During a trip to Taiwan a couple of years ago, my parents-in-law introduced me to this shop near their home that sold all sorts of smoked meat. They were known for their smoked chicken legs in particular, and I could not stop thinking about it when we came back home! As with most things, if I couldn't find it easily in the store or at a restaurant, I would get the itch to figure out how to make it myself. (^_^)v Since we live in a condo we don't have a traditional smoker, but luckily for me, my friend Audrey knew of a recipe that could be done with just a lidded wok and a steaming rack!
The original recipe from The Breath of a Wok by Grace Young and Alan Richardson is super easy, but it will make your house smell smokey for a couple days after (I try to double the recipe usually and freeze it to make it worth it :P). It keeps quite well vacuum-sealed in the freezer, and you also get some delicious concentrated chicken broth to use after the steaming step.
Tea-Smoked Chicken Legs
makes four servings as a side dish
- 2 whole chicken legs (drumstick and thigh)
- 2 tsp salt
- 3 TB sugar
- 1/4 cup loose leaf black tea leaves
- 1/4 cup uncooked rice
- 1 (3-inch piece) cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces
- 1 tsp sesame oil (optional)
- large wok with lid
- steaming rack or other metal rack that fits into the wok (ideally 1" height)
- heavy duty foil
Rinse and pat chicken legs dry. Rub each leg with 1 tsp of salt, cover, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or up to 24 hours.
When you are ready to steam the chicken, rinse the excess salt off and pat dry again. Place the chicken legs in a shallow heat proof bowl large enough to hold the pieces side by side without overlapping (I use a 9" ceramic pie plate). Set the steaming rack inside the wok and add water up to 3/4" depth. Bring the water to a boil on high before placing the bowl of chicken carefully on top of the rack. Steam on high for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until your thermometer registers 170°F when inserted into the thickest part of the meat. Make sure to check the water level periodically in case it runs low and add more if needed.
Once the chicken is cooked, remove the meat from the bowl and let it cool in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes. Reserve the chicken broth for other uses (great as a base for soups and congee!). Wipe the wok dry and line it with a large piece of heavy duty foil, making sure there is about a 3 inch overhang on all sides. Mix the sugar, tea leaves, rice, and cinnamon pieces together and spread it evenly across the bottom of the wok. You can also line the lid of the wok with another large piece of foil to better seal in the smoke, but I haven't found it to make much of a difference either way.
When the chicken is cooled, pat it dry once more. Set your rack on top of the tea mixture and place the chicken on the rack - make sure the pieces do not overlap. Open your windows, turn on the house fan, and set the stove exhaust fan on high. With the wok uncovered, turn the heat on high. Once you see wisps of smoke coming up, cover the wok with the lid. Using tongs or oven mitts, fold the excess overhang of foil over to seal in the smoke.
Smoke it on high for 1 minute, and then reduce the heat to medium and continue smoking for 3-5 more minutes until the chicken develops a golden brown color. The longer you smoke it, the deeper the color, but smoking it too long will create a bitter taste. Turn off the heat and remove the chicken from the wok. Lightly brush with the sesame oil if using.
You can debone the chicken before cutting, but I like to use a large cleaver to hack it into roughly 1 cm slices (I cheat by using a hammer to pound down on my poor Chinese supermarket cleaver). The chicken can be served at room temperature or chilled. If you are making a batch to freeze, keep the chicken leg whole until you are ready to serve.
Tea-Smoked Duck Breasts
The wok smoking method also works really well for making tea-smoked duck breasts, which I found out while searching for traditional autumn moon festival foods last month. For the duck breasts, you sear the meat instead of steaming it, and smoke it for a longer period of time (about 8 minutes). The recipe for the smoked duck can be found on Epicurious here.