With the many flavors and healthful benefits tea offers, a growing number of creative cooks are including it in stylish dishes to impart flavor, texture and color.
Novices to cooking with tea leaves will discover the diversity of flavor, size, color and intensity is akin to opening a huge new spice cabinet. As with other seasonings, high-quality tea is essential and should be brewed correctly. (See guidelines, opposite.)
Creativity may be as simple as steeping the leaves in a liquid to enhance the taste. Use it to cook pastas, grains and even potatoes. The leaves also may be used decoratively. To impart an Asian twist to gravlax, Lapsang souchong leaves in the curing mixture add a visual adornment as well as a smoky taste. Tea leaves may also be ground with coarse salt to embellish foods. Herbal and fruit teas offer more possibilities.
Guidelines for Cooking with Tea
- Always use fresh tea leaves that have been stored correctly. Old tea loses flavor. Whole, fresh tea leaves are preferred, but high-quality tea sachets may also be used. A tea bag usually has 1 teaspoon of leaves.
- Use only freshly brewed tea for cooking.
- Once tea is brewed, strain and discard the leaves to avoid an overly bitter taste. Cook only with the tea liqueur unless using leaves as part of the recipe.
- When using ground tea, pulverize only as much tea as needed for each recipe, as the flavor dissipates quickly. Be sure to wipe out the grinder each time.
- Tea can be infused in liquids other than water, such as stock, milk and cream. Bring the liquid just to a boil for black tea and under a boil for green and herbal teas.