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A World of Tea (continued)

Introduction | Cultivating | Brewing and Drinking
Types of Tea | Cooking with Tea | Tea Recipes

Cooking with Tea

The Chinese liberated tea leaves from the cup long ago, but cooks around the world are now discovering tea as an ingredient in the kitchen. Trendy restaurants boast tea-infused sauces, and pastry chefs are learning how to balance sweet flavors with bites of tannin.

Depending on where they were grown and how they were dried, tea leaves can add fruity, floral tones or woodsy, smoky complexity or a refreshing, green-grass finish.

Obviously, you won’t want to use your $280 dollar-a-pound Imperial Dragonwell for cooking. Loose-leaf teas will still deliver the best flavor, but since you’ll combine the tea with other ingredients, convenient bags will work almost as well. For recipes that retain the leaves, you may even prefer the smaller pieces in tea bags, as they’ll blend in more readily with other spices and herbs.

Flavor Infusion

Unless the tea leaves are very fine, the best way to add flavor is with an infusion. You can steep your favorite tea directly in hot milk, cream, wine, stock or juice instead of diluting the dish with water. If you want a stronger flavor, use more tea instead of steeping the leaves longer, to avoid bitterness and an overly tannic finish. For delicately textured foods, such as custard or ice cream, strain loose leaves through a damp coffee filter or paper towel to remove even the tiniest motes of tea. You’ll be left with the essence of the tea, a fragrant infusion that will add depth to a wide variety of dishes.

Tea Oil

Pressed from the seeds of the tea plant, tea oil is the new favorite of such celebrated chefs as Hubert Keller, Bradley Ogden, Roland Passot and Ron Siegel. The golden oil’s smoke point is high enough for sautéing without worry, while its delicate floral tones, deepened by just a hint of tannin, blends well in sauces and dressings. Available from Imperial Republic of Tea.

Easy Ideas

Poach fish in green tea.

Infuse a custard or ice cream base with black or green tea, or use herbal tea in a sorbet.

Stir the contents of a tea bag into the dry ingredients of a cake.

Cook rice in weakly brewed tea.

Jazz up an egg sandwich: Gently simmer the peeled, hard-boiled eggs in a smoky lapsang souchong tea and let them cool in the liquid before chopping.

Replace up to half of the oil in your favorite vinaigrette with brewed tea. Those with citrus or other fruity notes are ideal.

January 2008