Even a novice cook will have some herbs and spices lying around her pantry. She might also have some tea. Just as thyme and oregano are added on the fly during cooking, tea leaves can double as flavor enhancers to offer dimension and distinction to any sweet or savory dish. But do you have to be “gourmet” to do this? Absolutely not.
Tea expert, Karen Harbour (Food Network candidate and owner of The Tea Spot in Boulder, Colorado) says it’s hard to go wrong when cooking with tea. “Tea is very forgiving. It offers a different spin on any type of food you are making, be it meat, poultry, vegetables or even dessert.”
Depending upon whether the tea is to be a highlight or a subtle note in the dish, Harbour cooks with a range of full- to light-bodied teas and tea blends. As a general rule, black teas (Earl Grey, oolong, jasmine), deep greens (macha, gunpowder, roasted green), or earthy herbals like rooibos will integrate nicely into rich, savory dishes like red meats or roasted vegetables. Lighter greens and green tea blends (twig tea, Genmaicha, Moroccan mint) or any soft, subtle white tea can be used with fish and seafood, summer vegetables or desserts.
Just as there are countless ways to use herbs and spices, there are many techniques to draw upon when cooking with tea. Here’s a handful to get you started:
Tea Seasonings: Grind or finely chop tea leaves to season foods during cooking, or use as a rub for meats and poultry. Use in similar amounts as dried herbs: 1/2 – 1 teaspoon per dish.
Tea Concentrates: A strong, concentrated cup of tea can be used to infuse its flavors into food. Use in sauces, dressings, marinades or glazes. Double the infusing time, or double the amount of tea, to get a deep flavor strong enough to infuse the food.
Tea Stock: Replace stock or broth in any soup, stew or sauce recipe with an equivalent amount of steeped tea. Tea concentrates (above) can also be used.
Whole Leaves: Toss a dash of tea leaves into stews, grains or braised dishes at the beginning of cooking time to add flair and flavor to the dish.
Smoking: If you have a home smoker (try Camerons online for $40) smoking chips can be replaced with tea leaves to impart a subtle, smoky, tea essence to fish, poultry or vegetables. It’s also aromatherapy for your kitchen!
Garnishing: Ground tea, just like ground herbs, can be used at the very end to add color and enhance flavor to any meal. Try sprinkling tea around the edge of the plate for a festive touch.
Give it a shot. Most Westerners snubbed the thought of green tea ice cream before trying it. But with one bite… “Oh!”… It’s surprising how good it is, and how the simple addition of this ancient plant can turn an everyday dish into an inimitable meal.