The locals take so much pride in their tea that they even created a shrimp dish featuring it. The dish is aptly named Dragon Well shrimp.
With a history of 1,200 years, Dragon Well tea is considered one of the best green teas from China. Its signature jade green color, subtle toasty flavor with orchid-like aroma, and mildly sweet aftertaste are revered by tea lovers around the world. To make the tea, hand-picked tea leaves are masterfully pan-fried in woks by artisans, using the same method that has been perfected for centuries.
Dragon Well tea comes in several grades, and the best ones are made with first spring shoots, which produce a tea with superbly pure and smooth flavor and aftertaste. Ideally, that’s the grade you want to use for the Dargon Well shrimp.
You can find Dragon Well tea in gourmet tea stores, such as Ten Ren (www.TenRen.com). Every time I visit their shop on Mott Street, I feel like a kid in a candy store.
If you cannot find Dragon Well tea, you can try the dish with other mild-flavored green or white tea.
Traditionally, this dish is made with freshwater shrimp, but I find small saltwater shrimp work equally well. To ensure the shrimp stay tender and moist, we use the following Chinese techniques:
- First, coat the shrimp with egg white and potato starch (or cornstarch) and marinate for at least 30 minutes, preferably 2 hours. This creates a protection for the shrimp during cooking.
- Next, “velvet” the shrimp, i.e to cook the shrimp gently in medium-temperature oil while sealing the flavor and moisture. The cooked shrimp are then quickly combined with a simple sauce infused with the tea.
“Velveting” is a very useful technique for cooking meat as well. A good example is my recipe for Stir-fried beef with green peppers.
Dragon Well shrimp (龙井虾仁)
Makes 2 servings
9 oz (255 g) shelled and deveined small shrimp
2 teaspoons Dragon Well tea leaves
Spring water for brewing tea
1 cup vegetable oil, for velveting the shrimp
For the marinade:
1 egg white
½ teaspoon Shaoxing wine
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ tablespoons potato starch or cornstarch
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons chicken stock or water
¼ teaspoon potato starch or cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
- Wash the shrimp and pat dry. Add the salt to the shrimp and stir by hand until they feel sticky, about 1 minute. Combine the egg white, Shaoxing wine, and potato starch and add the mixture to the shrimp. Mix and stir until the shrimp are well coated with the mixture. Marinate for at least 30 minutes, preferably 2 hours.
- To brew the tea: heat the spring water to 175-195 °F (80-90 °C ). Pour 5 oz (150 ml) of the water over the tea leaves and steep for 2-3 minutes. Remove the leaves and reserve.
- To velvet the shrimp: gently stir in 1 teaspoon of oil into the shrimp. Heat 1 cup of oil in a wok or skillet over medium heat. When the oil reaches about 270 °F or 130 °C (when tiny wisps of smoke start to rise), add the shrimp in a single layer and stir quickly. When the shrimp just turn color, about 1 minute, transfer to a strainer to drain. Alternatively, you can velvet the shrimp in gently boiling water.
- To finish the dish, combine 2 tablespoons of the steeped tea with the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl. Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in the wok over medium heat. Pour in the mixture and cook until it thickens, about 30 seconds. Return the shrimp to the wok and stir and cook for another 30 seconds, or until they are well coated with the sauce. Garish with some of the reserved tea leaves.
- Serve immediately with a cup of Dragon Well tea you just made.
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