Apart from sipping while solving life’s problems, tea has many uses. Any American historian will tell you dumping tea into a harbour is a great way to start a revolution. Fortune-tellers swear the swirl of leaves in the bottom of a cup hold the secrets of your destiny. Ask a chef and you may be surprised to learn that the fragrant quality of tea adds wonderful flavour to food, whether you are marinating, tenderizing, braising, infusing or baking.
Fresh tea is bitter and astringent, designed by nature to keep creatures from eating it. But nature didn’t bank on humans using mild heat, pressure and time to let the enzymes in tea transform the raw material into something delicious. And the fact that its phenol compounds are lauded for their antioxidant health benefits hasn’t slowed the consumption of this revolutionary drink in North America.
All of the major types of tea work well for cooking: green, oolong and black tea are all derived from the plant species camellia sinensis but processed differently to attain different levels of oxidation. The differences in tea also result from where it’s grown and when and how it’s harvested. Whether you prefer smoky bancha or grassy sencha green from Japan, fruity oolong from Asia or flowery darjeeling from India, the recipes below illustrate how every tea has a place on the plates and palates of gourmands.
Oolong Boiled Shrimp
Serves 3 to 4
I first encountered tea as a cooking ingredient a few years ago at an unforgettable dinner party in New York, hosted by a couple whose initials when combined spell TEA. The guests came together and created dishes with the brewed concoction as a common ingredient. The recipe below is one of the dishes from that party. Adding oolong leaves to shrimp adds depth to their sweet taste. Because they’re large, oolong leaves are easily removed at the table. If you prefer, brew a strong oolong tea, strain and cook as described below.
4 to 6 tbsp unsalted butter
1 small clove garlic, minced
a few dashes of soy sauce
kosher or coarse sea salt
1 tbsp oolong tea leaves
1 lb small shrimp, peeled just before cooking
1/2 cup scallions, including green parts, thinly sliced
Melt butter in a small saucepan. Turn off heat, add garlic and soy sauce and set aside.
Fill a large, deep skillet with water. Add sea salt and tea leaves and bring to a full boil. Add the shrimp and turn off the heat. The shrimp will cook within minutes; let sit until pale pink and just opaque.
Drain and transfer to a bowl. Pick off tea leaves, if desired. Toss with garlic butter and scallions, then serve.
Chai-Marinated Scallops with Yellow-Curry Sabayon
This recipe is courtesy of David Straub, executive chef at Mojo in Regina. If you’re wondering what Regina could possibly offer on the subject of scallops, I’ll remind you that Atlantic scallops, the chef’s choice, are fresher in Saskatchewan than on the West Coast.
1/2 cup whole milk
1 quality chai tea bag
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp sambel olek hot sauce (or dried chili)
1/4 cup heavy cream
20 scallops, sized 20-30
Scald milk in saucepan with tea bag, cinnamon, cardamom and sugar. Let simmer 5 minutes on medium heat.
Remove from heat, add hot sauce, whisk and let stand for 10 minutes. Strain.
Add heavy cream to chai mixture and pour over scallops. Refrigerate and allow to marinate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
3 egg yolks
30 ml heavy cream
1 tbsp coconut milk
30 ml butter
1 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp brown sugar
In a metal bowl over a double boiler (bain marie), whisk egg yolk, heavy cream and coconut milk until light in colour and slightly thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in butter, curry powder and brown sugar.
Remove scallops from marinade and sear in frying pan over high heat, about 45 seconds on each side. Divide the scallops between four oven-safe bowls or ramekins.
Put marinade in saucepan and boil for 1 minute. Divide marinade between four bowls. Top each bowl with 1 tablespoon of sabayon and place under oven broiler until sabayon is golden brown (about 4 minutes).
Remove from oven and serve with pappadum, baguette or naan bread.
Tea-Smoked Duck Breast with Shiitake Mushrooms and Green-Tea Vinaigrette
Using tea to smoke food is a method that has been used for centuries in China. It’s also the easiest way to hot-smoke food at home. As Vancouver chefs Dennis Green and John Bishop mention in their book Simply Bishop’s, this recipe has many steps but it isn’t difficult, and the result is well worth the time. Bishop’s restaurant is inspired by fresh local produce and features classical but innovative cooking. The recipe below will ensure you do the same; matching Bishop’s friendly ambience and good service are up to you.
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 tbsp green tea leaves
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp honey
1 cup sunflower oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp Szechuan peppercorns
2 tbsp fennel seeds
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp ground cardamom
1 tbsp ground star anise
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup salt
1 cup brown sugar
2 duck breast halves
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup black tea leaves
1/2 cup rice
12 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 cups spinach leaves
Combine rice vinegar, green tea leaves and ginger in a bowl. Cover and let sit overnight. Place vinegar mixture and honey in a blender or food processor, and run while slowly adding sunflower oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Strain and set aside.
Grind together peppercorns, fennel, coriander, cardamom, star anise and cinnamon in a spice mill or coffee grinder. Transfer spice mixture to a bowl; stir in salt and brown sugar. Coat duck breasts with spice mixture and place them in a covered dish. Cure in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
Line the saucepan with a double layer of aluminum foil, so that the smoking mixture doesn’t stick to the pan and can be removed easily once it cools. Add white sugar, then top with black tea leaves and rice. Place a snug-fitting bamboo steamer over the saucepan. Wipe excess curing mixture from duck breasts and place them inside the steamer. Place the saucepan on medium-low heat and smoke duck breasts for 15 minutes on each side. Chill in the refrigerator before serving.
After you take the smoked duck out of the steamer, set the saucepan outside to cool off and let the smoke escape.
Cut an x in the top of each shiitake mushroom and sauté in sesame oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat until tender, 2 to 3 minutes.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add spinach leaves and blanch for about 30 seconds. Rinse well in a colander under cold running water and drain.
Cut duck breasts at a 45-degree angle into slices 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick. To serve, arrange slices of duck in a circle on each plate. Top each serving with one shiitake mushroom, an eighth of the spinach, another shiitake mushroom, an eighth of the spinach and then another shiitake mushroom. Drizzle with vinaigrette.
Green-Tea Crème Brûlée
While the English, Spanish and French argue over the history of its origin, crème brûlée is a classic dessert that doesn’t disappoint in any country. The addition of green tea offers an interesting, refreshing twist on this classic. The recipe below belongs to Kelsey Rogers, a bon vivant who is also known in Victoria as “la petite personal chef.”
250 ml whipping cream
3 free-range eggs, yolks only
40 g raw sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
3 good-quality green tea bags
sugar to caramelize
Preheat oven to 330˚F. Place 6 ramekins in a roasting pan filled with boiling water. Set aside.
In a saucepan place whipping cream, vanilla, green tea bags and bring to a rolling boil, then remove tea bags.
In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar. Pour boiling cream over egg and sugar mixture, whisking constantly until incorporated. Skim air bubbles off the top and pour into a measuring cup with a spout, then pour into ramekins.
Place in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes until set. Refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours or up to 24 hours.
Just before serving, place a thin layer of sugar on the crème brûlée and caramelize with a small blowtorch.