Grilling, baking, and frying are all common ways to cook chicken, but have you ever tried tea smoking? If you are looking for a recipe to add flavor and interest to your fall table without adding extra calories or fat, this is the method you’ve been looking for. A shiny, lacquer like finish is characteristic of tea smoking, similar to the results you get from barbecuing except prettier and milder in taste.
There are two layers of flavor in these wings. The first layer of flavor is from the marinade, where soaking the chicken for 24 hours or overnight will produce the most tasty chicken wings. My favorite additions to the marinade are the ginger and rice wine, which add some brightness and acidity to balance out the smoked flavors that come later.
Most tea smoking recipes include Szechuan peppercorns somewhere in the preparation process. The peppercorns are a bright red color, and have woody, slightly lemony taste. They are known for producing a slight numbing effect on the tongue.
To make the tea smoking process easier and cleaner, start by lining a large wok with a large piece of heavy-duty foil. The tea smoke base of oolong tea, apple wood chips, sugar, cinnamon, star anise, orange rinds, and rice are placed directly on top of the foil, and a steaming rack is placed on top. The rack will hold the chicken wings so that they can smoke on all sides for the maximum flavor and color.
In my opinion, it’s best to do your tea smoking outside. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t have plumes of smoke coming out of your wok, but the smokey wisps will produce a spicy essence throughout your house, one that’s noticeable for at least a few hours, if not longer. If you can’t do this, do what I did and remove the top of the wok outdoors after the wings are finished smoking.
If you increase the steaming and smoking times, you can easily use this recipe to cook other larger pieces of chicken for an elegant tea-laced fall meal. By changing up the smoking base with ingredients like jasmine tea, black tea, or even other types of wood chips, you’ll end up with some very intricate nuances in flavor that only a good tea smoke can create.
Tea Smoked Chicken Wings
Makes 12-15 wing pieces.
1 1/2 pound chicken wings, sectioned with wing tips removed
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine
1/2 tsp five spice
1/4 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns, lightly toasted and lightly crushed
5 Tsp brown sugar
1 large green onion, cut into 1″ pieces
2″ nub of ginger, peeled and cut into thin slices
3 Tbsp oolong tea leaves
1/2 cup apple wood chips
1/2 cup rice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise pods
large ziplock bag
large wok with lid
steaming rack that fits inside wok, lightly oiled to prevent sticking
1.) Place all marinade ingredients into the ziplock bag. Mix the ingredients together well, then let the chicken wings sit in the marinade overnight or for at least 5 hours.
2.) When the wings have finished marinating, fill a wok with 2 inches of water set on high heat to a full boil. Use tongs to remove wings from the marinade, making sure to brush off any bits of pepper if they cling on. Place wings on a steamer rack in the wok, cover the wok with a lid, then steam the wings for 10 minutes on high. After 10 minutes, place wings on a large platter and set aside. Carefully remove steamer rack with tongs and set aside as well.
3.) Pour water out of the wok. Place 2 large sheets of heavy-duty foil on the bottom of the wok, covering the inner surface of the wok completely. Scatter the smoking mix on the bottom of the wok, making sure the ingredients are evenly dispersed. Place rack back in wok, then place chicken wings on top of the rack. Turn heat onto med-high, and wait for the first wisps of smoke to appear. Cover the wok with the lid, then smoke the wings for 15-20 minutes until they develop a beautiful dark amber lacquer on their surface.