Tea-smoked duck is a classic Chinese dish, and it normally involves an entire duck, lots of time, and at least three different cooking preparations, much like Peking duck. The real deal is daunting. So I’ve modified the process to make it slightly quicker and much easier, while retaining the same flavors.
You do that by using just duck breasts. Ideally, fatty duck breasts, from either store-bought birds or fat mallards, pintail, canvasbacks, wood ducks, specklebelly geese or Canada geese. This makes things much easier.
Tea smoked duck breast can be done on the stovetop, too, which makes it far more convenient for people who don’t own a smoker. And it takes only about 40 minutes smoking time, although you can go longer if you want.
Ideally, you’d use a wok to make this recipe, but you can jury-rig a set-up with a large, deep pan. You need to line the wok or pan with foil (don’t and you’ll get a black, stuck-on mess), set up a rack of some sort in the pan, then have a tight-fitting lid. This is my set-up:
Note the stuff in the bottom of the wok. That’s what ignites and smokes the duck. It’s not just tea. A normal mix is tea, brown sugar, rice and other aromatics, like star anis pods, cinnamon sticks, dried tangerine or orange peel. I crush up my dried tangerine peels, but I left this one whole so you could see it.
As for the tea, black tea is traditional, but I’ve seen jasmine tea used in some recipes. Go for the loose-leaf variety if at all possible, as it burns better than the finer tea you see in tea bags.
If you want that pretty pink color, you will need to properly cure the duck breast. I’ve heard of the Chinese cure referred to as “dynamite,” and it might be old school saltpeter. But I use the safer and more modern sodium nitrite, sold variously as Prague Powder No. 1 or Insta Cure No. 1. You can skip it if you must, but the flavor will be different.
Note that for an especially large breast, that is, a goose or Moulard duck, adjust the recipe by dropping the amount of kosher salt from 2 tablespoons to 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon, then increase the curing time to a full 36 hours. Most duck breasts (mallard, Pekin, pintail, etc.) will only need 24 hours in the cure.
Sichuan peppercorns add a lot to the flavor here. Some large supermarkets carry them, or you can find them at Asian markets or buy Sichuan peppercorns online.
How to serve them? Well, they’re great on a cured meat board, or in a sandwich. Or you can eat them as I do, over simply stir fried vegetables. Round out the menu with steamed rice and beer.
I normally use fat wild duck breasts from mallards and pintail, or specklebelly goose breasts here. But Pekin or Moulard duck breasts would be more traditional. Once made, these smoked duck breasts will keep in the fridge a week, and they freeze well.
- 4 to 6 skin-on duck breasts
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
- 1/4 teaspoon Insta Cure No. 1 (optional)
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
- 1/2 cup rice
- 1/2 cup loose-leaf tea
- 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 star anise pod (optional)
- 1 teaspoon dried orange or tangerine peel (optional)
- 2 teaspoons peanut or other vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
- 8 ounces bok choy, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1/3 cup duck stock or chicken stock
- 2 to 4 fresh hot red chiles, thinly sliced
- Remove the duck breasts from the refrigerator. To make the dry rub, combine the kosher salt, Sichuan peppercorns, black peppercorns, and curing salt in a spice grinder and grind to a powder, or grind together in a mortar with a pestle. Moisten the duck breasts evenly with the wine, then coat with the spice mixture. Wrap each breast individually in plastic wrap, place in the refrigerator, and let cure for at least 4 hours or preferably 12 hours. If using large breasts, leave them to cure for 24 hours (see headnote).
- Once the breasts have cured sufficiently, rinse off the cure and pat them dry. Set them, skin side up, on a cooling rack and let dry for 2 to 3 hours. If you can, direct a fan on the duck so it dries thoroughly.
- Line a wok with aluminum foil so that about 2 inches of foil extend beyond the rim around the perimeter. You will use this to seal the wok. Put all of the smoking ingredients in the bottom of the wok, followed by a rack (or use 4 cheap chopsticks or wooden skewers to improvise a rack). Place the duck, skin side down, on the rack. Seal the wok and set it on the stove top. If you are just using foil, drape it over the top of the wok and crimp the edges. If you have the lid, put the lid down and use the excess foil lining the wok to seal everything. Be sure to have your stove exhaust fan on high. (If your exhaust fan is not very powerful, you might want to consider doing this outside on the grill.)
- Turn on the heat to high for 3 to 5 minutes, until the smoking ingredients just begin to start smoking. You will hear lots of snapping, crackling, and popping. Turn the heat to medium and smoke the duck for 20 to 30 minutes: Normal-size duck breasts will need 20 minutes; really large ones such as Moulard or goose breasts will need the full 30 minutes.
- Remove the lid and take the duck breasts out. You can let them cool and store them in the fridge for a day or two at this point. To finish them, in a sauté pan, heat the 2 teaspoons [[the amount you call out isn’t possible because in ingred list you have 2 teaspoons]] of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the breasts, skin side down, and cook until the skin is crisp. Do not cook the meat side, which will be cooked already. Remove the breasts from the pan, slice them, and set them aside while you cook the vegetables.
- To cook the vegetables, turn the heat to high under the same pan you used to crisp the skin of the duck. Add the mushrooms and toss to coat with the oil remaining in the pan. Let the mushrooms sit undisturbed for 2 to 4 minutes, until they begin to release their water. Add the teaspoon[[see query above re amount in ingred list]] sesame oil, the bok choy, and the ginger and stir-fry for 1 minute.
- Add the sugar, soy sauce, and stock and toss to combine. Boil this furiously for 4 minutes, letting the liquid cook down and thicken. Turn off the heat, add the sliced duck and the chiles to taste, and toss to combine. Serve at once.
Note that the prep time does not include curing time.