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  1. It hit me like a bolt of lightning yesterday at the neighborhood wet market: Maybe I should try a different kind of eggs. Have recently been looking for a way to make more flavorful tea eggs, and maybe these small quail eggs are the answer. And I'd heard that quail eggs make great bite-sized tea eggs. Decided on the spot to try it out. Most of the egg vendors from whom I buy there not only sell free-range chicken eggs 土蛋 and an assortment of duck eggs, they also offer quail eggs plus smaller batches of exotics (pheasant eggs, guinea fowl eggs, bantam hen eggs and others.) The lady next to the stall where I buy my hand-ground sesame oil, not only had two large crates of them, she also had a deep pot of tea eggs that she was making herself, mixed quail and chicken. She sold me half a kilo of fresh quail eggs for 6.5 Yuan and threw in a couple of the already-cooked ones just so I could have a taste. The brine in which they were soaking was room temperature, but it had boiled a couple hours previously, she said. Her eggs were tasty; I peeled and ate them right there to see. Asked if she had any tips; told her I had been struggling with them at home. She said to use plenty of soy sauce and plenty of salt. She laughingly added that a hit of dark vinegar 老陈醋 was her secret weapon. "Balance it with a little sugar so as not to make them sour." She explained how the vinegar drove the other flavors through the shell and into the body of the egg. I have no idea about the science involved in that, but I never argue with success. When I got them home, I washed the eggs well in clear, cool water, removing any broken ones. I had been gently sideswiped by a guy on a motor scooter in a traffic jam, and my egg bag took a hit. I had 4 broken ones, which I threw away. Counted them just for fun, and found that my half a kilo (500 grams) had 54 eggs, pretty uniform in size. Let them soak while setting out my other ingredients. Top, in the spoon at 12 o'clock, are fennel seeds 茴香,dried chili peppers 干辣椒 at 1 o'clock,star anise 八角 next at 3, followed by caoguo 草果,a type of savory seed pod related to coriander, at 5 o'clock a spoon of Sichuan peppercorns 花椒,sliced ginger 老姜 next, followed by cinnamon bark 桂皮,and orange peel 橙皮 at 9 o'clock. Bay leaves 香叶 at 11 complete the circle. Pu'er tea is in the middle; the Pu'er I used was from a decent, utility-grade ripe 熟茶 Menghai cake 孟海茶饼。 If you aren't familiar with using 草果, it's a good idea to bust it up a bit with the back edge of your knife to make the good parts more accessible. I put all these flavoring ingredients 调料 into my rice cooker, which has a heavy, cast iron pot. Added water about half way up the side and put in half a cup of ordinary soy sauce 生抽,a big tablespoon of vinegar 老陈醋,a big tablespoon of old soy sauce 老抽,plus a tablespoon of salt and a teaspoon of sugar. Plugged it in and let these spices and seasonings boil for about 10 minutes before adding the eggs. This lets them develop their flavor and blend. I tasted this potent solution to see if it needed adjusting with more of anything, but it didn't. I let it cool to nearly room temperature before adding the eggs (also at room temperature) to prevent them cracking from the heat. Boiled them 10 minutes then scooped the eggs out. Let them cool enough to be able to handle them, then cracked each one gently with the back of a spoon. Returned them to the brine and brought them to a boil again, then turned the power down to the barest simmer and maintained that for one hour. The way you do that with a rice cooker is to first select a program that uses high heat, such as the one for zhou (marked 粥 or 稀饭) and then pressing the "keep warm" button (marked 保温)after the contents have been brought to a boil. A rice cooker allows better control of the heat than most stove-tops could supply. Take the eggs out, strain the cooking liquid, removing all the solids. Then keep the eggs in this while you refrigerate them overnight. I previewed a couple last night, but had a more generous serving this morning. Slip off the peel and pop one straight into your mouth. Bursting with flavor and tender to boot. These are now my favorite kind of tea eggs, at least as long as I'm in China. I owe a debt of gratitude to the intrepid Tea Egg Task Force, senior members being @Jellyfish and @Alex_Hart for keeping this project alive and ever striving, moving boldly towards better and better tea eggs, both for the ordinary citizens 老百姓 and the elite troops of the realm. Here's the post that started the tea egg discussion: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53701-tea-eggs-yunnan-style-茶叶蛋/?page=3#comment-417281
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