When I began to cook for myself in law school, I discovered how very easy these savory, lip-smacking Chinese street snacks were to make at home, and I went through a brief stint where I made them every week in droves. I shared them with hallmates; I peeled them at my desk while studying and tucked them into the fridge to snack on all week. The only problem was that our communal kitchen was through two sets of locked double doors from my dorm room, too far to hear much of anything that happens there, and as it turns out, fatigue from late-night studying and absentminded cooking do not always mix. My tea egg obsession came to an explosive halt one night when I left the pot on to boil, went back to my room, and—yes—fell asleep until the next morning.
So please, don’t do that. And if you do, pray that, as in my case, the student who lives across the hall from the kitchen will hear your eggs exploding in the pot and remove them from the stove before any real damage is done.
- Place the eggs in small pot filled with enough cold water that the eggs are covered by about 1 inch. Bring the water to a boil, then remove from the heat and cover. Let sit for 8 to 10 minutes to cook the eggs, then drain and rinse the eggs with cold water until cool enough to handle. Take each egg and tap it gently with the blunt end of a knife or the back of a spoon until the entire surface is lightly cracked. If small pieces flake off, don’t worry, but do try to keep the shell intact over the egg.
- Return the eggs to the pot. Add the soy sauce, tea, star anise, cinnamon, salt, and orange zest and peppercorns (if using), then add enough water to cover the eggs—usually about 4 cups or so—and give it a good stir.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 1 hour. For saltier, firmer eggs, continue to simmer for 2 or even 3 hours. (See Notes if you prefer eggs that are less well cooked.) Keep an eye on the liquid as it simmers; you may need to add water as the mixture boils down, aiming to keep the eggs submerged in broth. Serve warm or cold. The eggs will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Reprinted from A Common Table. Copyright © 2018 by Cynthia Chen McTernan. Published by Rodale, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photography by Cynthia Chen McTernan.