A popular snack throughout China, tea eggs (cha ye dan) can be found around the clock at street stalls, night markets and convenience stores. They are also traditionally served during Chinese New Year celebrations to bring good luck for the coming year. The simmering, staining and careful cracking process creates a beautiful marble-like effect on the hard-boiled surface. While some recipes use a basic broth of black tea and salt to flavour the eggs, others, like this one, include a combination of spices, such as star anise, cloves and cinnamon. You will need to marinate the eggs for at least 5 hours.
150 ml soy sauce
110 g (½ cup) caster sugar
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
½ tsp fennel seeds
3 star anise
2 cinnamon quills
2 x 5 cm-long, thick strips mandarin peel
1 tbsp (or 4 teabags) smoked tea leaves, such as lapsang souchong (see Note) or hojicha (see Note)
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Place soy, sugar, peppercorns, fennel, cloves, star anise, cinnamon, mandarin peel and 750 ml water in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove pan from heat, stir in tea leaves and stand for 20 minutes to steep.
Place eggs in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then cook for 4 minutes. Drain eggs and place in cold water until cool enough to handle.
Using the back of a spoon, crack egg shells; the deeper the cracks, the darker the marbling effect. Place in tea mixture, then return pan to heat and bring to the boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and cool in marinade for 5 hours or overnight.
Lapsang souchong, from supermarkets, is made from Chinese black tea leaves that are double-smoked over pine or cypress wood. Hojicha, from Asian food shops, is a coarse Japanese green tea made from roasted twigs.
As seen in Feast Magazine, Issue 13, pg62.
Photography by John Laurie