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Tea leaf smoked duck July 12, 2010

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Duck.
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In general, Nero Wolfe doesn’t like smoke. Both cigars and cigarettes offend him, and on more than one occasion he has told a person to go outside if they are determined to smoke. Inspector Cramer is allowed to chew his cigar, but of course he never lights it. Part of Wolfe’s objections to smoke come from his belief that smoke ruins the palate and thus ruins the enjoyment of a meal.

However, I am not so convinced that Nero Wolfe would object to *this* type of smoke. Instead of dulling the palate, the smoke in this recipe definitely enhances the flavour of the food, turning normal ingredients into something else entirely. It is worth noting that there can be an added effect of filling your kitchen or house with smoke, so it is best to be prepared and have open doors and windows, fans on, and smoke detectors disabled!

This smoking adventure was brought about in my attempt to replicate a tea leaf smoked duck meal H and I used to eat at a favourite take-away restaurant of ours. Well that, and the recent posting on Serious Eats about how to smoke in a wok. If he could smoke things in his apartment, why couldn’t I smoke things in mine? I set about preparing my supplies.

I roughly followed the recipe on Serious Eats about tea leaf smoked chicken, but I decided to use duck instead. It should be noted that this method of smoking does not cook the meat, it only flavours it, so additional cooking is required once the smoking has been completed.

To start with, I marinated my duck pieces in a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and ginger for about an hour.

While it was marinating, I prepared my wok. I lined it with sheets of aluminium foil, smoothing it down to avoid any gaps between the pieces. I made sure the foil sheets I used were wide enough to extend beyond the sides of the wok – this was to make it easier to attach it to the covering foil later on. Next, I prepared my smoking mixture. I used a mix of black and green tea leaves, rice, sugar, star anise and a cinnamon stick. Here’s the setup once the smoking mixture had been added:

I knew once it started smoking, I’d have to work quickly, so I got the duck ready by taking it out of the marinade and patting it dry with some paper towels. Then I turned on the stove, and waited for the mixture to start smoking. It didn’t take long – maybe 3 or 4 minutes – and the sugar was the first to start cooking and then smoking

To set up the ‘smoker’, I got a baking rack and placed it on top of the wok, and put my duck pieces on top of it. I had to make sure all the pieces were within the boundary of the wok. I don’t know if it makes any difference, but I decided to place my duck skin side up.

Then, as the smoke did begin to really take off, I attempted to cover the whole thing with more foil. This turned into a bit of cat and mouse game where I thought I’d covered it completely, only to notice another wisp of smoke escaping, so I’d slap another piece of foil on! I used oven mitts as the foil was getting rather warm, and here’s what it looked like when I was satisfied it was sealed.

I left it smoking for about 15 minutes (the recipe said that most things could be flavoured within about 10 minutes) then switched the stove off, and left it sit for another 20 minutes. This allows the smoke to dissipate and also continues to flavour the food during this time. Here’s what it looked like when I peeled back the foil.

The duck had started to cook, and quite a lot of fat had dripped down into the smoking mixture as well. I stuck the duck under the grill to finish it off and in the meantime cleaned up the wok. If you were in any doubt as to why you should use foil for this, here’s why…

This mixture was now well stuck to the foil, and had crusted over on top. Thankfully I could just ball up the foil and throw it away, and was very glad that this stuff hadn’t been on my wok (otherwise I’d be throwing my wok away, I suspect).

I had flipped the duck over in the grill to crisp up the skin, and made a simple cold noodle and carrot ‘salad’ as accompaniment. It was interesting to see that more fat came out of the duck while it was being grilled, but not nearly as much as usual. I estimate that over half of the duck fat normally removed during the cooking process came out in the smoker.

When everything was ready, I served it. I did not have any spring onions to use as a garnish, so used fried onions instead.

And the result: when I took a bite I burst out laughing as it tasted exactly how I remembered our old restaurant meal to taste. You could definitely taste the different elements of the smoking mixture coming out but the tea flavour was dominant. It was interesting to see what had happened with the skin – while it had gone crispy, it had somehow melded more to the meat in a new way. The meat itself was firm and had a drier texture than I’m used to for duck – but again wasn’t dried out or tough.

I definitely think that this is a smoke that even Nero Wolfe would appreciate. But he may get a bit annoyed if Fritz tried it in the kitchen and suddenly the whole brownstone was filled with smoke!

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