Cooking With Tea
Brew a world of flavor from this versatile plant
One of my standby fast-foods is ochazuke, literally tea (ocha) and pickles (zuke). It’s hot black tea poured over a small bowl of plain cooked rice and garnished with whatever pickles happen to be around—the Japanese equivalent of a quick snack.
Tea has had multiple applications for centuries—but only recently by Westerners—as an exciting component in Asian cooking: to infuse flavors into meats, jazz up marinades and sauces, and to create broths and garnishes. Here in the states, tea-smoked duck shows up frequently on Chinese restaurant menus.
Google “cooking with tea” and you’ll find scores of sites dedicated to the pleasures of tea, many with recipes. (Try this one, from PBS’ “Victory Garden,” for a Burmese salad that uses tea as a garnish and in the dressing: to.pbs.org/tearecipe.)
Different types of teas lend themselves to pairing with certain ingredients. Smoky teas such as gunpowder or Lapsang souchong enhance marinades for grilled meats, or it can be ground into a powder to add a new layer of flavor to your favorite barbecue or pan sauce.
Cook your rice or other grains in a broth of tea with floral notes for a delicate accompaniment to fish or seafood. Brew the tea light or strong to suit your taste. Imagine a shiitake risotto using a toasty brown rice genmaicha as the broth. Green teas are a perfect base for light soups. Or try a cold melon soup enhanced with a strong brew of jasmine tea and a touch of honey. You get the idea.
When I brew tea for cooking, I use approximately 1 to 2 teaspoons per cup of boiling water and let steep for 15 to 20 minutes. I press the leaves to extract all of the liquid for a broth, then scatter the leaves between a couple sheets of paper towels to get rid of excess moisture. These leaves have a lot of flavor and can be added to salads or fried to a crisp and used as a garnish. Freeze them if you don’t need them right away.
This recipe uses brewed tea and dried seaweed to make a hot salad as a base for sautéed scallops and shrimp. The prepared seaweed could also be mixed with grapefruit supremes, julienned water chestnuts, cucumber slices and pickled ginger for a bright, chilled salad.
Hot Wakame Tea Salad
Cooking with tea goes better with loose-leaf teas rather than the ground-up and powdery tea-bagged versions. It only takes a little tea to brew up a great dish.
Makes about 2 cups of salad
1 tablespoon dry Dragon Well tea leaves
1 teaspoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup mirin (cooking rice wine)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 cup loosely packed dry wakame seaweed, broken into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon mirin
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar (or Chinese black vinegar, or balsamic for a more robust dressing)
2 tablespoons reserved seaweed broth
1 tablespoon reserved tea leaves
1) In a one-quart saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Immediately take off of the heat and immerse the dry tea leaves to steep for 15 to 20 minutes.2) Strain the leaves thoroughly, pressing them to extract as much liquid as possible, and pour the brewed tea back into the saucepan. Put the leaves between two sheets of paper towels, and set aside.3) Reheat the liquid to simmer, add ginger, mirin and soy sauce. Take off heat, add the dry seaweed and cover. Let stand until the seaweed is fully reconstituted: It should be tender but not mushy.4) Strain, reserving the seaweed broth and solids separately. Remove seaweed leaves from tough stems, and discard stems. Julienne seaweed leaves into 1/4-inch wide strips and put in a medium-sized salad bowl.5) Whisk dressing ingredients and toss with seaweed. Use as a side dish, or as a bed for sautéed shrimp and scallops.