And now comes the season of experimentation. During the summer months, when it’s usually hot out, I’m less likely to want to experiment much with cooking techniques over a hot stove or next to a hot oven. But now there’s a nice fresh breeze, almost a chill on some mornings, and often incessant rain, so the desire to try something NEW crops up like as a craving, pushing me to read recipes with renewed vigor, most especially on weekends. Like last Saturday and Sunday.
So far, I’ve been daunted by recipes that used smoking as a technique. I don’t have the proper equipment (I thought), nor easy access to hickory wood chips or the like, and in my tiny kitchen the idea of standing in a cloud of fragrant smoke, while tempting for the in-the-moment experience, makes me nervous about the odor of the entire apartment for the following 3 days. BUT.
I found this recipe…and many more, like this one by Mark Bittman of the NYTIMES, after that, for tea-smoked duck breast. And I knew I was a goner after I saw them. Because they mostly sounded so damn easy and straightforward.
So here we go. First off, I didn’t end up going with a single recipe. I combined a bunch and significantly tweaked the master recipe – the first one I saw, to get to the end result. And that said, there would be things I would do differently next time. Many of the recipes called for baking the duck in a foil encased cloud chamber in the oven (just foil around the smoking elements). Many called for steaming. Many called for a combo. I went with a combination and stuck to the stove top. First, I steam-cooked the duck legs (I went with legs, not breasts) over boiling tea+herbs for 90 minutes.
Basically, just season the legs (I used salt, 5-spice powder and Szechuan pepper) the legs, place over a gallon of boiling tea (I used black), plus peppercorns, salt, star anise, cinnamon sticks and cloves. Steam for 90 minutes. Now that I’ve given you that instruction, FORGET IT. Or at least proceed with caution. I found that while this didn’t overcook the legs, it also didn’t do them any great favor. I truly wonder if it majorly enhanced the tea flavor of the end result – I’m just not sure. I need to try again without and report back later.
After you’re done with that, you get to the smoking part. I did it on my stove top, not in the oven. Line a wok with foil. Don’t skip this step. Put in brown sugar, tea (I used a mix of black and green here), rice, and some more star anise.
Set it over your flame, until the sugar starts to caramelize and the whole thing starts to …well…smoke.
Then put your steamer basket on top, so the smoke can drift up.
Cover, and place damp towels along the seam between the edge of the basket and the foil.
Let the whole thing smoke 15 minutes. Now if you skipped the steaming part, you’re going to need to smoke for longer than 15 minutes. My guess is…at least 30. But I would simply check every 5 minutes after the 20 minute point until you get there. In theory, the internal temp should reach about 175 degrees F for “safe” levels of eating, but for medium rare, you want more like 135 degrees F. I would have preferred medium rare.
Take the duck off the heat, remove the meat from the bone, and proceed with your end recipe. In my case, I went for the initial recipe with some tweaks, as mentioned.
I went with a different noodle, added broccoli to the mix, a variety of dried berries instead of just cherries, and substantially cut back on the cream – using perhaps at most a half a cup rather than the 2 cups in the recipe. Most of the rest was the same.
The duck legs had a nice smoky zing to them, and the meat was definitely infused with a subtle tea flavor. The dish was lovely in the end – a rich medley of smoky meat, mushrooms, broccoli, dried sweet berries, and pistachios, and the husband very happy with the result, suggesting I make it again this weekend. (No, we will try something new today…). So definitely some repeat trials coming up.
Meanwhile, I wish you a nice Sunday. I imagine if you are in Munich right now you are doing something like this: