Tea-poached Chicken Chilli

While sipping a thoughtful cup of tea recently I came over all Proust-like and remembered a shop that sold tea near where I grew up in South London. I used to go to this shop in the late sixties and early seventies but I don't think it had changed much since Edwardian times. The shopkeeper would pull out dark wooden drawers and dispense small portions of exotic teas into little paper bags. The tea can't have cost much – I was pretty broke at the time (some things don't really change). It was the first time I'd tasted or even heard of green tea, maté, lapsang souchong, gunpowder and, the best name of all, broken orange pekoe.

I would buy whichever tea the shopkeeper decided that I should try next and wander off to spend the afternoon drinking tea with a few like-minded friends. We'd talk (we had to, there was no internet then) and listen to Jefferson Airplane and the Incredible String Band – well, it was the late sixties and, yes, I really was that much of a nuisance.

Times have changed a lot, of course: the Incredible String Band broke up many years ago and, according to Google street view, the site of the tea shop is now occupied by a bookies.  I don't think the world's a better place for that particular change. Does that make me sound like an old git? Maybe I should go ask Alice….

Anyway, the matter in hand here is that you can use tea as a very useful ingredient in not only sweet but also savoury dishes. This particular recipe was actually inspired by a dish of tea-poached guinea fowl from the eighties rather than the sixties, but should be odd enough to make the Hatter's day. This will serve 2 greedy people and even manages to be low in fat.

Tea-poached Chicken Chilli

Tea-poached Chicken Chilli

1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, very finely chopped
2 – 3 red chillies, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
400 g tin of tomato fillets or plum tomatoes
A few leaves of fresh thyme
A generous pinch of sugar
2 – 4 roasted and skinned peppers, depending on size – out of a jar is fine
2 skinless chicken breasts
A few Ceylon or China tea bags
125 g tinned (or otherwise cooked) black eyed beans, drained
1 – 2 squares of dark chocolate

Soften the onion and carrot slowly in a little oil. After 10 minutes or so, add the chillies and garlic and continue frying gently for another 5 minutes. Stir in the cumin and coriander and then pour in the tinned tomatoes. (I'm a fan of the tomato fillets, if you can find them. They seem to add an extra richness to this type of sauce, although good plum tomatoes will do fine instead). Scatter over the thyme leaves and sugar, cover the pan and let it bubble away very gently for a few minutes.

Purée the peppers and add them to the pan with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Cover the pan and continue to cook it very, very gently while you prepare the chicken. Keep an eye on it, though, and add a little water if it seems to be getting too dry.

You need to make enough tea to cover the two chicken breasts in a deep frying pan or whatever you have that's suitable to hold the breasts side by side. I used around a litre of tea made with 3 Ceylon tea bags (no milk of course!). It's best if the tea is not too strong or too tannic – I wouldn't use Assam tea, for instance. Lay the chicken breasts in the pan, cover with the hot tea, sprinkle over a little salt, bring back to the boil and simmer the chicken breasts very gently. How long the chicken takes to poach will vary according to thickness but 10 minutes should be enough for an average size. After this initial cooking, take the pan off the heat and allow the chicken to sit in the tea while it cools for 20 minutes.

Towards the end of the 20 minutes, loosen the tomato and pepper sauce with a few spoonfuls of the poaching liquid and stir in one square of chocolate. Once the chocolate has melted and blended in, taste the sauce and add more chocolate if you think it could be richer still. Don't add too much chocolate, though – it's there to add richness rather than a distinct chocolate taste. Now add the beans, cover the pan again and continue the gentle cooking. Remove the chicken from the poaching liquid and slice it quite thinly. Stir the chicken pieces into the sauce and allow it to heat through gently.

Serve with something plain like rice and add a dollop of sour cream if you fancy it and you don't mind spoiling the low fat status of the dish.


  1. Phil, so pleased you've come up with a savoury recipe - I've been waiting for someone to do that. Am well impressed with your early acquaintance of green and other exotic teas, must be down to living in the great metropolis. I don't think I came across green tea (gunpowder) until the 90s and was convinced, until then, that I was a tea hater. Thanks for entering.

  2. that sounds really good! i like the slight bitterness and the aroma that tea gives the food! have you tried chinese tea leaf eggs before?



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