A few years ago we celebrated my mom’s birthday with high tea at The King Edward Hotel in Toronto. It was a memorable experience from the beautiful tea sandwiches and colorful treats right down to the lavish room, stunning china and of course the extensive selection of tea.
But what I remember most from that day was the lingering and intense smell of campfire pouring out of Neil’s teapot.
While the rest of us opted for the typical Darjeeling Oolong or Moroccan Mint, Neil of course had to choose whatever was strangest from the tea menu. One sniff of the intensely smoky leaves was enough to pique his curious palate.
Lapsang Souchong is a unique Chinese black tea. The leaves are smoke-dried over pinewood fires, infusing them with a really smoky flavor. It’s aroma is unmistakable, very much like standing in front of a huge fire pit.
When Neil and I spotted it in a store a few weeks ago we seemed to both have the same thought; what would happen if you tried cooking with it? I immediately envisioned turning the strong brewed tea into a poaching liquid for fish and Neil dreamed up a rub using the whole leaves. Then we figured, why choose? We’d just have to try both.
We were curious to see how much smoke flavor would be infused into the fish. Drinking a cup of the brewed tea, the flavor really hits you when you take the first sip. But what’s nice about it is that it doesn’t have that fake smoke flavor, like you get with liquid smoke, which I find I can really taste in a lot of dishes that use it.
We knew we wanted to use a white fish and we ended up with fresh wild halibut. Neil made his rub and I went to work on the poaching liquid. We used one big piece of fish and sliced it in half for the two cooking methods.
Both cooking methods resulted in a really delicious tasting piece of fish, but they were very different.
The rub had the more intense smoky flavor with a spicy kick. The fish was really good and the rub made a nice crust.
The poached fish had a much more subtle smoky flavor with a hint of sweetness. The broth needed something sweet to balance out the salty, smoky flavors so the mirin and agave nectar worked well to balance it. We found the best way to serve the poached fish was in a bowl sitting in some of the liquid to deepen the flavor as you eat it.
We served the meal with a sides of mashed parsnips mixed with olive oil, sea salt and some grated ginger and sautéed broccolini with chili flakes.
It was a fun experiment that opened up so many possibilities for how to use the tea in future. Lots of people grind it up and use spoonfuls of it in all kinds of dishes to layer in a hit of smokiness.
We’ll definitely be cooking with it again, and I may even brew a pot or two the next time I’m craving a summer BBQ or campfire in the midst of winter. The aroma alone is enough to take you there.
You can find Lapsang Souchong tea at most specialty tea shops.
Smoky Halibut, Two Ways:
For both recipes you’ll need a good, fresh piece of white fish like halibut.
3 cups strongly brewed Lapsang Souchong tea
¼ cup mirin
¼ cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp agave nectar or honey
1 big knob of ginger, peeled and chopped into small pieces
1 Tbsp reserved tea leaves (that you used to brew the tea itself)
Mix all of the ingredients in a deep pan and bring to a boil to let the flavors infuse. Boil for about 2-3 minutes then turn the heat down to bring the liquid to a simmer. Add in the fish, skin-side down. Spoon some liquid overtop of the fish every few minutes as it cooks. Cook for approximately 10 minutes but adjust depending on the thickness of your fish.
Once the fish is cooked, remove from the pan and set aside. Turn the heat back up to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Boil for several minutes until the broth reduces by about half.
Serve the fish in a bowl with some poaching broth and eat with a spoon to get some broth with every bite.
2 tsp Lapsang Souchong tea leaves
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 tsp brown sugar
Salt & pepper
Place everything in mortar and pestle and crush into a coarse rub.
Rub on both sides of fish.
Spray a pan (metal, so the fish crusts nicely) with canola oil spray or rub pan with oil. Heat over medium-high heat for several minutes to get it really hot. Add fish and cook 3-4 minutes, until rub begins to form a crust and fish starts to turn white. Flip and cook 3-4 minutes on the other side.