Tea is the Secret to Smoky, Wok-Charred Flavor at Home

Tea-Smoked Fried Rice with Prawns © Sneh Roy
By Sneh Roy Posted November 13, 2014

Smoking food with wood chips and charcoal is an ancient practice, and I recently became fascinated with the idea of figuring out an easy way to adapt it for the modern home kitchen with no special equipment.

Blogger Sneh Roy (of cookrepublic.com) set out to develop a simple stovetop smoking method for her cookbook, Tasty Express. But a chance encounter with a smoky tea pointed to an even easier way to get smoky flavor at home.

Smoking food with wood chips and charcoal is an ancient practice, and I recently became fascinated with the idea of figuring out an easy way to adapt it for the modern home kitchen with no special equipment. My first idea was to develop a process for smoking food directly in a wok, but that changed one day when I visited a local tea parlor. The tea I had that day was Lapsang souchong, a black tea originally from the Wuyi region of the Chinese province of Fujian. What makes this tea special, though, is that its leaves are pinewood-smoked as they dry. I wondered if it could infuse its smoky flavor directly into a dish.

I discovered that by adding a Lapsang souchong teabag to rice during cooking, I could get instant wok-charred Chinese takeout flavor with no actual smoke at all. What’s more, the same tea bag could go directly into a wok while stir-frying veggies, giving me all the components for full-flavored fried rice.

The flavor gets even deeper after the rice sits overnight. On the eve of a road trip I make a wok full of this and pack it in boxes for lunch the next day. It is often our first meal of the day when we make a rest stop on our adventures.

Tea-Smoked Fried Rice with Prawns
Serves 4

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon peanut oil
1 cup (220g) jasmine rice
1 tea bag (strong smoky tea like Lapsang souchong), paper and string removed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup (75g) frozen peas
7 ounces (200g) frozen cooked and peeled prawns, thawed
1 small carrot, finely diced
½ cup finely chopped cabbage
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup sliced spring onions
Handful of chopped coriander leaves (cilantro)

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan on low heat, heat 1 teaspoon of oil. Add the rice and tea bag. Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 1⅓ cups (330ml) cold water. Cook for 1 minute, then remove the tea bag. Increase the heat to medium and cook for 8 minutes, covered, until the rice has absorbed the water. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool completely.

In a wok, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil on high heat. Add the eggs. Cook for 1 minute and then break up the cooked eggs with a spatula. Move the eggs to one side of the wok. Add the remaining oil to the middle of the wok. Add the peas, prawns, carrot and cabbage to the hot oil. Stir-fry on high heat for 1 minute, mixing the eggs with the vegetables.

Add the vinegar, soy sauce, salt and cooled rice. (You may add the tea bag again at this stage for extra flavor.) Stir-fry for a few minutes, turning constantly, until the rice is heated through and everything is mixed well.

Remove from the heat and serve, garnished with spring onions and coriander.

Note Frozen prawns release water when cooked. It is important to thaw them and drain the excess liquid. If you don’t have time to thaw the prawns, microwave them in a bowl on high for 1 minute. Squeeze to drain all of the water out, and pat dry with paper towel before adding to the wok.

Related: Chinese Recipes
Rice Pilaf
Stir-Fry

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