Death by Darjeeling, and Tea-smoked Duck Breasts for Cook the Books Club

Our current read for Cook the Books Club is the cozy tea shop mystery, Death by Darjeeling, by Laura Childs.  If  death can be considered "cozy."  I've always wondered about that murder mystery appellation, though the tea shop and cafe she describes is certainly cozy enough to make me long for one in our town.

I've read others of her delightful books and come away with that same longing, as well as enlightenment on the subject of tea, the multitude of types with their unique flavors, from all around the world - India, Africa, South East Asia and China to a tea plantation in South Carolina, and, yes Hawaii.  We do have our own tea estates outside the town of Volcano, on the "Big Island."

I was so fascinated with the whole subject, thanks to Childs' book, that for purposes of burgeoning interest and research, I made an appointment to tour a local tea plantation,  Tea Hawaii, with hostess Eva Lee.

Eva Lee and her husband, Chiu Leong, founders of Tea Hawaii,  grow most of their tea in the understory shade of ohia trees.  I discovered that tea will thrive in shade or sun, and at various elevations.  Though, apparently the finest teas grow at higher elevations, due to the slower growth caused by a cooler climate.  Several cultivars  have been planted, and are kept pruned to just below waist height.

Only the tips, called flushes, consisting of two leaves and a bud, are picked for the harvests.  I was given some of these fresh leaves to experiment with in my cooking.

The differences in taste and color of the finished product, aside from those unique qualities due to climate and soil conditions, arise from variations in the methods used to process the leaves, the withering and drying of oxidation.  Eva showed me some nifty machines they use in techniques too complicated for this overview.

The plant from which (top to bottom) white tea, green tea, oolong and black tea are all produced is camellia sinensis.    Finally, my favorite part of the tour.  Taste testing.

Eva was also kind enough to share some recipes for cooking with tea leaves, both fresh and dried.

What really called to me from reading the book was the tea smoked chicken mentioned early, on page 9.  However I wanted duck instead, more traditionally Chinese.  I found a recipe for preparing it indoors without any special equipment.  Always a good thing.

From the Sichuan province of China comes a cooking technique using tea leaves to smoke duck.   At home, tea smoking can be easily accomplished inside of a wok on the stove.   There is plenty of aroma, but the fire alarms should remain quiet. Inside the wok, the warm smoke almost cooks the meat through and leaves it full of fragrant flavor.  All it needs is a quick searing afterward to reduce and crisp up the fat sides, and finish the cooking.

The recipe adapted  from  The Paupered Chef 
 Tea-smoked Duck Breast

 The key to this technique is to line the wok with foil (otherwise, it will literally never come clean) and to heat it just long enough to start producing smoke and flavor the duck.  Left on the heat too long, the smoke starts turning acrid, and too much of it will be produced.  The key is to generate the smoke and then seal it in so the meat, sitting on a rack above,  absorbs it. 

    *  2 duck breasts, skin scored with a sharp knife in a diamond pattern
    * 2 tablespoons Chinese five-spice powder
    * 4 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or other whit wine
    * 2 teaspoons salt
    * 1/3 cup rice
    * 1/3 cup black tea leaves
    * 1/3 cup sugar

The first stage of the recipe involves marinating the duck in spices.  Traditionally, the marinade involves Sichuan peppercorns or Chinese 5-Spice and a wetting ingredient like Shaoxing rice wine (a good substitute is cheap sake) I used one of my own wines, a Tropical Fruit Blend.   Rub the duck with salt and spices, then run the wine all over.  Refrigerate for at least 12 hours to marinate.  Rinse the duck breasts and pat dry.

Next, line a wok with a large piece of foil that hangs at least 6 inches over each edge (it will be folded back over to seal the wok).

Combine the rice, tea, and sugar in the bottom of the wok. Place the rack inside the wok and put the duck breast on top. Over medium high heat, begin cooking the tea mixture until whisps of smoke begin to appear.  Quickly cover the wok with a lid and seal it by crimping the foil all around (more pieces of foil will likely be needed).

