Welcome to tea. Not afternoon tea with its tempting array of sweet and savory nibbles. Not even high tea, the English country version of supper with fresh eggs, home-cured ham and preserves. Forget tea altogether as a beverage. It has been reinvented as the latest trendy food ingredient.
I first encountered tea on my plate in the Paris tearoom of Marriage Freres. The classic little almond cakes called financiers were flavored with green tea, adding springlike color and an almost citrus zest. Marriage Freres is a tea-import company that dates back 150 years, but its menu is cutting-edge, featuring dishes such as roast cod in a crust of green tea and sesame seeds; foie gras with a confit of onion, flowery with China tea; and herb salad in a tea-oil dressing.
Tea mixed with sea salt is an intriguing condiment for grilled fish and vegetables and for marinated salmon or beef carpaccio. Simply stir 2 to 3 tablespoons of matcha or other powdered green tea with an equal amount of fine sea salt. (The tea does not mix evenly if the salt is coarse.) The mix will keep up to a month in an airtight container, but it is so simple that I usually make it fresh.
Exploring further, back home I tried simmering tea in rice, where I found it picked up basmatilike fragrance. But it was the dried kidney beans that got me hooked. I don’t care for beans (too many canned baked beans in college), so I was skeptical when a friend suggested simmering white beans with a bag of black tea per cup of water. I expected zero effect, but I was wrong. By the end of cooking, the beans had turned from white to earthy brown. They were deliciously tender and tasty, thanks to the tannin content in tea. Tannin is, after all, the compound that tans and softens leather.
I’ve since found that tea can be as varied as wine in cooking, with a similar depth and wide range of flavors.
These chicken breasts are simmered in tea flavored with honey and lemon; then the cooking liquid is reduced to a savory caramel glaze.
Glazed chicken breasts in a honey lemon tea
In summer, add a radicchio salad and corn on the cob; in winter, serve with grilled radicchio and baked squash.
2 tablespoons loose orange pekoe tea or 6 tea bags
2 tablespoons honey
1 lemon, juice and pared zest
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
Pour 2 cups boiling water over loose orange pekoe tea or tea bags. Stir in honey with pared zest and lemon juice. Simmer 3 minutes, stirring just until honey melts. Leave to infuse and cool. Lay two boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a frying pan and strain tea mixture over. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover, bring to boil and poach just below boiling on top of the stove, turning once, 20 to 30 minutes.