How to make Chinese Marbled Tea Eggs
SAVORY CHINESE MARBLED TEA EGGS (CHA YE DAN)
MAKES 8 EGGS
These marvelous eggs are a staple at tea markets in China. We see them offered at breakfast or lunch or as a snack. The intensity of flavor and depth of color is controlled by the quantity of ingredients added to the steeping liquid, combined with the length of time that the eggs are left to steep. Our classic technique produces beautifully colored eggs and minimizes the green-ring effect that often appears around the yolk of hard-boiled eggs. The eggs must be left uncovered in the fridge for at least one week before use. This airing changes the chemistry of the eggshell lining and allows the shell to be shed without tearing the marbled finish. These deliciously flavored eggs add a bit of zip to an appetizer plate or provide an exquisite garnish to either a green or composed salad. Although these are often served with beer in China, marbled eggs may also accompany a properly chilled Beaujolais or Provençal rosé or a toasty hot tea such as Longjing.
- 8 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon plus ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
- 18 points of star anise
- 2 sticks Ceylon cinnamon
- 2 large pieces dried mandarin orange, tangerine, or orange peel
- 12 whole black peppercorns
- 4 tablespoons Assam tea leaves (or other dark-liquoring and flavorful full-leaf tea)
- 2 tablespoons black soy sauce
- 1 or 2 slices crystallized ginger
- 6 Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Place the eggs and 1 teaspoon of the salt in a heavy saucepan, large enough to hold the eggs in one layer. Add cold water to cover the eggs by 2 or 3 inches. Bring the water to a boil over high heat; then decrease the heat to low immediately and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.
Drain the pan and quickly cool the eggs by either running cold tap water over them or placing them in a bowl of ice water. Let them sit in cold water until well cooled, about 20 minutes. (Quick cooling helps prevent a green ring from forming around the yolk.)
To make the marbling mixture, combine in a small bowl the star anise, cinnamon, orange peel, black peppercorns, tea leaves, soy sauce, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, ginger, Sichuan peppercorns, and sherry vinegar. Set aside.
One after the other, resting an egg in the palm of your hand, crack the outer shells by carefully tapping them with the back of a wooden spoon or rice paddle. This creates a weblike pattern in the shells that will color during steeping. Try to cover the eggshells with random cracking, but don’t worry if there are large portions of solid shell, as these eggs will also look enticing.
Place the eggs in a nonstaining saucepot. Add the marbling mixture and about 3 cups of cold water to cover the eggs completely. Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to low. Simmer, covered, for 3 hours, checking them occasionally to rearrange the eggs and spices for even cooking. Add water as necessary to maintain the liquid level.
Turn the heat off and let the eggs steep in the pot, covered, for at least 10 hours or up to 24 hours. Remove the eggs and discard the steeping liquid.
If serving the eggs at room temperature, peel them carefully to reveal the pattern and serve. Mound them up in a bowl, halve, and arrange them attractively yolk-side down on a platter, or quarter them to use as a garnish.
Peeled eggs will keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Unpeeled eggs will keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 1 week.