Tue Dec 11, 2012
In my opinion, the Parkers got a good deal when the Bumpuses' dogs stole the Christmas bird, forcing the family to dine on "Chinese turkey" as a holiday alternative in A Christmas Story. Not only is duck a superior meat, but my Jewish upbringing—knowing Chinese on Christmas is more truth than stereotype for most of my kind—leads me to believe it's even more appropriate for celebration (or lack-there-of). So when thinking of what I'd want for Christmas besides ham—ham will always be my number one choice—a tea-smoked duck seeming very fitting for the occasion.
Although it sits amongst turkey and chicken as fairly common fowl, preparation of duck calls for some unique steps for it come out well. One similarity though is that duck also benefits from a brine to increase moisture if you plan on cooking it to full doneness. To add flavor on top of moisture, I devised this salty brine from soy sauce, honey, garlic, ginger, and orange.
After solving a common issue of dryness with poultry via the brine, its time to turn to the unique problem of rendering all that duck fat while also getting a nice crisp skin. Previously I've tried steaming the duck prior to grilling, and while this worked to some extent, it wasn't perfect and was kind of a pain.
This time around I took a two step approach, frist air drying the duck in the fridge overnight, then poking some holes in the skin and pouring boiling water all over the bird. This process tightens up the skin and jump starts rendering the fat, and while it took longer than steaming, it was a lot easier to manage.
To make this duck extra special, I wanted to smoke it, and tea smoking seemed appropriate for an Asian-influenced recipe. Unlike wood, which you can just throw on the coals, tea needs some help to ensure it burns slowly on the fire. To do this, it's mixed with rice in a foil packet. I added the common aromatics of anise, cinnamon, and orange in there as well for a little extra flavor.
For even cooking, there's nothing quite like the rotisserie (which I can say from experience, also happens to make an awesome holiday present). So I threaded the bird onto the spit and got it started over medium heat.
The aroma emanating from the tea packet was intoxicating. The cinnamon, tea, and sugar mixed with the cooking duck to create a smell that could bring people from miles to see what delicious thing is going on the grill.
After a little under an hour, the duck hit 160 degrees in the breast, and boy did it look beautiful—the sight of that mahogany skin, especially after smelling those enchanting aromas, was enough to sell me fully on this bird even before the first bite.
Luckily, the flavor didn't let me down at all. The skin was crisp, although not with the crackling crunch I was hoping for, and the meat had a light salty soy sauce flavor and faint smokiness. It was pretty awesome on its own, but with a little hoisin on the side for dipping, it was irresistible. While I do exalt the virtues of holiday turkeys, this duck blew that comparatively flavorless bird out of the water. So why settle on second best—this "Chinese turkey" is something we can all call delicious and look forward to on Christmas day, no matter if you're celebrating or not.
Tea Smoked Rotisserie Duck
- Prep Time:
- 30 Minutes
- Inactive Time:
- 14 Hours
- Cook Time:
- 1 Hour
- Total Time:
- 15 Hours 30 Minutes
- 4 servings
- For the Brine
- 2 quarts ice-cold water
- 2 cups soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons salt
- 1/4 cup honey
- 6 clove garlic, smashed
- 1 1-inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced
- 1 medium orange, quartered
- 1 whole duck
- 2 quarts boiling water
- For the Tea Packet
- 1/4 cup tea leaves
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup rice
- 2 whole star anise pods
- 1 3-inch long cinnamon sticks
- 2 teaspoons orange zest
- To make the brine, place water, soy sauce, salt, honey, garlic, and ginger in a large bowl. Squeeze orange quarters into bowl, then drop in peel. Stir to combine. Place duck in brine, breast side down, and weight down with plate to keep fully submerged. Place in refrigerator and brine for at least 2 hours, up to 8 hours.
- Remove duck from brine; pat dry with paper towels. Transfer duck to wire rack set in a sheet pan. Place in refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours to air dry.
- Remove duck from refrigerator. Using the point of a skewer or paring knife, prick holes all over duck breasts, being careful not to pierce the meat. Place duck on a wire rack in the sink. Pour 1 quart of boiling water over duck. Flip and pour remaining quart of water over other side. Allow duck to dry while preparing the grill.
- To make the tea packet, place tea leaves, brown sugar, rice, star anise, cinnamon sticks, and orange zest in a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil and fold into a packet. Cut slits at top of foil packet.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on either side of the charcoal grate and place a foil pan between the two piles of coals. Cover gill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Place tea packet directly on top of the coals. Run spit of the rotisserie through middle of duck and secure ends with rotisserie forks. Place on the grill, cover, and cook at medium-high heat until duck registers 160 degrees when an instant read thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the breast. Remove from grill, let rest for 15 minutes, then remove spit and serve.