 Continue cooking for 10 minutes, until a respectable amount of smoke has probably been generated inside (there shouldn't be a burning smell at all).  Turn the heat off and allow to smoke for at least 10 more minutes, longer if desired. Now in a medium high cast iron skillet, sear the breasts, scored fat side down so that some of the fat gets rendered and crispy, and the duck can finish cooking.

Once cooled, slice the breast and serve, fanned out on a bed of greens with dressing of sesame oil, Chinese rice wine, lime juice, garlic and ginger, or the following fresh tea vinaigrette, from a source Eva directed me to, Chef and Tea Sommelier - Cynthia Gold of the Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Towers.  It can be used for a variety of salads as well as a drizzle for seared scallops or tuna.  I used mine on the salad accompanying our tea smoked duck.

Oh boy, this was so fantastic.   I love duck anyway, but the flavor here got jumped up several notches, with a subtle underpinning of 5-Spice and the lovely smoky tea taste.  Yes indeedy, we will be doing more of this smoking in a wok thing.

 Fresh Tea Vinaigrette

Yield: 1 1/2 cups dressing
1 teaspoon loose-leaf green tea leaves, such as Gunpowder, Dragonwell, or Sencha
1/2 cup rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey, or to taste
1 teaspoon minced shallots
2 teaspoons chopped fresh tea leaves (tender young buds and tips) or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 cup canola or other neutral tasting vegetable oil
Combine the dry loose-leaf tea and vinegar in a small saucepan and bring
to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat
and let cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. Strain and discard
the tea leaves. Transfer the vinegar to a non-reactive bowl. Whisk in the
honey, shallots, fresh tea leaves or thyme, salt, and pepper. Slowly drizzle
in oil and whisk well. Refrigerate for several hours in an airtight container
to allow flavors to blend. This dressing will keep well, refrigerated, for 3 or
4 days.

For a tea centered sweet, I found some Earl Grey Shortbread.cookies which sounded just like something Theodosia would serve at the Indigo Tea Shop.  Perfect for dessert or with tea at any time.

Earl Grey Tea Cookies
Adapted from the special issue, Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies 2005

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons finely ground Earl Grey tea leaves (from about 4 bags)*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

1. In a small bowl, whisk flour, tea, and salt in a small bowl.

2. Put butter, sugar, and orange zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture until just combined.

3. Divide dough in half. Transfer each half to a piece of parchment paper; shape into logs. Roll in parchment to 1 1/4 inches in diameter, pressing a ruler along edge of parchment at each turn to narrow the log and force out air. Freeze until firm, about an hour.

4. Preheat oven to 350F. Cut logs into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Space 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment.

5. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through,until edges are golden, 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 5 days.

*You can grind the tea leaves in a small food processor, spice grinder, or blender.

Looking forward to my next tea cozy mystery by Laura Childs.  It's always a pleasure to join intrepid amateur sleuth, Theodosia Browning as she helps to catch the crooks and murderers in charming Charleston..  Be sure to check out the Death by Darjeeling inspired creations at our Cook the Books Club round-up later this week.


Rachel said...

I love all the intricacies of this post, from touring a tea plantation, to trying out some smoking in your wok to making tea cookies. Great job for Cook the Books!

Claudia said...

Thanks Rachel, I had so much fun with this selection which inspired me to get into the tea scene.

Debra Eliotseats said...

Glad you did such great research. A friend of mine just got back from Hawaii and brought me some tea. I had to go check and see if it was from Tea Hawaii. (It was from the Dole Plantation instead). You dishes look fantastic. I am definitely make the vinaigrette. Great post!

Simona Carini said...

What an interesting visit! Love the photo where you show the tips. The book certainly inspired you!

Joanne said...

The tea infusion is such a great idea for this duck!

Alicia Foodycat said...

I love tea-smoked duck, but yours looks much more sophisticated than the way I do it! What a fascinating visit you had too!

Deb in Hawaii said...

I am jealous--I have been wanting to take a "field trip" and fly over and tour Tea Hawaii myself. OK, one of these days!

Your tea-smoked duck is perfection!

Unknown said...

great image collection..

Trip to Darjeeling