Tea-smoked game hens

Time 1 hour
Yields Serves 4
Tea-smoked game hens

In 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.


Wash 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).


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


Heat 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.


Roast 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.


While 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.


When 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.


As 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.


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

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.

Noelle Carter is the former Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen director. She left in January 2019.
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