Zhangcha duck, tea-smoked duck, or simply smoked duck (literally: 樟茶鸭 zhāngchá yā, camphor-tea duck) is perhaps THE quintessential dish of Szechuan cuisine.
It is prepared by hot smoking a marinated duck over tea leaves and twigs of the camphor plant. Due to its complicated preparation, zhangcha duck is eaten more often in banquets or festive events than as a daily household item.
In total, it’s a 4-step coking process for this most elevated of dishes: marinating, roasting, smoking and frying!
Camphor-smoked duck requires – unsurprisingly – camphor wood shavings which are completely unavailable in the States (and not all that easy to find, even in Asia!). Every recipe for it calls for a different blend of smoking materials, all of which lack the essential camphor flavor that makes this recipe what it is.
We have had no other choice – until now.
I believe I’ve come up with a unique and creative solution to this problem, Citizens! You see, in some Indian grocers, you can purchase Camphor crystals which are incredibly pungent and completely edible. They steam the aromatic oils out of the Camphor wood, then crystallize it to form (in Hindi) pachha karpooram.
Grinding some of these crystals over smoking materials of Jasmine tea, lapsang souchong tea, and oak before smoking should enable a totally authentic Sichuan Camphor-roast duck – probably for the first time ever in the U.S.!
I am now destined to be immortalized as the man who enabled the true recipe to be experienced by the gweilo (White Devils) of the world. 😉
IMPORTANT NOTE: Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES buy ‘Camphor’ at a drug store or ANYWHERE outside an Indian grocery to use in a recipe – this is synthetic camphor and is NOT EDIBLE.
Citizens – I fully acknowledge this is a complex and tricky recipe to pull off – I hope you will be bold enough to give it a try and experience the true magnificence of this classic dish!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
4 slices fresh ginger, pureed in a food processor
3 tsp Salt
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns, ground to a powder
1 Star Anise, ground to a powder
1 tsp Saltpeter (available at pharmacies) – an optional but strongly recommended ingredient used to give the meat the classic pink color
1 tbs Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
2 tbs sesame oil (preferred) or peanut oil
4 to 5 lb. duckling
4 tbs oak sawdust (or use chips, if unavailable)
2 tbs lapsang souchong tea leaves
2 tbs Jasmine tea leaves
1 lg. crystal of edible camphor (finely ground to make 1/2 teaspoon) – Edible camphor known as “pachha karpooram” [பச்சைக் கற்பூரம்] is used in Indian desserts – DO NOT USE ANY OTHER CAMPHOR UNLESS IT IS LABELLED AS EDIBLE!!! You can buy it here
1 Cassia or Cinnamon stick
2 tbs Sichuan peppercorns
⅓ cup uncooked rice
3 tbs sugar
8 c Peanut oil for frying
24 2″ sections green onion
4 ts Peanut Oil
2 ts Sweet bean paste (tan min chun)
2 ts Sugar
2 ts Water
Heat pan and stir-fry salt over medium heat until lightly brown. Add peppercorns, ginger, anise and saltpeter; stir-fry until fragrant. Remove and set aside until cool enough to handle. Set aside half of the mixture and rub the interior and exterior of duckling thoroughly with it, reserving the rest.
Combine the remaining seasonings with the sesame or peanut oil and massage into the duck.
Allow duck to sit overnight in the fridge.
Following the marination, bring a large pot of water to a hard boil. Dip the duck into this for a few seconds, then remove. The duck is quickly blanched in hot water to tighten the skin.
Then towel dry the duck and dry it hanging in front of a fan until the skin is tight – at least an hour. This step ensures that the skin of the duck has a crisp texture upon completion.
Place the duck on a wire rack in a preheated moderate oven at about 400 deg (put a drip-pan underneath) and roast for 1 hour.
For smoking, light a charcoal fire. When the charcoal is glowing red, but not blazing, sprinkle all the smoking ingredients over the fire.
Place the duck on a wire rack and suspend it a couple of inches above the fire.
Invert a tin or wok cover over the duck and fire and let smoke for 10 minutes.
Turn the duck over for a further 10 minute smoking, sprinkling the rest of the smoking mixture on the fire (poke and stir as needed to get a good smoke going) before turning it.
Remove the duck, brush it with 2 tbs more of sesame oil and heat oil for deep-frying to 380 F in a large wok.
Fry duck for 8 min. or until skin is crispy, ladling oil over the duck constantly and turning as needed. Remove and drain. Cut into bite-size pieces and serve with Dipping Sauce & green onions as well as small bread buns.
Directions for Dipping Sauce: Heat oil. Stir-fry all ingredients until boiling.