Probably the best way to enjoy hard boiled eggs! Chinese tea eggs are packed with flavour and have a beautiful marble look. Recipe in two versions provided.
More and more I realize that the memory of my happy childhood is mostly food related. Last week my culinary fan No. 3 in our Red House went for a school trip which reminded me of my own school outings. Then a particular food came to mind. It was Chinese tea egg (茶叶蛋), one of the most popular homemade snacks people would bring on a picnic or for a train journey. I cooked some straightaway, along with some quail eggs and peanuts that I happened to have in my kitchen.
Like many dishes, families have their own recipes for tea eggs. But they all share the same principle: steeping hard boiled eggs in a liquid darkened and flavoured by tea, soy sauce and spices. To me it’s like giving (plain and dry) hard boiled eggs a makeover. Not only does the steeping process add a flavourful taste to the eggs, it also gives the eggs an interesting appearance. Normally the egg shells are cracked (but not peeled) before adding to the the flavoured liquid. This will lead to a marble-like pattern on the egg white when peeled. In addition, egg yolks become less dry than the ones found in normal hard boil eggs.
In terms of tea, you are pretty free to choose whatever is available in your cupboard. My mum and dad use loose green tea or jasmine tea since they are the most common types in Chinese households. I discovered that black tea bags are a great choice too. They are darker, stronger, cheaper (in Europe) and they save your time: you don’t need to deal with tea leaves which become stuck to the eggs.
I have two versions of tea eggs for you: comprehensive and simplified. The differences are as follow:
- Use individual spices of your choice VS using Chinese five-spice powder.
- Crack the egg shells VS peel the egg shells. If peeled, eggs can be steeped for a shorter time, but they will become brown all around instead of having a marble look.
- I add quail eggs and peanuts in the comprehensive version. This is purely my personal touch. Quail eggs are smaller hence the flavour will be stronger than that of hen eggs. Peanuts cooked this way are delicious as a snack (It’s common in China to braise peanuts with spices).
Marbled tea eggs – two versions (茶叶蛋)
For the basic version
For the comprehensive version
- 8 eggs
- 10 quail eggs, optional
- 1 handful peanuts, optional
- 2 bag black tea
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 star-anise
- 1 small piece Chinese cinnamon, cassia cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn
- 2 dried chilli
- 2 teaspoon light soy sauce
- 2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine
- ½ tablespoon rock sugar, or granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoon salt
- Put the eggs (at room temperature) in a pot of cold water (enough to cover them). Bring water to a boil then reduce the heat. Leave to simmer for 6 mins.
- Drain the eggs then cool under running water. When cool enough to touch, gently crack the eggshells all around using the back of a spoon (see note 1).
- Put eggs back into a clean pot. Add all the other ingredients and water enough to cover the eggs. Bring water to a boil then turn down the heat. Simmer for 10 mins.
- Transfer everything into a container. Leave to steep for at least 12 hours (see note 2). You may keep the eggs in the fridge for up to 4 days.
- If you prefer eating warm eggs, simply heat up the egg in the liquid.
- Follow the same instructions above. If using quail eggs, cook them along with the regular eggs and crack the same way. If using peanuts, add to the steeping liquid then simmer with the eggs.
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If you like eggs, you might be interested in another recipe “Tomato and egg stir-fry” which is also a simple, down-to-earth dish.
Have a lovely day!
Other recipes that are great for picnic: