Marbelized Tea Eggs

茶葉蛋

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • Count on

    1

    egg per person at a smaller meal .

Appears in

As a child growing up on ballet and opera in America, intermission was synonymous with a carton of sticky orange drink. Later, as a young adult addicted to Peking opera in Taipei, intermission meant a chance to rush outside for a tea egg, snatched steaming from the portable kitchen of an itinerant vendor—a pail of richly scented, tea-brewed eggs set over a second pail of glowing coals, which at the opera’s end was dismantled and carried to another busy corner.

  • These extraordinary looking eggs are easy to make and absolutely stunning, the nicest magic one can work on a hard-boiled egg. Through an ingenious process of cracking the outer shell without removing it, the eggs acquire a batik-like finish of spidery brown lines, which makes them look dramatically like marble.
  • For best flavor, tea eggs should be left untended in the brewing liquids 12–36 hours before eating, which is ideal in a busy week or when company is expected. Serve them tepid or cold, at the fanciest dinner, or for eating at work.

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Ingredients

  • 6 medium or 8 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

Steeping mixture

  • 1 tablespoon thin (regular) soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon black soy sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 2 whole star anise, broken into 16 individual points
  • 2 tablespoons black tea leaves plus one 2-inch length cinnamon stick, crumbled plus 1 thumb-size piece fresh or home-dried orange or tangerine peel, white pith removed
  • or
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon or orange-spiced black tea leaves
  • or
  • 4 teaspoons Constant Comment spiced tea leaves

Method

Boiling and cracking the eggs

Begin 12 hours to 1½ full days in advance of serving. Put the eggs and 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt in a large, heavy saucepan. Cover with a generous amount of cold water, then bring to a near-boil over moderate heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a steady simmer, then cook uncovered for 20 minutes. Drain, then rush the eggs under cold water and let them sit in a cold bath until cool.

Using the back of a large, heavy spoon, tap a network of fine cracks over the surface of each egg, cradling the egg in your palm and turning it gently as you tap. Don’t smash them; just a tinker’s tap-tap will do. Should an egg lose half or all of its shell, don’t worry. One partially or wholly dark egg on a platter of marbelized eggs will look quite beautiful.

Simmering the eggs in the tea mixture

Return the eggs carefully to a heavy pot that will hold them snugly. Add the steeping ingredients and 3 cups cold water. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, stir near the top of the liquid to submerge the tea leaves, then reduce the heat to maintain a steaming, weak simmer. Cover the pot tightly and simmer 3 hours. Check periodically to see that the eggs remain almost covered and add water if needed. Do not add too much, lest you dilute the infusion. Swirl the pot several times while cooking to distribute the liquids over the eggs.

Steeping the eggs

After 3 hours, turn off the heat. Let the eggs steep in the covered pot at room temperature for at least 8 hours, or for as long as 1½ days. The longer they sit, the richer the flavor and darker the color. The eggs may be eaten tepid, at room temperature, or chilled.

To chill before serving, discard the liquids (they cannot be reused), then refrigerate the unpeeled eggs in a shallow dish. Arrange them in a single layer if they are still tepid to prevent them from being squashed out of shape, then cover airtight with plastic wrap.

Just before serving, peel the eggs carefully, removing the shell and any membrane left clinging to the egg. Cut in half or into quarters if you wish, using a sharp knife and wiping it frequently to keep the eggs clean. Arrange the cut eggs in a pretty spiral pattern on a round platter, yolk side down, quarters joined to look like halves, and alternating darker and lighter eggs for the prettiest effect. Or, if the eggs are small or you wish to serve them whole, pile them prettily in a contrasting bowl, where they will look like a heap of elegant marble paperweights.

Store unpeeled eggs in their shells, refrigerated and tightly sealed. Store leftover peeled eggs in the refrigerator, sealed airtight. Tea eggs will keep 4—5 days.

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