Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Tea-infused Wok-smoked Chicken Breasts

Smoking in a wok (or large pan) is surprisingly easy!

Inspired by the Sichuan method of smoking duck, and having used the tea/sugar/raw rice method of smoking with delicious results with my Tea-smoked Teriyaki Trout in an outdoor, lidded barbeque, I thought I'd have a go indoors, with poultry. Except...

I thought I'd have a go at infusing the tea into the chicken using brine first, to give it extra flavour and moistness and add a different kind of 'tea' dimension. As Earl Grey is one of my favourite teas, I used this and added some fresh orange and zest to the brine, to accentuate the bergamot flavour.

Which was good - really good! If you've never had a go at smoking your own food before, and don't want to invest in additional equipment of any kind, I'd highly recommend giving this a go (just remember to have your extractor fan on, and maybe open a window or two if your fan isn't that strong!). You don't have to brine the meat first, you can just smoke it plain if you'd prefer.

So, here's my recipe for Tea-infused Wok-smoked Chicken Breasts. Serves two. Raw, skinless, boneless chicken breasts are 110 calories per 100g (brining will increase the weight, and calorie count slightly because of the sugar; and the weight will reduce through the cooking process, but the brine is unlikely to add more than 20 calories per chicken breast, if that).

  • Two medium chicken breasts (approximately 125g each - although you could probably fit four into the brine if using a sealed bag) [275]
  • 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil (for brushing, after smoking) [23]

For the brine
  • 3 Earl Grey teabags (or your favourite)
  • 50g soft dark brown sugar
  • 25g sea salt
  • Juice and zest (peeled off in thick strips, without the white part) of one small orange
  • 250ml boiling water

To smoke
  • 2-3 tbsp wood dust (oak, beech, apple, maple etc., for smoking food)
  • 1 tbsp each dried tea leaves, rice and sugar, mixed together

Boil the kettle, pour out the 250ml boiling water, then let the water cool for a minute or two, add to the teabags in a small heavy based pan and stir a few times. Add the rest of the brine ingredients, and turn the hob onto the very lowest setting and stir gently until the sugar and salt have dissolved (do not allow the liquid to boil). Once it has dissolved (this shouldn't take more than 5 minutes) remove from the heat, and add 250ml cold water and leave to cool down completely.

Once cool, put into a re-sealable bag (second picture, or a non-reactive bowl small enough for them to be fully submerged) and leave to infuse for 1 1/2 to 2 hours in the fridge (no longer than three, or it will be too salty).

Remove from the brine, pat dry, and place on a wire rack or similar to dry out. Leave for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours for the brine to evenly permeate the chicken (up to four hours - the salts which have been absorbed through the surface, will continue to disperse throughout the meat).

Line the inside of a large wok with a tight fitting lid (or a really large pan will do) with foil - a double thickness if using the tea/rice/sugar mix. (If there are any vent-holes in the lid cover them with foil, likewise, if it's not tight-fitting, you'll need to cover it with foil when you start smoking).

Put your smoking mix on the foil in the wok, and your chicken breasts on a rack above the smoking mix (not touching it, third photo).

Put the lid on the wok, and make sure it's fitted well. Turn the heat up to high, and wait for the first wisps or aromas of smoke to appear from under the lid (this will take roundabout 5 minutes), then turn the heat down to medium/low. Don't be tempted to take the lid off and have a look, or you'll lose your smoke!

Leave the chicken hot-smoking for approximately 25 minutes, then turn off the heat, make sure the extractor fan is on full, and check whether they're cooked all the way through. If they're not, you can just finish them off under the grill (broiler). The chicken will look a slightly unappetising dry light brownish colour initially, but once you're happy they're cooked through, take a pastry brush, and brush lightly with sesame oil, to transform them into burnished, bronze beauties!

I recommend cooling them and serving sliced in a salad, or as part of a selection of cold meats. They're even more delicious the next day, or the day after that too (if there's any left!). I put them into my Smoked Chicken, Mango and Asparagus Salad which you might like to try - it has an oriental dressing, which works well with the tea-smoked flavour - or you could use char-grilled or barbequed chicken breasts in it too, which would work equally well. 

Two breasts will give you two meals, or four delicious starters. Once you've tried this, you could experiment with different flavours in your brine, or different meats or fish in the wok (with or without brine) - it doesn't matter if you only smoke it for 5 minutes in the wok, you can finish off what you're cooking under the grill every time.

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