Posted in Home Cooking, The Flavors of Asia, The Well-read Foodie

In Which One Attempts a Tea-Smoked Chicken…

Tea, sugar, chicken...
Tea, sugar, chicken…

The act of smoking meat is a culinary procedure that dates as far back as our hunter/gatherer ancestors as a way of preserving meat, fish, and fowl, making these more portable and more suitable for the nomadic lifestyle of the period.  Over the centuries, it has evolved into a more sophisticated, more flavourful way of preparing meats as opposed to just preserving them.  This evolution led to the creation of delicacies such as ham, bacon, gammon (ham cured and smoked like bacon), and several varieties of sausage.  (By extension, it also led to the creation of the barbecue, but I digress…)

In this day and age, much of the smoked meat products consumed come from four-legged animals: pigs for the most part, boar whenever available, beef cattle at times, and even deer.  Likewise, fish also gets smoked: hence all that tinapa served on Filipino breakfast tables or shredded and used to flavour pots of guinataang malunggay (moringa leaves stewed with smoked fish and red onions in plenty of coconut milk); the lox you get on your everything bagel in the appetising stores of NYC or Montreal; the kippered herrings that are served on buttered toast.

Fowl, however, is rarely represented in the grand scheme of smoking things except possibly here in Asia.  The Chinese, in particular, smoke just about every barnyard fowl that can potentially peck or nip at your ankles: ducks, geese, and, of course, chicken.  But, unlike four-legged creatures that are normally smoked over wood fires, fowl are smoked over a sweeter, more delicate medium: tea.

Chicken or duck are what are most commonly prepared in this manner: slow-roasted over a mixture of black or green tea and sugar, possibly augmented by citrus peel, dates, dried plums, jujubes, and such aromatics as ginger, anise, and cassia bark to get a subtly sweet, smoky taste in the finished product.  Marinating the fowl in a mixture of sweetened soy sauce, sesame oil, and spices further helps the process along.

Plus, if you do this the Oriental way, there is no need to faff about with building a smoker.  If you have a turbo broiler (tabletop convection oven), then laissez les bon temps rouler: you can get a fine dinner dish that keeps on giving…

Marinate, smoke-roast, serve - it's super easy!
Marinate, smoke-roast, serve – it’s super easy!

Tea-smoked Chicken

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce (nam pla / patis)
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 star anise, broken into segments
  • 2 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 14 black tea bags
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

Combine the soy sauce, fish sauce, white sugar, star anise, ginger, and sesame oil in a large bowl.  Rub well over the chicken and inside its body cavity.  Leave the chicken to soak in the marinade, turning occasionally for 8 hours or overnight in the fridge.

Line a square cake tin with aluminium foil.  Place the contents of the tea bags and the brown sugar inside the prepared tin, mixing well with your fingers and evenly spreading the mixture over the surface.

Heat your turbo broiler to 350 degrees.  Place the baking tin with the tea mixture at the bottom of the cooking chamber and set the roasting rack over it.  Place the chicken on the rack.  Cook for 30 minutes, basting occasionally with any leftover marinade.  Turn the chicken and cook/baste another 30 minutes.  Switch off the broiler and leave to cool completely, around 30 – 45 minutes.

Carve the chicken to serve.  Serves 8.

Which came first?  The chicken, the egg, or the omelet?
Which came first? The chicken, the egg, or the omelette?

Incidentally…  Any leftovers can be used to make my nifty chicken sandwich spread or be chopped up finely and used to stuff gorgeous omelettes like the one shown above.  🙂



Midge started her career in PR writing at seventeen when she began drafting documentaries for a government-run television station in the Philippines. Since then, she made a career in advertising and public relations which ended in June 2016 These days, she works full time at Philippine Tatler as a features writer under the nom de guerre Marga Manlapig. Aside from what she does for a living and her poetry, she has turned her home kitchen into a personal culinary lab and is currently working on another novel. Follow her on Instagram at @midgekmanlapig.

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