In teaching my baking students about how to pair specific desserts felicitously with broad categories of tea, I got to thinking about the difficulties of being precise or even evocative when using adjectives to describe, say, an oolong or an Indian black tea. It’s hard enough to find the right descriptors for a baker’s basic pantry of ingredients, but harder still to pin down in precise language the particular flavor profiles of a spring or autumnal flush of a specific Indian garden’s output. When drawing upon descriptive words for green teas (grassy, marine, verdant) or those for a Darjeeling (floral, peachy, bracing) to give the students somewhere to start, I found myself being faced with a sea of blank faces. Uninfluenced by tea jargon, they rarely came up with the words I had in mind. And all to the good. Hearing teas described for the first time as fishy or metallic or sour (with the occasional cry out for sugar or honey or milk to alter the flavor), I was forced to rethink the vocabulary I would usually use to describe the teas and settled on adjectives describing foods that might be analogous—the aroma of barbecued meat, the sweet/tart flavor of a Meyer lemon, the creamy mouth feel of a ripe avocado or pear or floral notes in a Tahitian vanilla bean, all foods with which my audience is familiar.
Using that method of description, from that point on, we seemed to come to agreement about the flavor profiles of the teas presented. And then once that groundwork was done, I could move on to tackle suggestions on how best to pair buttery fruit tarts, dense chocolate cakes and crispy creamy napoleons with the graceful notes of the leaf.
Veering sharply from the world of sweets but staying firmly within the realm of tea and food pairings, I offer an unconventional yoking of three flavors—tea, lobster and vanilla. Try them and hit me up with your comments and adjectives.
Tea/vanilla/lobster, a trio of deliciousness
Use one 1-1/2 lb live lobster per person and increase the amounts of the ingredients in direct proportion
For 2-4 servings
Brew 1 quart of Yunnan, using 2-3 grams per cup of good quality water brought to the boil and allow to steep for 3-5 minutes (taste during that time to check on the intensity of the brew and then decant, carefully sieving out the tea leaves) (Choose your own favorite tea here if you like)
1 large soft, flexible Tahitian vanilla bean (these beans are wider than those of other origin, and highly fragrant)
1 c. heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Using a small sharp knife, cut the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the fragrant vanilla bean seeds into a quart sized pot or saucepan. Add the brewed tea from above and simmer for about 5 minutes or until the liquid is infused with the flavor of vanilla. Pass the mixture through a fine meshed sieve. Return it to a heavy saucepan and add the heavy cream. Boil vigorously to reduce to coating consistency. Be careful not to burn the mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste, cover the pot tightly and set aside, keeping warm while you cook the lobster as follows. (Do taste the liquid at this point as the lobster imparts some saltiness. Don’t oversalt).
Fill a large pot with water and bring to the boil, allowing 3 quarts of water per 1-1/2 to 2 pounds of lobster. Add sea salt (to taste) to the water. Bring the water to a rolling boil. Add the live lobsters one at a time, and start timing immediately. Do not cover. Allow to cook just under the boil for 11 to 12 minutes. Remove from the heat allow the lobster(s) to stand in the hot water for 5 minutes so that the meat reabsorbs the juices inside the shell. Using tongs, retrieve the lobster(s) from the pot. Using lobster crackers and tongs, remove the lobster meat from its shell (the claws and tail are the meatiest parts, although the walking legs have a bit of meat in them).
Serve the lobster immediately with a sauceboat of the tea and vanilla sauce…