One day Christian pulled a bag of tea leaves out of the pantry that I had never seen before. Lapsang souchong [拉普山小種/正山小种], a tea whose Chinese translation means “Small Plant from Lapu Mountain.” The details I have now been reading about online for maybe 15 minutes or more. It’s fascinating. But the first time he brewed it and asked me to try, I was simply blown away by the aroma. This tea is all campfire, barbecue, smoke; not just a suggestion of smoke either, but the steam rising from the mug might as well have been the remains of embers curling up into the air.
I know there are varying opinions of NYTimes food journalist Mark Bittman, but in January I came across a recipe from him for Green Tea Broth with Udon Noodles. Love him or loathe him, he presented an idea that I had never considered before— using tea as the base of a dish. Since then it’s been on my mind. As soon as I smelled the lapsang souchong tea, I knew we had to use it in a dish. Rice would be perfect. We brewed some and left it to steep in a mason jar while contemplating what to make. Christian pulled a backstrap of venison from the freezer which was given to us by Butter— the salvaged remains of a roadkill ed animal. These wild animals, whose lives consist of a true free range and which end suddenly, do not go to waste when people who are so dialed into their personal food chains are near. I can’t do justice to this subject the way Butter can, and I highly suggest reading her post about it. The meat was beautiful, deep dark red and perfect.
A short history on lapsang souchong: this black tea is different from others because it is traditionally smoked over pinewood fires. As such, instead of brewing black, the color is a deep red. In the novel Centennial by American author James A. Michener, Rocky Mountain trapper Alexander McKeag describes lapsang souchong as “a man’s tea, deep and subtle and blended in some rugged place,” … “better even than whisky.” So there you have it.
Christian seared the meat with a crust of allspice and foraged juniper and I cooked brown rice in the tea. With the liquid we had left over, Christian deglazed the pan to make a light sauce, and this meal came together in an almost-surreal way, complex in its mysterious source of campfire smoke. For me at least, this was one of the most fun meals to date, because it was a triumph of imagination and yet still simple. If you want to add a smokey flavor to your own cooking, I’d highly recommend finding some ofthis tea in your local grocery store.