Friday, July 29, 2005

IMBB #17: Tempest in a Teacup

For the 17th edition of Is My Blog Burning?, the theme is tasteTea, as dreamt up by the inimitable Clement of a la cuisine! . Irresolution being a particular specialty of mine, I decided to embrace the vast possibilities of tea as an ingredient by composing a meal. Or, in other words, I totally copped out of having to make an ultimate choice. But seriously, indecisiveness aside, I'm fascinated by chakaiseki, the elaborate procession of seasonal dishes that's part of the chaji, the full formal Japanese tea ceremony. I am also partial to the French art of tea as gloriously embodied by Mariage Freres, the venerable Maison de The whose fabulously appointed tea salons, discriminate selection of the world's most exquisite teas, and magical tea-infused menus (everything from financier to fish is subtly spiked with tea) make it a must-visit in Paris. In designing my modest menu, I wanted each dish to feature both a different tea and a different manner of using tea to impart flavour.

Oolong Tea Eggs One of my favourite ways of enjoying hard-cooked eggs, these beautifully marbled orbs look stunning when piled into a bowl, like so many exotic objets d'art. Their extraordinary appearance is acquired by steeping hard-cooked eggs - gently tapped with a heavy spoon to create a fine web of hairline cracks without actually removing any shell - in a barely trembling hot bath flavoured with loose tea leaves, soy sauce, star anise and cinnamon for several hours. I used Tie Guan Yin, the oolong tea named after the Iron Goddess of Mercy that's beloved for its delicate, orchid-like perfume. Off heat, the eggs are left to sit in the aromatic infusion, which further develops their flavour and mottled patina. I gingerly peel the eggshells off after a 12-hour soak - you could leave them for an even longer period if a deeper colour is desired - and serve them with roasted Sichuan pepper-salt.

Roast Tiger Prawns with White Tea Oil & Spiced Tea Salt This is based on a recipe from Tetsuya Wakuda's book. Large tiger prawns, beheaded and de-veined, are split lengthwise and seasoned with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and tea - I used silvery needles of the white tea known as Pai Mu Dan (White Peony), grinding the tea to a fine dust with a spice mill. The prawns are roasted in a very hot oven for a couple of minutes, emerging succulent and juicy, and garnished with shreds of toasted nori. Delicious as they are, I couldn't resist serving them with a spiced salt not unlike the Japanese goma shio condiment. Making it was as simple as stirring together some fine sea salt with pinches of aonori (fine nori seaweed flakes), sansho (the ground spice made from the prickly ash pod), crushed dried red chillies, toasted black sesame, and last but not least, ground white tea.

Jasmine Tea Smoked Poussin Lucid and highly detailed instructions for smoking all manner of poultry using equipment no fancier than an old battered wok can be found in both of Barbara Tropp's wonderful books, the China Moon Cookbook and The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking. I used several poussin, each of which makes for a perfectly-sized individual serving, providing every diner with an ideal package of skin and flesh to chew and bone to gnaw. The baby birds are thoroughly massaged with roasted Sichuan pepper-salt and tangerine peel, stuffed with crushed scallions and ginger, and left to marinate overnight before being steamed till partially cooked. They are then smoked over a mixture made up of equal parts tea leaves, brown sugar and raw rice. Ring the changes with your choice of tea and additional spices to flavour the smoke - I added Sichuan peppercorns, cinnamon, tangerine peel, star anise and cloves to the basic smoking mixture, and used large-leaf semi-fermented jasmine tea, which made for plumes of smoke with a heady incense-like redolence. I pull the plump poussin out of the wok when they've turned a rich amber hue - colouring is a good gauge of degree of flavour intensity when smoking. If you're after only the faintest whiff of smoke, pull them out when they're pale gold. If you like it pungent, wait till they're a deep mahogany. Enhance their lacquered sheen with a light glossing of fragrant sesame oil and devour warm, tepid, or best of all, cold. Ethereal is the only word to describe the experience of sensuously perfumed skin and melt-in-the-mouth fat melding into silken tender flesh with each bite.

