This is the first of three amuse bouche I have in mind based on fresh lychees. (Hey, did you know that the plural of amuse bouche is amuse bouche? Learn something every day.) You could also serve all three as an appetizer trio instead of an amuse.
If you haven’t had a fresh lychee, seek them out at a good Asian grocery or a high-end produce shop. I’ve even seen them at Trader Joe’s. They are miles beyond the fairly sad canned fruit that sometimes appears in perfunctory desserts at Chinese restaurants.
Without a doubt the best use of these gems is to eat them out of hand, lazily peeling one at a time on a hot day. The flavor is quite sweet, but with a perfumed and slightly smoky note. Inside is a fascinatingly smooth pit (like the inner bark of a madrone/madrona tree for those of you on the west coast of the US).
The flesh of the lychee is, well, fleshy, which is what inspired this series of bites. It made me think that they could stand up to a fairly intense treatment while retaining their character. Since the fruit is Asian, I wanted to go with Asian flavors in a format like an omnivore might do with a mussel or scallop.
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For the first amuse, I cold-smoked the lychee with genmaicha tea (a green tea with toasted brown rice), then served it cold with a broth of the same tea, a bit of grated ginger, and a couple microgreen leaves. Ideally the leaves would be micro-shiso, but I only had a mixed container and it is pretty hard to tell which is which!
Tea-Smoked Lychee Amuse Bouche
Vegetarian, Vegan, and Gluten-Free
- 4 fresh lychee fruits
- 4 tablespoons genmaicha tea
- 1 teaspoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
- 4 leaves of micro-greens, or 4 tiny leaves of cilantro, or chiffonade of shiso
- sea salt (Maldon (aka the world’s greatest salt) is my fave!)
- Peel the lychees. Use a paring knife to split the fruit in half, and working as carefully as possible, remove the pit. We only need 4 good halves but you’ll probably muck some of them up – it is a little tricky.
- Put 3 tablespoons of the tea in the bottom of a small pot. Put the lychee halves on some sort of rack or inverted metal cup inside the pot. Cover and place on lowest heat on your stove. After about 5 minutes, lift the lid and be sure there is some smoke being generated. If not, raise the heat a bit. Smoke for about 10 minutes or so.
- Carefully remove the lychees from the smoker and chill them thoroughly.
- Meanwhile, brew the remaining tablespoon of tea with a cup of boiling water for a few minutes, then strain and chill.
- To serve, place one half of a lychee in each serving spoon or tiny bowl. Sauce with a spoonful of the "broth", then top each piece of fruit with a pinch of the grated ginger, a leaf or two of the greens, and a couple grains of salt.