Tea-Smoked Chicken Betty -Serves 4
This ancient method of tea smoking in a wok imparts a unique subtle smokiness. Almost any protein can be smoked in the wok, however meats such as chicken, that need to be thoroughly cooked, are pre-cooked before wok smoking.
Chicken and Marinade:
One 3 -3 ½ pound chicken (or use about 8 boneless skinless thighs- Rinsed and patted dry with paper towels
1 ¾ T Kosher salt (use only 1T if using regular fine table salt)
1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
3 T dry vermouth , dry sherry or Chinese rice wine
4-5 slices of fresh ginger
Tea Smoking Mixture:
1/3 cup loose tea e.g., Lapsang souchong, Jasmine, Earl Grey,etc , or tea removed from 12 - 15 tea bags
1/3 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/3 cup raw rice
5 whole star anise broken up into smaller pieces (or about 30-35 pods)
One 3-inch cinnamon stick, smashed into smaller pieces
1 T dark soy sauce (such as Pearl River Bridge brand Mushroom Flavored Soy)
1 tsp honey
T tsp Asian sesame oil
1. In a small bowl, combine salt and peppercorns. Pat chicken dry and rub all over and inside cavity with salt/peppercorn mixture. Place in a zipper- lock type plastic bag. Pour in the vermouth. Squeeze out as much air as possible and zip the bag shut. Distribute marinade around chicken by briefly kneading bag around chicken. Place bag snuggly into a bowl (in case of leakage) and refrigerate 6 hrs or overnight, turning bag occasionally.
2. Remove chicken from frig 45 mins to an hour before steaming. Transfer chicken and marinade into the bowl that it was sitting in, breast side down. Place bowl in a steamer over boiling water, cover tightly, and steam about 30 minutes, or until chicken is just cooked through. Shut the heat off, however, it’s very important to leave the cover tightly on the pot and let the chicken finish “cooking” in the residual steam in pot for about 25 more minutes. Do not open the pot during these last 25 minutes as the chicken will need to continue to “cook” while it is resting. When chicken has cooled enough to handle, hold it vertically to let the juices collect in the bowl. Gently brush off and discard the Sichuan peppercorns. Reserve the rich liquid that is in the bowl. *See NOTE below.
3. While chicken is resting, line bottom of a wok or large pan or pot with heavy-duty foil. Press the foil against the bottom and sides of wok or pan. Combine the tea smoking mixture and spread on bottom of foil-lined wok. Place a large round metal cake rack about an inch or two above the tea smoking mixture. Place the rested chicken, breast side down, on the rack. Cover with a domed lid and bring excess foil up and press around the edge of lid to seal in the smoke (a good substitute would be another sheet of heavy duty foil about the same size as the piece lining the bottom of wok or pan. Tent the second sheet, line up the edges of the two sheets of foil and fold each side 2-3 times so the foil forms an enclosed chamber. Make sure the top foil is not touching the chicken so the smoke can circulate around it.
4. Heat wok, covered tightly, over medium high heat until you can hear gentle sizzling (that’s sugar in the smoking mixture melting and the other ingredients starting to smoke), 4-5 minutes. Turn heat down to medium low and continue to smoke chicken, covered, about 20 minutes. Turn heat off but do not open lid or foil for another 15-20 minutes. Do not be tempted to peek. This period with heat off but still tightly sealed is for further infusing of the chicken with a mild smokiness. (Too long a period with high heat will produce a bitter unpleasant smoke rather than the desired sweet subtle smoke.)
5. After the cool down period, remove the lid or foil and brush chicken lightly all over with the soy/honey/sesame oil glaze. The chicken can be served warm or cold, deboned, if using whole chicken, and sliced.
NOTE: The chicken is also delicious simply steamed through step 2 without smoking. Just strain the juices in the bowl after steaming, remove the fat by carefully skimming off the top of liquid or place the juices in a fat separator. Spoon the rich broth over the chicken and some steamed rice and serve with a simple stir-fried vegetable. Reserve and freeze the any leftover “broth” to make sauces or soups.