu. Sweeten only if juices are extremely tart. If using for dessert, add a teaspoon each of arrowroot starch, sugar, and cold water to thicken and sweeten.

Dairy, because its fat is a traditional flavor carrier, is perfect for the more delicate oolongs or greens, although blacks work well, too. Infused creams are best for desserts as a topping over stone fruit or cakes or as an ingredient with chocolate or any dessert calling for dairy in the recipe. Cream works the best, however, milk can be used. Avoid defatted types like skim or 2% and use only whole milk for best results.

HOW TO: Use a ratio of 1 tablespoon of tea for 4 ounces of heavy cream, and bring both the tea leaves and cream to boil. Remove from the heat and allow to infuse for one hour at room temperature. Sieve out the leaves, pressing the leaves to extract the most tea flavor. Greens like Sencha or Dragonwell work well for toppings over fruit and Keemun or Assam are excellent with deeper flavored desserts like chocolates, cakes, or brownies.

BRAISING:

This technique is a slow cooking one which tenderizes the food in a liquid heated only to a simmer. Use four tablespoons of your favorite tea in about two quarts of spring water in a deep pot or Dutch oven.

HOW TO: Brew the tea then sieve out the leaves and set aside. If cooking vegetables only, such as celery with potatoes, carrots, parsnips and other root veggies, place them in a Dutch oven, season as desired, then pour on the brewed tea liquor. Cook for one hour or longer at 325°F.

SMOKING:

This is definitely the more ambitious of techniques, but has wide-ranging possibilities and gives satisfaction to the palate.

HOW TO: Line a wok or large pot with aluminum foil, draping an overhang all around. Line the inside of the lid. In a bowl, combine 1 cup of raw white rice with ¼ cup packed brown sugar and 1 cup of Yunnan or Lapsang Souchong tea. Add the spices you desire such as fresh rosemary, thyme, or oregano or any combination you feel matches the foods you are smoking. Spread the dry mixture evenly over the foil on the bottom of the wok or pot, then place a wire rack with legs inside the wok right over the mixture.

Place the foods on top of the rack, cover the wok tightly and heat over high heat until the first wisps of smoke emerge. Continue smoking for five minutes for light smoky taste, ten to fifteen minutes for medium. If longer times are necessary, replace the smoking mixture with a freshly made combination and continue. Light smoking is fine for vegetables or tofu; medium for fish, but pork and chicken may take up to twenty-five to thirty-five minutes.


OTHER SUGGESTIONS:


  • • Poaching fish? Add a tablespoon of fresh Sencha about ten minutes before finish time to give a little sparkle.

  • • A sprinkle of tea leaves makes a nice finishing touch to vegetable stock or hearty stews.

  • • When melting chocolate for a dessert, add some tea such as Cameroon, Darjeeling or even an Earl Grey or, if using cream in the recipe, add the tea to the cream, then add the chocolate.

  • • To add a little oomph to rice, add one part water and one part infused Jasmine tea. This is, obviously, particularly wonderful with Jasmine rice for various Asian-inspired dishes.

  • • Adding tea to the liquid to plump up quinoa, buckwheat groats, brown rice, and other grains or rice add a nice edge to the flavor. Works well with compotes, too, to add an a layer of flavor to fruits like plums, apricots, peaches, or raisins.

  • • Punch up some pasta by adding tea-infused water; this works wonderfully with soba noodles served cold on a hot summer’s day with a salad of Asian vegetables.

  • • Green teas, particularly Dragonwell, add delight lightly boiled shrimp or when making a sauce for scallops.


  • NOTE: Cooking with tea is like cooking with any other ingredient: choose the best for the best flavor. The quantity is small, a tablespoon or less, so opt for highest-quality you can find because the best ingredients make the best dish.