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Mix together the salt, black pepper and sugar. Score the skin on the duck to, but not through, the meat. Rub both sides with the salt mixture, cover and refrigerate 4+ hours, or overnight. Remove from refrigerator and bring to room temperature before cooking (about 1 hour).
Line the wok or skillet with aluminum foil. Mix together the rice, sugar, dried thyme and peppercorns, if using. Pour into the lined wok. Place the thyme sprigs evenly over the top. Put the rack into the pan.
Pat the duck breasts with paper towels. Heat the wok, when it starts to smoke, place the duck breasts onto the rack, cover with a tight-fitting lid and smoke for 5 - 7 minutes (for rare).
Meanwhile, heat a non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add the oil. Once the breasts have smoked, place them skin side down into the skillet. Cook, until the skin is crisped, about 2 minutes. Turn and cook 1 minute more. Remove to a cutting board to rest for 5 minutes. Slice thinly on the diagonal and serve.
I developed this recipe for Tea Smoked Duck Breasts when I was asked to come up with a unique pairing to go with Chateau Montelena’s 2009 Riesling. Riesling and Asian, particularly Thai food is a no-brainer, the bright acids of the wine always play nicely with the spicy heat. But I wanted to do something different.
Tea-Smoking is a way of using rice, tea, and sugar to create a smoky environment in which to flavor your meat. I use my wok, lined with aluminum foil in which to layer first the rice, then the tea leaves, and then the sugar.
The rice creates the heat, the tea leaves add flavor, and the sugar brings the smoke. Together, with a tightly fitted lid, it creates a mini-smoker.
Today, there are many stove-top smokers, so if you want to use one of those, feel free to purchase and use one for this dish. Just know that they, in general, use wood chips, so to make this recipe, I recommend you line it with foil as well and use the rice, tea, and sugar. Otherwise, you just have smoked duck breasts.
And lining the smoker is critical as the sugar melts and it all becomes a big hard glob of rice, tea leaves, and sugar. Easy to toss away in the foil once it cools.
I used this technique of tea-smoking with salmon and thought that it might work nicely with duck; but I also thought the duck needed something more, for the wine to enhance the duck, and the duck to enhance the wine. So I added fresh thyme sprigs to the smoking. This was a good addition. The fattiness in the duck plays a nice counterpoint to the brightness in the Riesling, creating balance in mouth feel. The savory notes in the duck, particularly the thyme under notes were enhanced by the sweet toasted spice in the wine. The two work well together because they compliment, not supplement one another.
Sichuan peppercorn is an optional ingredient, but I highly recommend you use it if you can find it. It’s becoming more available in supermarkets, and Asian markets, but can easily be ordered on-line (I know, that does take some pre-thinking). Their flavor profile is more flowery then peppery, in China they are known as huājiāo (花椒; literally “flower pepper”.
This dish is not complicated and is sure to “WOW’ anyone you serve it to. If you’ve never tried to cook duck before, this is the perfect place to begin. Just remember to line your wok or skillet with foil, otherwise, it’s into the trash can…
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