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Green tea scented chicken soup--Anyone?

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From today's NYT magazine

December 17, 2006

Food: The Way We Eat

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Most people think of cooking as a creative profession. But when you (that is, I) spend your days yelling at your fish purveyor, becoming trapped in interminable meetings and then scrambling to cover for a cook who had a bike accident or developed a mysterious skin condition, it leaves little time to ponder new ways to cook a carrot.

At moments like these, the modern chef reaches for a familiar recipe with one hand and, with the other, into a pantry well stocked with rare, obscure and expensive foodstuffs: a little black truffle to tart up a mayonnaise, a touch of argan oil to accent potato soup — or better still, ingredients that aren’t associated with cooking at all, like tea. For chefs who are restlessly searching for an edge over the competition but are still bound more closely to what they know than they often care to admit, tea provides an easy way to dress up their offerings. With little expense or effort, it allows them (ahem, us) to transform ripe litchis into litchi-jasmine sorbet or a simple custard into green-tea crème brûlée. As with many of our culinary “innovations,” there’s a bit of cultural philandering involved: in Asian countries, the concept of cooking with tea is almost as old as tea itself and has engendered a few clichés of its own (think tea-smoked duck).

Tea may be a flavor shortcut, but a gimmick it is not. When I hired a pastry chef from New York several years ago, it wasn’t the yogurt foam or the Indian-spiced desserts that grabbed my attention — it was that inspired combination of litchis and jasmine, two ethereal flavors that encircled each other like a gustatory double helix. Huh, I thought, what an interesting idea. Cooking with tea. I could do that.

And I did. I’m not a tea drinker, so I was happily surprised to find good-quality teas readily available that bore scant resemblance to the unpalatably grasslike or fruity blends I avoided growing up. While the selection in specialty stores is dazzling (both in price and quality), supermarkets also carry plenty of teas good enough for cooking.

I treated brewed tea like a quick, flavorful stock, using jasmine or Darjeeling to cook rice and black tea to braise pork, which I finished with prunes and orange zest — southern France by way of China. Tea’s slight astringency makes it a natural partner for sweet-and-sour ingredients, like the honey-and-lemon-glazed turnips that I paired with cod crusted in pistachios and powdered green tea. I fell hard for Lapsang souchong, a smoked black tea, with which I flavored everything from duck jus to chocolate bread pudding.

Tea has a way of making the most mundane dishes feel exotic and new — for example, chicken soup infused with green tea. No tea can save a badly made stock, but it will make a good one better, adding a nutty dimension. The technique is easy: simply add about a tablespoon of tea leaves for each cup of hot (just below a simmer) liquid. As when brewing a pot of tea, the intensity of flavor and bitterness are controlled by the length of time the tea spends in the liquid, so keep tasting, then strain when it tastes right.

Desserts are particularly partial to tea’s charms, whether combined with fruit or infused into custards, ice creams and sorbets. You might be one of those people — and I’ve talked to a few — who feel that mucking up a perfectly good chocolate bread pudding with smoked black tea is a cheflike conceit, but the proof is, well, you know. The tea lends the creamy chocolate a rich, smoky decadence, its darkness buoyed by the cheerful tropical warmth of the accompanying mango. Eventually, I moved on to herbal teas, like chamomile, which I ground and added to almond cake to delightful effect.

Tea is not, however, an infinitely forgiving ingredient. The oolong-citrus broth I excitedly made to accompany a fillet of steamed snapper? Not so good. It tasted like a parody of nouvelle cuisine. But that same oolong, ground and used to season seared scallops, was transformative. The tea gave the scallops an earthy, vaguely mushroomlike aroma, its bitter and floral qualities making a terrific foil for the intense sweetness of the shellfish. Combined with a bright citrus sauce (this time tricked out with a generous helping of butter), it’s a 10-minute recipe that will impress the most discerning dinner-party guests.

And maybe even a few restaurant customers.

Oolong-Crusted Scallops With Citrus Sauce

Juice of ½ orange
Juice of ½ lemon
Juice of ½ lime
8 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon oolong tea leaves, finely ground in a coffee grinder
12 sea scallops, tough muscle removed and patted dry
2 tablespoons olive oil.

1. Heat the juices in a saucepan to just below a simmer, then whisk in the butter, a few pieces at a time. Season with salt and keep warm.

