Recipe! How to make 茶叶蛋 Cháyèdàn… Chinese tea leaf eggs

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This morning I had an ultrasound; after my recent bout of pancreatitis my doctors wanted a look at all my organs.  I’m better now, thank goodness, but I made one smart remark about cleaning goo off my belly in a dark room, and suddenly all of Facebook is asking me “are you ok, are you ok?”  Yes, folks, I’m ok; the echo was ordered weeks ago, but now the pancreatitis is gone and I have the blood tests to prove it.

Anyway, the ultrasound required a fast, so I left the imaging center hungry.  I ended up at Ping’s and ordered some lamb dumplings and a tea egg. Ping’s of course, is the grocery store under the chinatown gate in the ID.  Mr. and Mrs. Ping are a nice elderly couple from 山东 Shandong province, which is famous for boiled dumplings.  Recently they converted half of their store into a charming dumpling house.  They make and freeze the dumplings, rather then making them fresh, but it’s a nice sunny spot, and they’re happy to talk to me in Mandarin.

The first time of there, I discovered a bowl of tea eggs on the counter as I was paying… I hadn’t seen a tea egg since leaving China in 2009.  I used to buy an egg or two at in the morning, at the convenience store on my way to the office; a tea egg and a 粽子 zòngzi.  I would have to walk past all the other breakfast options on my commute:  the soy milks, the corn muffins, the potstickers, the breakfast crepes, all of these were available along my two block bike ride to the office.  Leo and I used to get those tea eggs and eat them at our desks when we got to the office; Esti and Lili did not approve. 

Anyway, when I saw the bowl of tea eggs on the counter at Ping’s groceries, I nearly jumped out of my shoes.  This time, I made it a point to get one, and Mrs. Ping was happy to warm one up for me.  I asked her if they were hard to make, and she said no, they’re simple.  So I looked at a couple recipes on my phone, and then asked her help me find the spices I needed from the grocery half of the business.  I got the sichuan peppers, the star anise, the cinnamon, the citrus peel; Mrs. Ping told me not to forget the cloves.  I asked her if I should get a special soy sauce, and she said no, the regular japanese soy sauce I have at home.  She told me I didn’t need a special tea, either, just use whatever black tea I had in my house.

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 eggs… however many fit in one layer in the pot
  • water to cover
  • two tablespoons of whatever black tea (or two teabags)
  • a cinnamon stick
  • a star anise
  • a few cloves
  • a few sichuan peppers
  • a small handful of salt
  • a couple shots of whatever soy sauce.

Place eggs in your pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, simmer for 10 or 15 minutes.  Scoop the eggs out (saving the egg water) and shock the eggs in some cold running water.  Meanwhile, put the spices and soy sauce into the crock pot.  Crack the shells gently with the back of the spoon; the more cracks in the shell, the cooler it will look.  Put the cracked eggs in the crockpot and pour enough egg water into the crockpot to just cover the eggs.

Set the crockpot to low and leave it for a few hours.  I don’t know, five hours?  Scoop the eggs into a glass container, cover with the liquid and stick them in the fridge.  The longer the eggs steep, the richer their flavor will be; keep them up to five days.

You can eat them cold, but to serve them hot, you can drop them into some boiling water until they heat through.  In China they just sit in the crockpot until you buy them.

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