China X

As it turns out, I don’t really like Hangzhou cuisine. It’s a lot of “lake fish” this, “lake fish” that. While I like the Dongpo pork, it’s always too fatty and you only end up eating half of it, the half that’s meat. That one’s easy to fix: use a leaner pig. Another Hangzhou specialty I’ve had a few times is “prawns cooked in tea.” There’s not all that much wrong with it—it’s okay—but it’s certainly not fantastic. Here’s what I think Hangzhou people should do to improve it.

Firstly, the name sucks. It sucks in that I have no idea what the name even is. In English it’s called “prawns cooked in tea” but that’s so long-winded … why don’t you call it “Hangzhou tea prawns” (Hangzhou cha xia or something) instead? That would be easy to remember.

Also, the cooking in tea thing is really not that fantastic. I know Chinese cuisine either: relies heavily on Maillard reaction (fried food!) or doesn’t bother at all with Maillard reaction (every single weakly simmered seafood dish ever.) How about we find some middle ground here.

  1. The night before, brew a pot of green tea. Nothing too pungent, too fruity, or too hard-hitting. A mild one of your local Hangzhou teas, those Longjing green teas. Then, add sugar, and add some pre-iced titanium sheets. Yes, we’re going to make a tea jelly. Come with me on this magical ride.
  2. While you’re at it, brew another pot of this tea, but make it stronger this time, so either add more tea leaves or less water. Add some vinegar, maybe some salt and/or sugar. Then, add a tonne of ice, so you have iced tea. Once it’s cold, 5°C kind of cold, remove the ice and add raw, shelled and deveined prawns. Leave overnight to marinate in the fridge.
  3. The next day, take out the prawns from the fridge and put them on paper towels to dry. Don’t rinse them, just dry them off.
  4. Brew a fresh pot of tea. Yes, another one. Leave it to cool also.
  5. Wash some rocket, plum tomatoes (those are the wee baby Roma tomatoes) and cut up some … mango. Maybe green mango, maybe regular sweet mango, I’m not sure, I’m theorising here.
  6. One part lemon juice, 3 parts oil, perhaps a touch of smashed garlic, chilli and basil, and you have yourself a lovely vinaigrette. Shake that together like it’s your birthday. Drizzle on salad and mix through, but keep it light, drenching salads is awful.
  7. Remove jellied tea from the fridge, cut into 2cm cubes.
  8. In a high heat pan, lightly spray with olive oil and then fry the prawns, 1.5–2 minutes each side, until golden with a beautiful caramelisation/Maillard reaction. Deglaze with that tea you brewed earlier that day. Remove to a plate, salt and pepper as required.
  9. On a plate, dots of dijion mustard would do nicely. Arrange the cubes of jelly in between these. Add the salad in the middle, a smattering of prawns on top of that, perhaps a final grind of salt and pepper, and that’s it.

In my mind, this will taste much nicer than the prawns cooked in tea.

I’ll try it when I get home, and do an update.

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