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Recipe Description

Tea-smoked chicken has become quite popular at many Chinese restaurants and diners usually order it as a change from the usual tai chow fare. It originated in the Sichuan province but was adapted by many regions in China. The traditional recipe calls for the chicken to be marinated with Sichuan peppercorns, but it has evolved with regional and localised flavours.

This recipe follows the Guangxi tradition and uses five-spice powder instead of Sichuan peppercorns. It also reuses the ginger that has been steamed with the chicken, infusing it with all the flavours of the marinade and chicken essence. The chicken of choice for this dish has to be free-range. Not only does it have a better texture, the flavour is also superior and the chicken doesn’t get overpowered by the smoke.

The smoke is generated with a mixture of rice, sugar and tea. Black tea is recommended and oolong is the usual go-to but lapsang souchong, tea leaves that have been smoke-dried with pinewood, is said to produce the best flavour imparting empyreumatic notes of smoke, pinewood, paprika and longan. It is important that you line the wok with a sheet of aluminium foil so that you don’t ruin your wok with the burnt sugar. If your wok is precious, use a double layer of foil because stirring the ingredients may cause punctures that the sugar will leak through.

When the smoke starts to emerge, put in the rack and place the glazed chicken on it then immediately cover with the lid. If you have a glass lid, you can see the smoke build up inside the dome. Keep the flame low to maintain the smoke and do not be afraid to allow the smoke to penetrate the chicken for 8-10 minutes.

If your lid is not tight-fitting, then you may want to wrap a wet towel around the rim of the wok to keep the smoke from escaping. Do remove the lid carefully when smoking is done because the smoke may trigger the alarm, or you may take the whole wok outdoors to open the lid if you worry about smoke filling the kitchen.

You may have to experiment with this dish a few times to get the desired amount of smoke. I find that turning off the heat 2 minutes before the end of the smoking duration helps dissipate the smoke inside the dome a bit so there’s no sudden release of smoke into the house. The chicken can be eaten on its own and goes quite well with steamed rice. You may also prepare a dipping sauce that usually accompanies Guangxi steamed chicken. I usually save the ginger that was stuffed into the chicken cavity and pound it into the sauce because the ginger infused with chicken essence and marinade is amazingly flavourful. I usually also add baby romaine lettuce and eat it as a wrap. It is a versatile standby dish that you can cook ahead, freeze and serve later when you are pressed for time.

Recipe Ingredient

  • Ingredients
  • 1 free-range chicken, about 1.5kg
  • 40g scallions
  • 80g ginger, sliced
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • Dry Rub
  • 2 tsp five-spice powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • Glaze
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp dark soy sauce
  • Smoke
  • 4 tbsp raw rice
  • 1 tbsp tea leaves
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • Dipping sauce
  • steamed ginger, pound into a paste
  • 1 stalk scallion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil or sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp black rice vinegar


  1. Make the dry rub. Stir dry rub ingredients together until combined. Pat dry the chicken thoroughly with paper towels, then coat the dry rub all over the chicken, including the cavity.
  2. Put the scallions and ginger inside the cavity and marinate in the chiller for at least 3 hours.
  3. Put a steamer rack into a wok and fill it with water just before it reaches the rack. Once the water starts to boil, place the chicken on top of the rack with the breast side facing upwards.
  4. Turn down the heat to medium and cover the wok with a lid. Leave to steam for 30-35 mins until chicken is cooked. To test for doneness, prick the thigh with a skewer to check that the juice runs clear.
  5. Remove scallion and ginger from the chicken cavity, reserving the ginger for the dipping sauce. Mix the glaze ingredients in a small bowl until well combined. Brush it over the chicken.
  6. Lay a piece of kitchen foil in a clean and dry wok. Mix the tea leaves, brown sugar and rice on top of the foil and cook over medium-high heat. As soon as smoke appears, replace the steamer rack and chicken and cover with the lid immediately.
  7. Turn off the heat after 8-10 minutes and uncover the wok carefully to release the smoke. Transfer the chicken to a serving plate. Brush sesame oil all over and allow it to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
  8. In the meantime, prepare the dipping sauce by grinding the steamed ginger in an electric mill or pounding with a pestle and mortar. Place the ginger into a heat-proof bowl together with the chopped scallions. Heat the oil until smoking hot, then pour over. Stir in light soy sauce and black rice vinegar.
  9. Tear the chicken into small pieces with your hands or chop it with a cleaver. Serve on its own or with dipping sauce.

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