October 27, 2011

Chinese Tea Eggs 茶葉蛋 - Egg Art

If you love eggs and you love art, surely you will love making and eating Chinese Tea Eggs.  What other food could provide such a deep artistic satisfaction while at the same providing an eggy snack that is really delicious, filling and unique in taste.  You can find tea eggs in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and anywhere there are chinese people as the age old folksy 'go to' snack for the traveler or the person on the go.  In Hong Kong they even sell them mostly at the convenience stores now.  How ironic yet fitting in a way.  But really, buying a Tea Egg is missing the point.  It is so simple and fun to make your own.

Chinese Tea Eggs

My first taste of the Chinese Tea Egg was from a kind lady who lived a few houses down from my childhood home.  She was a marvelous cook and, among other delicious foods, used to make big batches of her wonderful tea eggs (more like small mountains) and then invite the children in from our street play for a quick, yummy snack.  The wonder of that first egg, the breathtaking cracked porcelain glaze on a hitherto uninteresting plain white.  The hesitation to bite into the prettiness and then, once bitten, the quick demolishing of the savoury, tea infused egg.  Honestly, I couldn't quite believe that it really was an egg as all the hard boiled eggs I had had before then had been dry throat choking affairs that required frequent sprinkles from the wee doll sized Morton Salt container that was my special kitchen treasure until it got lost.  Anways, from that first egg on, I have loved Chinese Tea Eggs.

Chinese Tea Eggs

You could knock out a room of people with the artistic marbled beauty of these eggs.  But not if they are Chinese.  For the ever practical Chinese, they are used to the Tea Egg and therefore take it for granted and never think twice about them anymore.  This is very Chinese.   They will just say "Oh, it's just Tea Eggs.  What's the big deal?"  The Chinese are sometimes very hilarious.

Chinese Tea Eggs

When you crack the egg after hardboiling, do it gently with a spoon or something.  The trick is to throughly crack the egg in as many cracks as you can, but to not break the membrane that lies directly beneath the shell.  Breaking the membrane will cause a dark even patch instead of the delicate lines.  For the spice mix, use the recipe as a starting point and experiment.  Just remember to only use black or red tea:  we use Pu-erh tea because it rocks and also because that is the tea we drink everyday.

Chinese Tea Eggs

Chinese Tea Eggs Recipe

8 eggs
3 tbs light soy sauce
2 tbsp Shao Shing wine
3 star anise
1 lump rock sugar, 1.5 inch wide (you can buy rock sugar at the chinese grocery store or substitute
                                                     1.5 tbsp of brown sugar)
1 cinnamon stick
3 slices of ginger
2 tbsp of Five Spice powder
3 tbsp of Chinese black tea leaves

Put eggs in pan with cold water to cover and heat over medium heat until boil.  Turn down heat and let simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove and refresh in cold water.  When cool enough to touch, gently tap the eggs to crack the shells all over.  Put cracked eggs into a pan with all the rest of the ingredients.  Heat until boiling, turn down heat and let simmer for 40 minutes, turning carefully occasionally and adding water if needed.  Turn off heat and let eggs cool in the liquid.  To serve, peel egg and carefully slice into quarters and arrange on plate.  Pour a drizzle of the cooking liquid onto the plate and serve.

To store, remove eggs to bowl.  Strain the cooking liquid to remove all the tea leaves, etc.  Pour the cooking liquid in with eggs, cover and refrigerate.  These eggs taste even better the second day!