I love new beginnings. I may muddle middles and misfire endings, but I’m great at beginnings. That’s one reason I love Chinese New Year.
It’s about a month after the Gregorian calendar new year. Right about the time those resolutions are slipping away, you get to start fresh all over again.
And, like any celebration worth its salt, food is at the center. Each dish prepared for Chinese New Year has significance. Long, uncut noodles are eaten for a long life. Pot stickers and egg rolls, both filled items, represent wealth for the coming year.
But, one of my favorites is Tea Smoked Chicken. Traditionally the chicken is first steamed, and then smoked with loose tea. This imparts a delicate smoke flavor and leaves the chicken incredibly moist. I did both steps on my Char-Broil infrared grill and the result was spot on.
The significance of this dish? Good health and good fortune for the coming year. The chicken is always cooked whole for Chinese New Year, and cut at the table rather than before serving to continue the symbolism of “wholeness” of one’s health.
- Whole chicken
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons (approximate) fresh cracked pepper
- Orange rinds
- Large-leaf loose black tea (packaged tea can be substituted if necessary)
- Mix salt, sugar and pepper together and rub on the outside and inside of the chicken. (Do this at least 2 hours prior to cooking, or preferably the night before cooking.)
- Pre-heat infrared or conventional gas grill on high.
- Once the grill is hot, turn off the burner.
- Fill a heavy-duty pot (cast iron or enamel ware) with water and orange rinds.
- Place on fire side of grill and close lid.
- Once the pot begins to steam, place whole chicken on upper rack over indirect heat.
- Close grill lid and keep it closed – no peeking!
- Let the chicken steam for an hour.
- Add loose tea to burner. (If using a conventional gas grill, place tea in the smoke box. If the grill doesn’t have a smoke box, put the tea in a foil pouch with holes poked for the smoke to escape. Place the foil directly on the flames to get a smoke going.)
- Smoke for about an hour.
- Be careful not to overcook! Remove the chicken from the grill about 5-10 minutes before it reaches the target 140 degrees as it will continue cooking as it rests.
- Let rest for at least 15 minutes to allow the juices to flow back into the bird.
- Keep chicken whole on the platter and bring to the table. Wait until everyone is seated and has put away their smartphones before you say blessings for the new year.
- Carve chicken at the table for your family and friends.
Actual prep is quite minimal, but rub chicken two hours to a day ahead.