Smoked Out, Spiced Up

I made a routine trip over to The Spice House a few weeks ago to stock up on a few items that were running frighteningly low (seriously, what would I do if I ran out of cumin? green cardamom pods?). Fortunately, I’d ditched outta work a little early that day, otherwise I would have been caught in the midst of one of Chicago’s final festivals of the summer had I waited and ventured over to Old Town on the weekend.

I love that place, and when explaining to those who are less, say, discriminating in their spice-buying, why I get my spices from there, and there only, I vacillate between a few equally valid reasons.

1) I like to keep my spices fresh, and as a result I buy in small quantities. No, I don’t put dates on the bottom of my spice jars, and I don’t throw every single bottle out and start over every 6 months, as other spice nazis do. Hell no, I’m not throwing out saffron – I don’t care how old it is! But since I can buy in small quantities (typically 1 oz at a time), I do, and this way I’m replacing many of them every 6 months anyway, or even less.

2) I swear I save money, even if I spend $10-20 bucks on spices each trip. I can’t help it that I am tempted by the cute container of smoked sea salt and the enticing aroma of Tahitian vanilla bean. But seriously – the spice jars at Whole Foods are ~4 bucks a pop, and the weekly grocery bills are already unruly. Maybe that’s just WF, but either way, I’m convinced it has to be cheaper to buy from bulk bins since I’m not throwing out money for the exact same glass jar I already have at home. Just sayin’.

3) The folks there are so dang nice. My blogger buddies, Alice & Jared, even got to hang out there one afternoon – so you can read an in-depth account of their trip here! I had a rather detailed convo with one of the “spiciers” (yes, using this word as a noun instead of an adjective here..) while she was bagging all my goods the other day: she was curious about the star anise I was buying, commenting on how pretty it is and asking, “what do you do with it?”.

Ahem. Well, aside from steeping it in beverages (hello, Thai iced tea) and other dishes, sorta like you would a cinnamon stick, and baking, the list goes on and on. But my focus this time, and my need for a refill, was because I was smokin’ with it. Yep, smokin’. I think she peed her pants when I said that. Okay, maybe not, but she did wrinkle her nose quite a bit.

I’d found a very intriguing recipe in a recent Food & Wine magazine from an interview with a chef in North Carolina, Andrea Reusing of Lantern, a place that’s now on my list of to-do’s over a future NC visit. Turns out, her husband co-founded Merge Records (Arcade Fire, aka one of my favorite three bands of this year, anyone?). NC-based and friends of Arcade Fire aside, I loved the idea of smoking with tea and spices – loved it. And while many of you (myself included) don’t have a home smoker, you can rig it up with no problem, as I did with a wok, a cooling rack, and tin foil.

The result, after a day in a soy-based, spiced brine (you know I heart brines!), a quick smoke over the stovetop, and some more time in the oven, is an extremely moist, mahogany-colored piece of chicken that tastes like you’ve stepped right into a house of spices and a chicken coop in paradise simultaneously. The outer skin crunches against your teeth, and the juices run carelessly into your mouth and down your chin. And while I didn’t bother too much with the accompanying sauce, I’m sure the sweet tang is a nice partner to this anise-loving chicken, if you can stop eating it long enough to spoon a little onto the next bite, that is.

Tea & Spice-Smoked Roasted Chicken
Adapted from Food & Wine via Lantern Restaurant, September 2010; serves 4

time commitment: 20 minutes the night before + 24 hours brining time + 1.75 hours the night you intend to eat it (pssttt – it’s worth it!).

printable version

chicken brine
2 quarts water
6 garlic cloves, smashed
5 dried red chiles
4 star anise pods
3 T honey
one 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
zest of 1 small orange or tangerine, removed in strips with a vegetable peeler
one 1-inch piece of cinnamon stick
1 c soy sauce (gluten-free, if needed)
1 small yellow onion, quartered
1 T sugar
1 whole chicken, wing tips removed

smoking mixture
1/2 c jasmine rice
1/4 c plus 2 T sugar
1/4 c plus 2 T loose black tea
6 star anise pods, broken into pieces
4 dried red chiles, broken into pieces
vegetable oil, for rubbing
1 t Sichuan peppercorns, crushed

scallion-ginger sauce
4 scallions, white and pale green parts only, minced 
2 T finely grated fresh ginger 
2 T canola oil

special stuff: roasting pan or wok & a large pot or Dutch oven

brine the chicken
in a large pot (a Dutch oven large enough to hold the chicken), combine the water, garlic, chiles, star anise, honey, ginger, orange zest, cinnamon, soy sauce, onion and sugar. Simmer over moderate heat for 10 minutes. Let cool.

place chicken in pot of brine and turn the chicken to coat it completely with brine. Turn the chicken breast side down and place lid on pot. Refrigerate for 24 hours.

prepare the smoking mixture
preheat the oven to 375 F. In a bowl, combine the rice, sugar, tea, star anise and chiles. Line a wok or small roasting pan with a double layer of foil. Scatter the tea mixture on the foil and set a rack in the wok/pan. Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry. Transfer the chicken to the rack, breast side up; be sure it doesn’t touch the side of the pan. Tent heavy-duty foil over the chicken and seal all around the edge of the pan. Seal overlapping pieces of foil with tape.

set the roasting pan/wok over high heat and cook for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to moderately low and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand for 3 minutes. Uncover the chicken and let rest for 10 minutes.

transfer the chicken to a rimmed baking sheet, breast side up. Rub the chicken with canola oil, sprinkle with the Sichuan peppercorns and season lightly with salt. Roast in the upper third of the oven for 35 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 425 F and continue to roast for about 35 minutes longer, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the inner thigh registers 165. Transfer the chicken to a carving board and let rest for 10 minutes.

make the scallion-ginger sauce
In a bowl, combine the scallions, ginger and oil and season with salt. Carve the chicken and serve with the sauce.

4 thoughts on “Smoked Out, Spiced Up

  1. Oh my goodness. This looks amazing, and I bet it was worth every penny spent on the Spices! That little stretch of Old Town has just about all I need in life – a good bike shop, Spice House, Old Town Oils, Fleet Feet, Treasure Island and Adobo Grill. LOVE!

  2. John says:

    Sounds delicious; but I have made some NC & Tx modifications. After the brining process, I cut up the chicken combine all the ingredients, smoking mixture and scallion-ginger sauce, let marinate a schoach. Divide up into 4 aluminum packets, place on intake manifold of 302 Ford Mustang, drive out to Country Lake and check trot line, gather fish, ice down and put in cooler, one hour drive time, Turn chicken over on manifold, drive back from lake, 1 hour drive time….waaalaaahh… Dave Chappelle would say…..”Chicken On Deck”…

  3. Jenn – you bet it was! plus, i already had all the spices and only needed a refill on my star anise :). i haven’t been to the oil shop, but i think about it every time i walk by. i think i’m scared that i’ll become addicted!

    John – lovely adaptation! wonder how it would work?!

    Katie – definitely a good excuse to buy spices – a must-make recipe for sure!

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