CHENNAI: Relaxing with a book at the windowsill, overlooking a lush green garden, sipping on a cup of golden tea... I have always romanticised tea and its various uses in cuisine, medicine and to aid general well-being. Many a time, a hot cup of tea has rejuvenated me enough to think of my next big experiment in the kitchen!
Apart from being used as a beverage, adding tea while cooking has grown in popularity over the years. The reason being, tea adds a distinct delicate flavour, which not only enhances the entire dish, but also gives it a hint of freshness. Often, a boring old recipe can be perked up with just the right dose of tea.
Sometimes it brings aromatic flavouring, while other times tea doubles up as a spice rub or crust on meats/fish. Your eyebrows may knot up with curiosity; tea does make for a great marinade for meats, while also being used as a tenderizer and to flavour smoked meats. I have often used it as a salad dressing, while poaching liquor, and in soups. Fresh tea leaves can also be sautéed along with other vegetables and served as a side dish. Of course, you often see it being used as an infusion in desserts; many bakers are recreating and adding recipes that include a hint of tea.
People often ask me what kind of cuisines suit the use of tea. I would say all, though it depends on the chef’s creativity. And not just tea leaves or decoction; the use of tea oil has also caught on in a big way, especially in western cuisine, where it is frequently substituted for traditional vegetable oil.
I have prepared a couple of interesting dishes using tea for flavouring. Some of them are: Tea smoked duck breast with Valencia orange and mesclun; Monkey King Jasmine tea macerated apricots and feta in fillo; Assam tea braised onion and leeks with Brie on baguette and Nachos with citric tea salsa.
While some of these may sound out-of-the-ordinary, that’s exactly what they are! With a little kick of caffeine, ‘thinking out of the cup’ could very easily make for a great meal cooked for family and friends.
(The writer is the executive chef of the Taj Coromandel)