Chazuke Tea Rice This is comfort food at its homely, soothing best. Hot cooked japonica rice is topped with some preserved fish - I used a mixture of shio sake (salted salmon) and tarako (salted cod roe) - crumbled toasted nori and sesame seeds. At the table, hot Japanese green tea - typically bancha, but I like using genmai-cha, the blend of coarse green bancha leaves and grains of roasted popped rice, whose nutty flavour I find wonderful in the dish - is poured over the garnished rice, the whole stirred together with chopsticks and relished alongside Japanese pickles and wasabi. Depending on your toppings - slices of rare beef, smoked eel, sashimi-grade salmon or sea bream are also nice - chazuke can be as grand or as humble as you wish.

Matcha Panna Cotta with Langue du Chat Having recently read my copy of Okakura Kakuzo's classic The Book of Tea again, with its riveting account of Zen Buddhism and chado, the Way of Tea, I wanted to make something sweet using matcha, the powdered green tea used in the etiquette and ritual steeped tea ceremony by whipping with a bamboo whisk to a luxuriant froth. Nothing as intricate as some wagashi style confectionery, but an easy panna cotta adapted from a recipe in Jane Lawson's Yoshoku (yoshoku refers to the intriguing style of Japanese food which fuses Western and Japanese ingredients and techniques). I topped the softly set cream, dreamy in its pale celadon beauty, with a tiny dollop of whipped heavy cream and marron glace, candied chestnuts. And on the side, an intensely buttery tongue of langue du chat.

46 Comments:

Blogger Amy said...

What a spectacular post! I don't even know what looks/sounds more delicious--the prawns or the poussin? the eggs or the panna cotta? Wow.

9:19 pm, July 29, 2005  
Blogger Clement said...

Wow. I'm certain that this must be the most impressive IMBB entry I've ever seen! Everything looks so elegant and delicious, with great attention to detail. I'd love to try them all sometime. I'd be difficult to choose just one because they all look spectacular. Wonderful composition in your photos too. Thanks so much for embracing this month's IMBB theme to the fullest!

9:32 pm, July 29, 2005  
Anonymous gemma said...

Wow, what a menu! Your site is beautiful and this post is as well.

10:22 pm, July 29, 2005  
Blogger Pille said...

J - this is so unfair!!! Some of us are trying to decide between two tea-flavoured cakes, and then you come and post a long and amazingly impressive menu covering all courses! Very discouraging to some of us:)
Beautiful. I'm speechless..

10:49 pm, July 29, 2005  
Blogger tara said...

Very impressive indeed, well thought out and beautifully executed. I am completely in awe. The laquer-like finish to the poussin is stunning, and the tiger prawns have inspired me to track down a copy of Tetsuya Wakuda's book. Brava!

11:24 pm, July 29, 2005  
Anonymous Nicky said...

Hi J,
wow, like everyone else, I'm deeply impressed! Which dish was your favorite one in taste? And please don't tell me, you did all this within an hour... ;)

1:13 am, July 30, 2005  
Anonymous Alice said...

Goodness! You've really outdone yourself. Everything looks totally superb! I made marbled tea eggs like those once, but mine didn't turn out nearly as beautiful as yours...I didn't soak them as long...now I know the trick. I'm very impressed with your spread!

1:31 am, July 30, 2005  
Blogger boo_licious said...

J, wonderful menu you have cooked up!

I was contemplating making Tetsuya's langoustines also. Is there much flavour with it being roasted with the tea as I felt the recipe focused more on adding the langoustine oil as a flavouring? Your salt sounds wonderful, I made mine with just plain green tea.

I smoked my salmon too and I loved it. Now I know it works for poussin, I must try it as I am hooked on that smoky taste.

You know I was eyeing that Yoshuku book a few weeks back in Kinokuniya. Your wonderful panna cotta is making me rethink whether to get it. Hopefully they still have it as cookbooks always get solded out so quickly in Kino.

3:50 am, July 30, 2005  
Blogger Mika said...

Fabulous falls short for this spread. I seriously did not think so many dishes with tea existed. Beautiful pictures as always, J!

4:36 am, July 30, 2005  
Anonymous keiko said...