2. Place the ground tea on a plate. Season the scallops with salt and pepper, then press both sides into the ground tea.

3. Heat the oil in a cast-iron skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Sear the scallops until just warmed through and not yet fully opaque, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Place 3 scallops in each of 4 shallow bowls and spoon the sauce around them. Serves 4. Adapted from Daniel Patterson.

Jasmine-Tea Rice

2 ½ tablespoons jasmine-tea pearls
1 ½ cups jasmine white rice
1 teaspoon kosher salt.

1. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups water to a boil. Place the tea in a heatproof bowl. Cover with the hot water and steep for 5 minutes. Strain through a sieve set over the saucepan and cool.

2. In a large bowl, rinse the rice with cold water until the water runs clear. Drain and add to the cooled tea. Stir in the salt and let sit for 30 minutes.

3. Cover the saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 17 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes. Serves 6. Adapted from Daniel Patterson.

Chamomile-and-Almond Cake

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus additional for pan
Flour for pan
¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted
3 ½ tablespoons chamomile tea leaves
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole blanched almonds
3/4 cup sugar
4 large eggs, 1 separated
Grated zest of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon baking powder
Cooking-oil spray
Confectioners’ sugar.

1. Preheat the oven to 320 degrees. Butter a 9-inch cake pan, then dust with flour. Shake out excess flour. Sprinkle the sliced almonds on the bottom of the pan.

2. In a food processor, grind the tea, whole almonds, sugar and a large pinch of salt into a paste. If the mixture is dry, add 1 egg white to form a paste. Otherwise, add the white at the end of the processing.

3. Transfer the almond paste to a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add 1 yolk and 1 egg and beat on medium-low for 1 minute. Add another egg and beat for another minute. Add the last egg and the lemon zest and beat on medium for 5 minutes.

4. Using as few strokes as possible, fold in the cornstarch and baking powder with a rubber spatula until mostly combined. Pour in the melted butter, a little at a time, folding just until combined. Do not overmix.

5. Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake until the top is just set, about 40 minutes. Let cool for 3 minutes. Grease a cake plate with cooking-oil spray. Turn the cake out onto the plate. Cool fully, then cover with foil until ready to serve. Dust with confectioners’ sugar. Serves 12. Adapted from “Aroma,” by Mandy Aftel and Daniel Patterson.

Green Tea-Scented Chicken Soup

3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 1/2 pounds), diced into 1/2 inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 1/2 cups chicken stock
3 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
1 fennel bulb, cored, quartered and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
3 leeks, white and light green parts only, split lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
1/4 cup green tea leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice.

1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.

2. In a large saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. Add the carrots, fennel, leeks and a pinch of salt. Cook at a low simmer until the vegetables are tender. Add the chicken, cover and remove from the heat. Let stand until the chicken is just cooked, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken and vegetables to a warm bowl.

3. Add the green tea to the stock and steep for 5 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth and set over a saucepan. Add the lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Reheat, then return the vegetables and chicken to the broth. Ladle into bowls. Serves 4. Adapted from "Aroma" by Mandy Aftel and Daniel Patterson.

Chocolate-Brioche Pudding with Lapsang Souchong and Mango

1 cup milk
1 can (13 1/2 ounces) coconut milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons lapsang souchong leaves
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar, plus additional as needed
4 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Large pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups brioche, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 small, ripe mango, peeled and julienned
Fresh lime juice, as needed.

1. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. In a large saucepan, combine the milk, coconut milk and cream. Heat to just below a simmer. Stir in the tea and remove from heat. Cover and let stand until the mixture is infused with a smoky tea flavor, 3 to 5 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and 1/3 cup sugar. Set aside.

2. Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Add the chocolate to the warm tea mixture and stir until melted. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into the egg yolk mixture, stirring to combine. Stir in the salt and brioche and let sit for 5 minutes.

3. Ladle the pudding into 4 shallow 1 1/2-cup baking dishes or other heatproof bowls and place in a deep pan. Add enough boiling water to the pan to come about halfway up the sides of the dishes. Bake just until the puddings are set, 45 to 60 minutes.

4. In a small bowl, toss the mango with lime juice and sugar to taste; this may be done up to 3 hours prior to serving. Serve the puddings warm from the oven (or reheat in a low oven), topped with the mango mixture. Serves 4. Adapted from Jake Godby.

Daniel Patterson is the chef and owner of Coi in San Francisco.


So much to cook; so little time.


So much to cook; so little time.