It's always more fun to DIY. Every week, we'll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.
I went through a phase in school when I was obsessed with making tea eggs. The pungent aroma must have made me really popular with my roommates. You know how things like poaching pears can make your home smell magical, like a fall wonderland? Well, tea eggs make your room smell more like a wizened Chinese man’s apothecary.
But there is something magical about the way these come about: the eggs are soft-boiled, then gently cracked all over and simmered in a flavorful broth of tea and soy sauce for hours until the black liquid seeps in along the cracks. The eggs end up with a rich flavor and an intricate, delicate spider-webbed pattern.
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Tea eggs are such a popular snack that they can be found everywhere in China and Taiwan, sitting in gigantic metal bowls or rice cookers in 7-Elevens, night markets, and along the streets. With the right ingredients, they’re perfectly easy -- and wonderfully fun -- to make at home.
Makes 6 eggs, but easily doubled
3 to 4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon (1 tea bag) black tea leaves
3 to 4 pieces star anise
1 small stick cinnamon or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 to 3 strips dried orange, mandarin, or tangerine peel
1 teaspoon cracked peppercorns or 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Place eggs in a pot and cover with about an inch of cold water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 1 to 2 minutes.
Rinse the eggs with cold water. One by one, take each egg and tap it gently with the blunt end of a knife or the back of a spoon until the entire surface is lightly cracked.
If small pieces flake off, don't worry, but do try to keep the shell intact over the egg.
Return the eggs to the pot and refill with water. I add just enough water to barely cover the eggs, but for the sake of precision, it should be about 1 1/2 to 2 cups. Add the rest of the ingredients -- soy sauce, salt, tea, star anise, cinnamon, orange peel, pepper, and sugar, if you're using it -- and give it a good stir.
Bring the mixture back to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let simmer for 2 to 3 hours. If you like softer eggs, cover the pot as it simmers.
I like to simmer mine for 3 hours if I have the time, and I also like to keep the pot uncovered because I find it yields firmer eggs with better flavor. The water will evaporate fairly quickly, though, so you will need to add more as it simmers.
Be warned that these eggs never have the soft, bright yellow yolks you get from hard-boiling for just a few minutes. They often have that greenish tinge that I've learned some people abhor -- it's only natural because they cook for much longer.
For a stronger flavor, steep overnight after you finish simmering.
Photos by Cynthia of Two Red Bowls