Our apartment smells like smoke. It’s okay, though- don’t call the fire department! I’ve made 3 batches of smoked chicken in the past 3 days. Smoking chicken in a wok + no vent leads to me swinging the broom in front of the beeping fire alarm, and Tim wielding a folder to fan the smoke in large vertical strokes in the kitchen.
Growing up, I remember two tasty chicken preparations that made their way into restaurants as appetizers or side dishes: smoked chicken and drunken chicken. Both chickens were always served bone, with neat and clean cuts across the chicken, no doubt made by a sharp cleaver. I tried my hand at making drunken and smoked chicken, but the drunken one didn’t turn out that well, and its failure was overshadowed by the promise of delicious smoked chicken.
This recipe is adapted from this Taiwanese lady who kind of reminds me of a younger version of my grandma. To me, she is adorable, just like the jolly Taiwanese chef who showed me how to make those yummy braised eggs with long hots. Some of her tips didn’t work for me, but it could be due to differences in chicken types and overall set-up. I’ll post what worked for me.
Tea Smoked Chicken
Cha xiang xun ji
adapted from this cooking channel
For the chicken:
Chicken: half a chicken (~2 lb), chicken legs, or thighs (bone-in preferred)
Salt; about 2 tsp kosher salt for 2 lbs bone-in chicken
1 1/2 tsp Shaoxing wine
1/2 inch piece of ginger, sliced thinly
1 scallion, chopped into chunks
For the smoking part:
1 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp loose tea leaves- black or green
1 Tbsp sugar of any kind
1) Place a steaming rack (or 2 pairs of chopsticks arranged in a number sign or tic-tac-toe pattern) in the bottom of a wok or deep and wide pot, along with lots of water. Bring the water to a boil. Pick out a plate or dish that is large enough to hold the chicken, but small enough so that it can be easily removed from the wok or pot when needed.
2) While you wait for the water to boil, rub the chicken generously with salt*. Set the chicken on the plate or dish or choice, making sure to space the chicken pieces out evenly in one layer (not applicable for half chicken). Place ginger and scallions on top. Sprinkle the wine atop the chicken and aromatics.
3) When the water starts to boil, put the plate of chicken and aromatics carefully on the steaming rack or makeshift steaming rack.
4) Cover the wok or pot, and steam for 20-25 minutes until the thickest part of the chicken reads 155F on a meat thermometer, or when the meat is firm to the touch: see Elise’s finger test! You can also cut through the thickest part to see if it’s completely non-pink.
5) When the chicken is cooked, remove the plate of chicken from the heat. Dump the water from the wok out, dry the wok/pot, and line it with two pieces of aluminum foil, placed perpendicularly to one another to cover the entire bottom of the wok/pot.
6) Sprinkle the smoking ingredients onto the foil, then place the steaming rack on top. Take the chicken out of plate it was steaming in, then blot the chicken lightly to dry off excess liquid. Place the chicken in one layer on the rack.
7) Turn on your kitchen fan and vent and any other fans you have! Cover the chicken with a domed lid, and turn the heat onto high. Let the chicken smoke for 12 minutes, and carefully open the lid to check the color of the chicken. It should be a nice mahogany brown color; if it’s not, put the lid back on and smoke it for a few minutes longer!
8) When you are happy with the smoke on your chicken, turn the heat off and remove the chicken from the wok. Or, you can also let the chicken cool a bit while still covered, then remove the lid.
-*If you have time, try setting your salted chicken in the fridge overnight before proceeding to the next steps. The chicken, especially any white meat, should be more tasty than meat that was salted the same day. I hesitate to say this because I don’t have a scientific reason for what is going on, but try it anyway!
-If you must, boneless chicken in this could work, and just cut down on the steaming time to about 10-15 minutes.
-Don’t throw away the liquid that the chicken produced while steaming. Add it to a chicken stock, or use it to replace some of the water when you cook rice, for some tasty rice!
-Don’t worry about trimming or peeling the scallion or ginger; they won’t be eaten.
-The lady in the video talks about white smoke turning into yellow smoke after about 12 minutes, after which you count 30 seconds of yellow smoke before turning the heat off. I waited and waited for yellow smoke all three times, and never saw any. If you encounter the elusive yellow smoke, please write me and let me know!
-For the tea leaves, don’t use any that you are particularly attached to or fond of, of course. They will be decimated.