30 July 2008

Tea Can Cook

Wait, keep reading: this is not yet another batch of iced tea.

It is Iron Goddess tea, a fragrant, sweet Chinese oolong more properly known as Tieguanyin or Ti Kwan Yin. And it was the base of a refreshing picnic in sticky, crowded Bryant Park today, but not how you'd expect.

I tend to use tea as an accompaniment or special ingredient mainly for sweet foods- no doubt thanks to my weary grandmother, who would dip any screaming babies' pacifier in sugar to get them to stop crying. (It really works.)

But occasionally I'll crave something savory with my cup, and that's what I decided on for lunch today.

A tea-marinted tofu and mushroom dish, from the unfairly unheralded Cooking With Tea, caught my eye while I was paging through cookbooks and recipe clippings.

The original recipe called for Yunnan, a black Chinese tea, but I thought I'd try that oolong that had been languishing under all my Japanese greens for the past few months.

And with the farmer's market laden with earthy treasures right now, it was simple to pick up some fresh shiitakes and criminis, marinate the tofu, and then reduce the liquid into to a light yet rich sauce.

Served over kimchi rice, whose spicy kick paradoxically cools you as you eat, it was easily the best meal of the day: just salty enough, with a haunting fragrance and a gingery bite. And it was completely gone within five minutes.

Tea-Marinated Tofu and Mushrooms
Makes: 2 servings.

1 package firm tofu, drained
2 teaspoons Yunnan or Iron Goddess tea leaves
3-4 cups water
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 large garlic clove, crushed, plus 1 large garlic clove, minced, for the mushrooms
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil for tofu, plus 2 teaspoons olive oil for the mushrooms
2 ounces fresh shiitake, oyster or crimini mushrooms, washed and thinly sliced

1. Slice tofu horizontally into two thin rectangles. Wrap both pieces in a dishtowel and set on a rimmed plate. Place another plate on top, and weight it down with a few heavy cans for about 30 minutes, to remove excess water.

2. Brew the tea leaves in 3-4 cups sub-boiling water (about 190 degrees) for 3 minutes. Strain into a large dish, and stir in soy sauce, crushed garlic, ginger and sugar. Gently place the tofu in the dish, and marinate, refrigerated, for a few hours or overnight.

3. Remove tofu from marinade and pat dry. Heat the 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy skillet, and carefully place tofu in pan. Cook for 5 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Remove from skillet, sprinkle with salt, and set aside.

4. Heat remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil in same skillet, and add remaining minced garlic and mushrooms. Saute over medium heat until browned, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside.

5. Pour all remaining marinade into skillet, and reduce over medium-high heat until thickened and about 1/3 cup, about 10 minutes. Add in mushrooms, salt to taste, and toss to coat. Let cool to room temperature, if desired.

6. Slice tofu, and drizzle sauce over top before serving.

The only outside addition was an iced tea from 'wichcraft (SE corner of 6th Ave. and 42nd St.). The choices were "regular"- a confusing term, but I was too thirsty to ask for clarification- Darjeeling or herbal. I got the Darjeeling ($2.11) and since it was served plain, grabbed a few demerara sugar packets, just in case.

For an iced tea on the road- and from a booth, no less- it wasn't bad, and one packet of sugar (R.I.P., Granny) made it even a little better. It slaughtered what I found in Brooklyn, but it was still apparent that whatever type of tea they're using, it's not the highest quality.

Then again, it's being served to people who think a park rustling with rats and urine-soaked souls begging for change is a relaxing, natural spot to eat lunch. So I suppose you can't blame Mr. Colicchio from not trying harder to up the ante.


Patrick Li-Po Price said...

dude, i got Cooking with Tea for xmas last year. i've made about 3 recipes from it so far, all good, 2 were great. i haven't made the tofu one yet. but i have some tofu in my freezer now so maybe i will soon. and the woman loves mushrooms so thats double incentive

ana dane said...

what did you try? i have the assam lemon tart up next.

and i need to make their jasmine-lemongrass sorbet again, too. it is deceptively simple for such an outstanding final dish, and perfect for these sticky summer days.