Cooking with tea

Date:19-11-2013 08:58:30 read:1

Cooking with tea

With their delicate but distinct scent and flavour, teas can do so much more than quench a thirst. Feeling infused?


Go on, smell it!” says my seven-year-old, sticking a box underneath his friend’s nose. The friend grimaces.
“Yuk, it’s smoky bacon.”
“No!” says my boy triumphantly. “It’s tea!”

My children hate fancy food but are intrigued by kitchen experiments. Smoking fish over tea leaves or making green ice-cream with matcha – ground green tea – lures them from their laptops. Ever since I visited Marriage Frères, a Paris tea salon with a menu of tea-scented delicacies, I’ve been fascinated by cooking with tea. There is something magical about a flavouring that is so hard to pin down. I’ve often soaked dried vine fruits for tea loaf in a pot of assam (it makes the loaf deliciously moist), and larger dried fruits (prunes, pears, apricots) make a great winter compote when steeped in Earl Grey. You get depth of flavour and a little perfume from bergamot too. Fresh fruit cooked in fruit teas are lovely as well – peaches seem more intense when simmered in peach tea, and halved apples take on berry smells when poached in rosehip tea. Infusing cream or milk is another way to flavour a dish with tea.

TRY THIS Pears poached in lapsang and ginger

Panna cotta, ice-cream, crème brûlée, chocolate truffles – you can scent them all by heating the liquid you’re using to boiling, adding the tea, leaving it to develop, then straining. It’s possible to capture the scent of tea in preserves too – Fortnum & Mason’s strawberry and Earl Grey jam works well (though I prefer my home-made fig and Earl Grey), but tea is most spectacular in jellies. Make apple jelly as you normally would, scenting the juice from the apples with tea. Earl Grey tea jelly is great with pheasant, lapsang souchong jelly perfect with duck. You can scent biscuits and cakes simply by adding ground leaves to the flour. Assam makes chocolate cake taste darker, Earl Grey makes shortbread fragrant, and matcha produces brilliantly coloured pound cakes and madeleines.

TRY THIS Earl Grey tea creams with prune compote

All these suggestions are sweet, but other cultures use tea in savoury dishes. The Chinese have cooked with it for hundreds of years, making tea-smoked duck and tea-preserved eggs; the Japanese infuse water or stock with tea and cook fish or grains in it. Americans salt tea and use it as a brine (tea-brined roast chicken is sensational), and an Indian friend steeps tea bags and spices in melted butter to pour over rice.

TRY THIS Duck with sultanas and jasmine tea

Once you get started it’s hard to see tea as something just for the pot.

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