The third installment in my project on cooking a dish from each part of a whole duck is another duck breast recipe. The inspiration here is from one of the iconic dishes of Sichuan cuisine – tea-smoked duck, which is laboriously prepared by dry rubbing a whole duck in black tea leaves, blanching it, air drying it, smoking it in a wok with the same black tea leaves, steaming it, and then deep frying it for a succulent and crispy bird. Because the cooking process is so involved, tea-smoked duck is typically reserved for banquets or festivals. However, smoking smaller cuts of meat at home is actually fairly straightforward with a standard 14″ wok.
To do so, line the entire wok and the wok lid with aluminum foil, add your smoking mixture of tea, rice, sugar, and spices, and heat the wok over a high flame until the mixture begins to smoke. Place your duck breast on a raised metal rack in the wok, cover with the lid, lower the heat to medium, and smoke for about 10-12 minutes. Either before or after the smoke, sear the skin briefly in a hot skillet, slice into thin strips, and serve. A simple mash made with okinawan sweet potato, which has pleasant earthiness compared to the cloyingly sweet yam, complemented the pungent and aromatic flavor of the smoked duck breast – but jasmine rice would work just as well. The choice of tea to smoke with is also customizable – I decided to go with a moderately oxidized Tieguanyin for a good balance between floral highlights and deep, roasted undertones but any green, black, or oolong tea is appropriate.
This is a recipe that could use some tinkering, and omitting some or all of the rice, sugar, and spices in favor of a higher proportion of tea may be in order. Although a pan sear with nothing more than salt and pepper is still my favorite preparation for duck breast, it was an enjoyable experience to smoke and eat this duck. Tea is so intensely aromatic and complex, but many culinary uses of tea are, for lack of a better word, gimmicky and do not prominently feature the tea – smoking is a technique that certainly does it justice.
oolong smoked duck breast + okinawan sweet potato mash
- 1-3 duck breasts or any other cuts of meat that are similarly sized
- Scallions, julienned (optional)
- ¼ cup of loose leaf tea
- ¼ cup uncooked rice
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 2-3 star anise (optional)
- 1-2 cinnamon sticks, broken into smaller pieces(optional)
Okinawan sweet potato mash
- 1-3 okinawan sweet potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
- ½ cup of coconut milk
Line a 14″ wok and wok lid completely with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang, and place the smoking mixture in the wok.
In a very hot skillet with a small amount of cooking oil, sear the duck breast briefly until the skin is browned and crisped, about 1-2 minutes. Transfer the breast to the metal rack and heat the wok over high heat until the smoking mixture begins to smoke. Quickly cover the wok with the lid and lower the heat to medium. Smoke for about 5-6 minutes, turn off the heat, and continue to smoke for another 5-6 minutes. In a well-ventilated area, slowly uncover the lid to release the smoke and remove the duck. Let the meat rest before slicing and serving, optionally garnishing with julienned scallions.
To make the okinawan sweet potato mash, cook the peeled and chopped sweet potato chunks in boiling water until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain the sweet potato and add ½ cup of coconut milk. Using a food processor, immersion blender, potato masher, or wooden spoon, mash the potatoes until smooth, adding more coconut milk as necessary. The sweet potato mash should not need any seasoning, but feel free to add salt, sugar, or honey, to taste.
There was a sweet, licorice flavor here that was somewhat overpowering – it may be a good idea to omit or reduce the amount of rice, sugar, star anise, or cinnamon sticks.