You Have To Try This Recipe For The Holiday

We’ve only just tossed our jack-o-lantern and eaten the last of the Halloween candy and it’s nearly Thanksgiving. It’s easy to forget about this favorite food oriented holiday when living in Singapore, especially with elaborate Christmas decorations lining the streets as early as late October. But thanks to my daughters, they’re always so quick to remind me that that we can’t forget to make turkey and all the fixings to celebrate the classic American holiday.

Every year I seem to prepare the standard favorite side dishes but almost always choose to experiment with what to do with the turkey. I’ve tried basic roasting, deep-frying and even braising the unruly bird. So, this Thanksgiving, instead using the oven for roasting, (ovens in Singapore tend to be quite small), I’m trying my hand at tea smoking a turkey in my wok and freeing up my oven for all the tasty side dishes.

The centuries old technique of tea smoking in China originated as a way to preserve and flavor meat. Tea smoking has evolved and is now predominantly used for adding a complex flavor to all kinds of meat and seafood. Smoking meat indoors may seem daunting, but tea smoking in a wok is quite rudimentary and is much easier than most of us think. No question, you’ll want adequate ventilation, but no special equipment other than a large wok with an accompanying rack, a tight fitting lid and lots of aluminum foil is needed.

To ensure a tender and tasty bird, I usually brine the turkey the night before cooking. In this recipe, before smoking the turkey, I poach the bird in a brine consisting of soy sauce and assorted aromatics and spices, until the turkey is nearly cooked through. This permeates the turkey with flavor and cuts the cooking time more than half.  The second step to the recipe, is smoking the turkey in a mixture of black Chinese tea leaves combined with sugar, rice and dried spices. The smoking mixture is placed in the bottom of an aluminum foil lined wok over a hot flame. Once the tea releases fragrant wisps of smoke, the turkey is placed on a rack and the wok is sealed with a lid and more foil. The tea smoking imparts a wonderfully subtle smoky flavor to the turkey and creates a crisp mahogany crust.

Unlike the traditional gravy, I serve the smoked turkey with a subtle Hunan inspired seasoning salt consisting of ground Sichuan peppercorns, sea salt and sugar.  Encourage your family and friends to sprinkle a touch on the turkey and best wishes for a happy and healthful Thanksgiving!

Tea Smoked Turkey Breast or Chicken Recipe 

Makes 6 servings


1 whole turkey breast on the bone or 1 – 3lb whole chicken (not frozen)
1 cup light soy sauce
1/4 cup dark soy sauce
2 tablespoon black vinegar
1/2 cup honey
4 green onions, roughly chopped
7 slices ginger, smashed
5 cloves garlic, smashed
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns

Smoking mixture

1/2 cup Oolong black tea leaves or any other black tea
1 cup uncooked rice
1/4 cup brown sugar
5 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon sichuan peppercorns
2  3 inch strips orange peel

Hunan seasoning salt

1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon sichuan peppercorns
1/8 teaspoon granulated sugar


Rinse and pat the turkey or chicken. In a large stock pot (big enough to hold the turkey or chicken fully immersed), bring soy sauces, vinegar, honey, green onions, ginger, garlic, star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns and enough water to cover the turkey or chicken, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer, submerge the turkey or chicken in the cooking liquid and simmer for 50 minutes.

Remove the turkey or chicken and let drain for a few minutes. To smoke the turkey/chicken: Line a large wok or heavy-bottomed pan and lid with heavy duty aluminum foil. Spread the tea, rice and brown sugar and remaining smoking ingredients on the bottom of the pan. Heat the wok over high flame until the tea mixture becomes fragrant and begins to smoke, about 10 minutes. Put a wok rack on top of the smoking mixture and reduce heat to medium. Place the turkey or chicken right side up on the rack, cover with the lid and seal the edges shut with the foil. Smoke over low heat for 40 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165ºF on a thermometer.

Meanwhile to make the Hunan seasoning salt, use a spice grinder to grind together the salt, peppercorns and sugar and set aside. Remove the turkey/chicken and let rest for 10 minutes. Cut the turkey breast or the chicken into thin slices and arrange on a serving platter. Serve with the Sichuan seasoning salt on the side.