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Tea-smoked game hens

Tea-smoked game hens
Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

The other day, I just couldn't shake the thought of slow-smoking some ribs. I was in the mood for Memphis-style baby backs, the meat fall-off-the-bone tender, a simple dry rub tantalizingly complicated with deep hickory notes, the flavors drawn out ... Read more

Total time: 1 hour, plus overnight marinating time for the hens | Serves 4
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • 4 teaspoons brown sugar, divided
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 4 (1 1/4-pound) Cornish game hens, thawed if frozen
  • 1/2 cup black tea, preferably Lapsang souchong or Earl Grey
  • 1/2 cup uncooked white rice

Step 1In a medium bowl, combine the salt, five-spice powder, 2 teaspoons brown sugar, orange zest, ginger and garlic to form a dry rub. Set aside.

Step 2Wash and dry the game hens. Divide the dry rub between each of the birds and massage it onto each of the birds (use most of the rub on the outside of the birds, but be sure to season the cavities as well).

Step 3Place the birds, uncovered, on a rack on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Step 4Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the birds from the refrigerator and leave at room temperature (still on the rack on the baking sheet) for about 20 minutes while the oven heats.

Step 5Roast the birds until the meat is firm and a thermometer inserted in the thigh near the hip reads 160 degrees, about 30 minutes. Rotate the tray halfway through for even roasting.

Step 6While the birds are roasting, prepare the smoker. Line a 14-inch lidded wok with foil (this will help with cleanup). Make sure the foil tightly lines the pan or the tea mixture will not smoke. In a medium bowl, combine the tea with the rice and remaining 2 teaspoons sugar. Place half the tea mixture evenly into the bottom of the wok (over where the burner will heat). Place a round rack over the tea mixture.

Step 7When the birds are roasted, remove from the oven and immediately place two of the birds on the rack in the wok (keep the remaining birds warm on the baking sheet). Loosely cover the wok with the lid and set the wok over high heat.

Step 8As soon as the tea mixture starts to smoke, cover the wok tightly with the lid. Smoke the birds for 5 minutes. Carefully remove the lid (it will be smoky) and move the birds to a platter. Carefully remove the foil with the tea mixture (it will be hot), and set aside until it cools before discarding.

Step 9Repeat with the remaining tea mixture and birds, lining the wok with foil, spreading the tea mixture and smoking the birds. Serve immediately.

Note: There will be considerable smoke at the end of the recipe when the lid is removed; open a kitchen window or turn on the exhaust fan. This recipe calls for a lidded wok; a commercial smoker or roasting pan can also be used, provided it can be used over high heat. Five-spice powder is available in the Asian section of well-stocked supermarkets. Lapsang souchong and Earl Grey teas are generally available at well-stocked and Asian markets.


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