Turning over a new leaf By Ye Jun (China Daily)
Tea has become more than just a beverage – some Chinese chefs are taking it to the soup pot, frying pan and mixing bowl to create many exciting and healthy dishes.
Cantonese chefs at Yu (Jade) Chinese Restaurant, Ritz-Carlton Beijing have designed a special menu for May of dishes that use tea as an ingredient. For example, green tea is made into an emerald colored, jelly-shaped chilled pudding. And Longjing (dragon well) tea leaves are used as a topping on fried cod fish. They also use oolong tea to flavor fried shrimp and match Pu’er with fried rice and barbeque pork. They even serve a popular chicken herb soup in a purple clay teapot and diners have to drink it from a traditional, covered Chinese teacup.
Green T. House Living, a concept restaurant especially popular among expats, recently invited guests to its 3rd annual spring green-tea tasting. Visitors were treated to the finest and freshest green teas, paired with green tea snacks, and a tea cuisine dinner in the evening.
Using tea in dishes goes back a long time in China. Some very basic foods are made with tea. Cha Ye Dan (tea flavored egg), a very common food in China, is made by boiling eggs in tea, along with other seasonings. Many people wonder why Bak Kut Teh, a Malaysian specialty of pork and herb soup, has no tea in it but its name does. Actually, when the dish originated in Chaozhou, Guangdong province, it was always accompanied by a separate cup of Pu’er tea to counterbalance the grease.
The local cuisine includes several classic dishes that use tea in its preparation or flavoring. One of these is Hangzhou’s famous Longjing Xiaren, or Dragon Well tea with unshelled shrimp. The freshness of the seafood is enhanced by the fragrance of the green tea. Zhang Cha Ya, or Sichuan-style smoked tea duck, is smoked with a number of ingredients including jasmine tea, or sometimes black tea, to increase the flavor and reduce the grease.
Fujian and Taiwan people use Tieguanyin, a local oolong, to stew or braise chicken. In Jiangxi, chefs smoke chicken with their famous Yunwu (cloud and mist) green tea. Guangdong people eat smoked chicken with tea and Anhui people smoke herring with their Maofeng (fuzz tip) green tea.
Other typical tea dishes include Longjing and bamboo fungus soup in Beijing, Longjing chicken slices and Longjing abalone in Zhejiang, fried whitebait with Biluochun in Jiangsu, braised pork with tea in Hebei, fish slices with chicken broth and Yinzhen (silver needle) green tea in Hunan.
Green tea with walnut and lettuce, a healthy and delicious dish offered in Beijing’s Lao She Teahouse.
It is only in recent years, though, that restaurants have started to experiment with innovative tea dishes. Lao She Teahouse, Beijing’s No 1 teahouse, can count more than 60 tea-related dishes in its repertoire and has already put 30 of them on its menu. Chef Li Zhiqiang says his aim is to create something different – that “really infuses tea into the dish”.
“We choose quality ingredients and great teas,” he says. “Then we consider how the tea and food pair up without much loss of flavor.”
One good match is Qimen black tea with sea cucumber. “The black tea takes away the seafood’s unpleasant smell, gives the dish a mild tea fragrance and a better hue,” Li says. “Besides, black tea counterbalances the cold nature of seafood.”
Another unusual blend is that of mutton and white tea. “The hot nature of mutton may generate excessive heat in the body. White tea helps dissipate the heat, dissolves harmful elements and adds moisture.”
The four most common ways of combining tea and food are: adding the fresh tea leaves directly into the dish; pouring the tea into the dish; adding powdered or ground tea leaves to the dish; and using tea to smoke the food.
“Tea absorbs the grease and its nutritional elements enhance the value of the food,” Li says. Dishes that use tea leave one with a much lighter feeling in the stomach.
Generally speaking, green tea is well suited to light dishes. Black tea is best used as a soup or for smoking. Jasmine tea has a lingering fragrance and goes well with seafood. Oolong is relatively strong and is used with rich foods.
But matching food with tea is not easy, says Li. “Many teas taste too light to make a significant difference to a dish. Besides, tea can generate chemical reactions with anything containing iron and do not dissolve in protein.”
Therefore, chefs do a lot of experimenting before coming up with the right match. They also make lighter teas, such as green tea and Tieguanyin, on the spot, so that the fragrance keeps even after heating or after being stood for a long time.
This has led to many creative dishes. Lao She Teahouse makes a Peking roast duck with jasmine tea flavor. Green T. House smokes duck breast with Yunnan Dianhong black tea, making for quite a memorable dish. Wu Yu Tai Family Cuisine makes a dish in which one first drinks Longjing green tea, and then eats the tender shrimp with the tea flavor still on the palate. The restaurant also pairs goose liver with Kuding bitter tea.