Tea-Smoked Duck

We all appreciate quick and easy weeknight meals, but there is something to be said for more complex recipes, when the steps can enjoyed over the course of a Saturday afternoon while sipping a beer. Two weekends ago was especially eventful and worthy of such a recipe; Levi took his first steps on my parents’ deck. His motivation? We’re pretty sure he was going straight for the barbecue. Who could blame him for choosing it as his first destination? We were tea-smoking a duck. Overnight it marinated in sherry, ginger and soy sauce, and then it cooked over indirect heat, while being infused with a flavorful smoke coming from a foil packet set over the coals. The loose leaf tea, jasmine rice, start anise, cinnamon, and orange zest inside the foil worked its magic, producing a duck with a beautifully dark crispy skin and tender meat with a pleasingly complex flavor. Sound good? Yeah, we thought so too.

We first learned about the method of tea-smoking from an issue of Fine Cooking last summer (here is a helpful video on their website). This method (which according to the magazine used to be a way to preserve food in ancient China) is also great for cooking chicken, shrimp, and salmon, or anything that you think could benefit from that delicious smokiness. We looked up several other recipes online, since Fine Cooking’s recipe called for a duck breast, rather than a whole duck. When we heard that our local meat shop El Salchichero was going to be selling whole ducks, we decided it was finally time to try it out.

Tea-Smoked Duck

(Adapted from Fine Cooking, this recipe, and this recipe)

For the Duck:

1 whole duck (ours was about 5 lbs)
1/4 cup sherry wine
2 TBS. soy sauce
1-2 TBS. honey
2 TBS. grated ginger
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

  • Rinse the duck, then pat dry. Place in a receptacle big enough to hold the duck. We used a large casserole dish with a glass lid.
  • Poke the duck all over with a fork.  This let’s the marinade in and also let’s the fat out while cooking.
  • Mix the sherry, soy sauce, honey, and ginger in a small bowl.
  • Salt and pepper the duck to your liking.
  • Pour the marinade on the duck and rub it around.
  • Marinate overnight, covered, in the refrigerator.

For the Tea-Smoking Packet:

2 TBS. star anise
2 TBS. sichuan peppercorns
1 cup aromatic rice
1 cup brown suger
Fresh orange peel from 1 orange (use a vegetable peeler and try to avoid the pith as much as possible)
1 cinnamon stick broken into smaller pieces (a hammer works well for this)
1 cup loose leaf tea (we used a combo of some Assam, a Japanese green, and another variety of black tea)

  • Place all the ingredients on a large piece of foil and fold into a little packet.  Poke some holes in the foil packet.

On the Grill:

  • Truss the duck tightly.
  • Prepare the coals for indirect heat and place a drip pan under where the duck will sit.  You want the temperature of the grill to be about 300 degrees (we couldn’t get it under 400, which worked, but the duck cooked a little faster than what is ideal).
  • Place the foil packet directly on the coals.  Place the duck on the grill.  Cover.  Resist the temptation to open the grill for at least the first 40-45 minutes.
  • Cook until the internal temp reaches 165-170 degrees.  Let rest, covered,  about 10 minutes.  Carve and enjoy!