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.
“What do we need to do?”
“Wear something red!”
This post begins with festive Chinese food, ends with baklava, and has a soliloquy about photography at dinner parties.
On Saturday night, 12 friends gathered around our 3 meter long dining table for a dinner spanning more than 7 courses. I think I got a bit carried away when planning a menu to showcase the festive food that I have loved since childhood, flavours from other regions of China that I have discovered as an adult, and the sneaky bit of non-Chinese food that I can’t live without.
This year, menu planning had extra challenges. One guest is allergic to anything in the family of shallots, garlic, onion and chilli. Another guest is vegetarian. As with other dinners we’ve hosted, I tried to minimise the number of ‘special’ dishes for these guests. After all, having dinner with friends is much less fun if you are left out, food-wise.
At the start of the evening, I looked at our kitchen, with every bench space and every shelf in the fridge groaning under the weight of food – and the palpable sense of excitement – and the seriously decent alcohol. We were starting the lunar new year on the right footing.
We had fun setting the table. There were, of course, red napkins and red chopsticks. Each guest also got a red envelope with sweets and chocolates (in lieu of money). Scattered around the table were dried chrysanthemum flowers, gold-wrapped chocolates, miniature new year cakes (nian gao) and mixed peanut candy that I’ve found seriously addictive since my earliest days.
Before I knew it, the all-day cooking extravaganza had become an all-evening eating odyssey.
Here is the menu: