Do you remember when ‘multi-tasking’ became all the rage at work? The word appeared one day, and the human race has never looked back. Suddenly, it wasn’t enough to do one thing well, we had to be able to do several things at once. You know, like someone playing on their blackberry or iphone while not paying attention in a meeting.
Last week, I used the word ‘multi-tasking’ for macaroons. Let me explain.
At 9pm, I began baking for a morning tea. There will be a couple of people who are gluten-free, and a couple who were observing Passover. Of course, I made macaroons (the American coconut macaroons, with two “o”, rather than the French almond macarons, with one “o”). Something that is gluten free and Passover-compliant*, is a cinch to make, and still gets wows from everyone? Now that’s what I call multi-tasking.
Cooking is a funny thing. Sometimes, you slave over a stove for hours, and the masterpiece is eaten in 5 minutes with a ‘that’s nice’. Other times, a minimum of effort creates seriously impressive results.
I like dishes that fall into the second category.
Cue Chinese tea eggs, also known as marbled eggs.
We served this at the start of our Chinese new year feast. They were snapped up like that. Quite a few guests talked about these eggs til the end of dinner, and a couple of them still talked about it when I saw them a couple of weeks later.
Tea eggs, and the momofuku pork buns, were the most popular parts of dinner (the boca negra was a close runner up). Tea eggs were also the easiest thing I made for that dinner, requiring little active time, and being almost fool proof.
The basic idea is to take soft boiled eggs, crack the egg shell (but not to peel the egg), and boil it for a couple more hours in an aromatic mixture of black tea, soy, sugar, star anise, cinnamon, dried mandarin peel and peppercorns.
And that’s it!
The coloured cooking liquid seeps through the cracks in the egg shell and creates the lovely marbled pattern. The eggs can also be left in the cooking liquid for a few more days. The longer the eggs sit in the liquid, the darker the marbled patterns become. The flavours also seep in, so that a plain boiled egg is transformed into a tasty savoury snack, and a thing of beauty.
Every now and then, something about a recipe grabs you and pulls you in, whispering ‘cook me, eat me’.
It may be an ingredient, a new technique, a foolproof twist on an old favourite; it may be the colours; it may be the story behind its creation.
This recipe by Naomi Duguid had that something. Maybe it was the picture of golden-skinned eggs nesting in just enough vibrant red-yellow tomato based sauce. Maybe it was the intriguing idea of shallow frying boiled eggs in turmeric oil until it blisters, the browned outside contrasting with the tender egg white beneath the surface.
Maybe it was also the attraction of using the simplest ingredients in an Asian kitchen to create a complex and nourishing curry.