Hi Joycelyn - what a spectacular post! I'm impressed by your knowledge of Japanese food, I wish I could taste all of the dishes (as you know, you made me homesick *again*...)!

5:31 am, July 30, 2005  
Blogger Lori said...

J-
You're too much, and I mean that in the best way. :) You have tremendous talent, a flair for writing, and damn, everything just looks too good. I particularly like the poussin. What I'd do for a tan like that! :P

Congratulations!

7:30 am, July 30, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi amy, you're very kind :)

hi clement, thank you very much for the kind words...and for coming up with such a fantastic theme!

hi gemma, thanks for dropping by - gave me the opportunity to check out your fabulous blog ;)love it!

hi pille, thanks...i had the same dilemma too, couldn't decide what to make...so decided not to choose ;)

hi tara, thanks! you're very kind. tetsuya's book is wonderful - lots of unique ideas there...and stunning photography/presentation too...

hi nicky, thanks! i enjoyed the eggs (but then again i love eggs) but i was really happy with the way the poussin turned out - really flavoursome and juicy...

hi alice, i'd made quite a few anaemic batches in the past...until i found out the eggs should steep for 12 to 36 hours...

hi boolicious, hope the book is still there!

hi mika, thanks :)

hi keiko, thank you very much. i find chazuke particularly soothing...maybe because it reminds me of chinese congee ;)

hi lori, thanks you're very kind. i'm rather fond of the baby birds too ;)

9:41 am, July 30, 2005  
Blogger Clare Eats said...

Hi J
WOW you out did your self again, what a feast! The photos are stunning, again.
*sigh*

11:19 am, July 30, 2005  
Anonymous melissa said...

Oh J, I simply don't have words to praise you! Absolutely incredible. I'm almost discouraged from posting now, it would be such an anticlimax. I envy the people who were lucky enough to help you eat all this! :)

12:29 pm, July 30, 2005  
Blogger Helen (AugustusGloop) said...

Wow. Each one of these is absolutely stunning on its own, and you've created five of them!

They all look so delicious. And beautifully composed shots as always. You have an enviable crockery collection too!

6:39 pm, July 30, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi clare, thanks :)

hi melissa, you're very kind...can't wait to see your post. am sure it will be stunning, as always...

hi augustusgloop, my rambling collection of mis-matched odds and ends seems to have found some purpose in life afterall ;)

7:28 pm, July 30, 2005  
Blogger Ana said...

Well, what can I say that everybody else has not said yet? I love the pictures. More than anything else that's what I look for first in your posts. I can look at the pictures and imagine the flavours and textures better than with text. This is a wonderful entry and it represents a lot of work. I'm in awe!

7:36 pm, July 30, 2005  
Anonymous ST said...

Hi J, the use of poussin instead of a bigger chicken (which is what I use when making this dish) is simply brilliant!

11:51 pm, July 30, 2005  
Anonymous gwenda said...

whoaaaaa!

11:59 pm, July 30, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

stunning pics..!

5:08 am, July 31, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi ana, thanks. i eat with my eyes first too ;)

hi st, thanks! the baby birds are great for individual servings...

hi gwenda, thanks :)

10:42 am, July 31, 2005  
Blogger Reid said...

Hi J,

First time commenting here. I have to say that your photos are absolutely stunning and that you've produced a menu that anyone would be foolish not to love.

Great job!

4:45 pm, July 31, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi reid, thanks for dropping by, and your very kind words - really appreciate it :) btw, am an avid reader of your blog. cheers,j

7:17 pm, July 31, 2005  
Blogger drstel said...

WOWWEE!
stunning. i can't take my eyes off all the luscious food....

11:33 pm, July 31, 2005  
Anonymous sha said...

from baby rambutan to you
great just great... i miss my kitchen..

1:31 am, August 01, 2005  
Blogger eatzycath said...

incredible J, your kitchen adventures just keep getting better? Is it difficult to smoke using a wok? Will it creat a lot of smoke in the kitchen?

