Thursday, February 24, 2011
Chinese Tea Eggs
For more than 20 years a photograph of Chinese tea eggs sat in my recipe folder along with instructions for making them. By the time I got around to the project I couldn't find the original article clipped from a magazine, and was inspired by reading on the Internet. One traveler said that in China a typical hiker will take along a sack full of these eggs the way American backpackers might put granola bars in their pockets.
Probably what stalled me was the thought that making hard-boiled eggs beautiful was only an aesthetic endeavor, and my creative efforts were applied elsewhere. But now I know that the interesting decorations on the eggs instill enough flavor to make them a complete snack without further additions.
The flavor is so subtle, I'm pretty sure any elaborate recipe and combination of spice would be wasted on me. I don't see how you could go wrong adding too much or too little of anything, except for the salt. Some spices that were included in many recipes were star anise, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, cloves, and ginger root.
I used less soy sauce and more salt, and to make up for the loss of color from the soy, I added more tea leaves, because I had some loose black tea sitting around. Jasmine green tea is on my mind to try in the future. Instead of the cinnamon stick and star anise that I used the first time, I added a simple spice combination that I haven't needed for anything else lately.
Here is the current recipe:
Chinese Tea Eggs
--One dozen large to extra-large eggs - but however many you can fit in one layer in your pot, they will all get the same benefit of the flavors in the broth. One can make a smaller batch in a smaller pot, and reduce the amounts, but I personally didn't want to bother with fewer than a dozen.
--enough water to cover eggs
--4 tablespoons soy sauce
--1 teaspoon sugar
--1 tablespoon salt
--2 tablespoons Chinese 5-spice powder
--4 tablespoons black tea leaves (or use some tea bags)
Put the eggs in a pot in one layer, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer for 3-4 minutes. (Most recipes cooked the eggs firm at this point, but the first recipe I read interrupted here, so I am following that practice, though it can't be crucial, as the eggs will be overcooked by most standards by the end. Yes, they will have green on the yolk!)
Remove eggs from heat and allow them to cool a bit before handling; you can run them under water to speed cooling. Take the back of a knife and crack the eggs as evenly as possible all around.
Put the eggs back in the pot and add all the other ingredients. Bring to a boil again, then simmer for 1-3 hours, adding water if the level gets too low. The color and flavor will deepen with longer immersion. Remove from heat and serve as a snack or as an addition to rice or noodles.
If you have room, you can also leave the eggs soaking in the broth in the refrigerator overnight.
Last time I went on a road trip, I took along a couple of hard-cooked eggs to have when I stopped for lunch. But because I had forgotten to bring any salt to add, I didn't eat them after all. I know, too fussy. Now that I've learned how to make these pretty eggs that have the flavor and just the right amount of salt all locked in, I'll be more ready for picnics, and have an elegant alternative to the rustic method of salt sprinkling.