11:04 am, August 01, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi drstel & sha, thanks for visiting, and your kind words :)

hi cath, thanks :) not difficult at all - i line the wok with a triple thickness of heavy duty aluminium foil before adding the smoking mixture (the food is placed atop a rack, which rests about 1.5 inches above the mixture). once smoking is done and the food extracted, i simply wrap up the burnt residue in the wok/foil with the foil and dispose of it immediately. the scent lingers in the kitchen for a couple of hours - shorter if you've an extractor and open windows. as for smoke, the smoking period is fairly short - so unless you're planning to smoke many batches consecutively, there shouldn't be an odour issue...

12:48 pm, August 01, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dejavu - had dreamt up the exact same recipes had i decided to move along (duck for poussin & scallops for prawns however - am glad i got the eggs and rice correct - but would have been boring by doing some tea sort iced confection)... i am so lucky i never attempted for yours clearly sets the standard - clearly this months IMBB winner should be from Singapore!
You certainly have talent - but we knew that already! Lovely post; fantastic writing and excerpts with suitable credits.. but we all know the kitchen diva you are...
Truly magnificent

2:28 pm, August 01, 2005  
Blogger babe_kl said...

J, the pics are so mind blowing... so real and i'm hungry again now an hour after lunch! :p

3:47 pm, August 01, 2005  
Anonymous spots said...

this is a truly impressive spread. thanks for sharing the inspiration...

5:11 pm, August 01, 2005  
Blogger Martin said...

Blimey - I was impressed as soon as I saw the lovely marbled eggs, but when you followed it up with a dazzling array of courses my mind almost buckled under the weight of all that goodness. There's so much that I like here!

9:51 pm, August 01, 2005  
Blogger Nic said...

Beautiful presentations of a veritable feast of tea delights! Great post for IMBB!

12:38 am, August 02, 2005  
Blogger Ruth said...

Everything's been said already, but this isn't just the best blog for THIS IMBB, but for ALL TIME.

Amazing to look at, to read and to taste!!!

12:45 am, August 02, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi babekl & spots, thanks for dropping by...glad you liked the spread :)

hi martin, thank you very much for your kind words - really appreciate it

hi nic, thanks :)had a real blast putting it together

hi ruth, thank you very much for being so encouraging, as always...cheers,j

11:08 am, August 02, 2005  
Blogger joone! said...

absolutely stunning!

4:55 pm, August 02, 2005  
Anonymous Midge said...

Hi. I just surfed onto your blog from Chubby Hubby's.

What can I say: a magnificent post on an equally magnificent blog!

The tea eggs look like beautiful Carrara marble ovals and le poussin looks as if it were carved from amber - so glowing and I'm pretty sure it was fragrant.

But it's the panna cotta that's driving me out of my mind: matcha-infused panna cotta sounds so fabulous!

7:46 am, August 03, 2005  
Blogger Elise said...

Over the top. Beautiful. What a collection of ideas!

2:34 am, August 04, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi june, thanks :)

hi midge, thanks for dropping by, and your kind words...really glad you like the pictures

hi elise, thanks :)

10:08 am, August 04, 2005  
Blogger ac said...

J, i'm left speechless by your beautiful pics and delicious recipes. SOoooooooo hungry after looking thru your post. Wonder if you could courier some over to KL? ;)

I'm really inspired by you to go try out the recipes. Thanks for sharing.

11:38 am, August 04, 2005  
Anonymous Chubby Cat said...

What a fantastic collection of dishes, a veritable feast of the senses. They are so well presented and written up that one aches to taste them.

12:26 pm, August 04, 2005  
Blogger Makan Kings said...

*Salivating*!! You seem to be a really really good cook! Nice picture taking skills as well.

Cheers,
-Makan Kings-

2:10 am, August 05, 2005  
Anonymous Jane Lawson said...

Hi there, Jane Lawson here, author of Yoshoku. I hope you enjoyed the panna cotta - I will have to try it with marron glace - yum! great blog I am v pleased indeed to have stumbled across it!
ps - You give many stylists a run for their money!
Cheers! Jane

9:41 am, August 05, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi ac, chubby cat and makan kings, thanks for dropping by, and your kind words

hi jane, i really love yoshoku - the panna cotta recipe is one of my faves. thanks for visiting - and your kind words. cheers,j

5:11 pm, August 06, 2005  
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8:56 am, October 22, 2005  
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