When I think of England, I think of plum pudding. Eccentric, homely, sweet, soaked in booze; my mother made one every year. She learned to make plum pudding during a trip to London in 1955 and kept up the practice in spite of some family skepticism. Was it too alcoholic for children? What were those unidentifiable objects in the cake?
A few weeks ago, my mother and I went to London together, where I saw first-hand that British food has come a long way since 1955.
We saw all the sights: restaurants, markets and tearooms. Unforgettable was the warning printed on the bottom of the luncheon menu at Fortnum & Mason, that venerable department store of British food.
At the next table to ours, a gentleman ordered a small roasted bird and devoured it, discreetly dropping bits of lead beside his plate. I was grateful that I had ordered the sole, which I think had not been shot.
Walking to the Spitalfields Market in East London, I was stopped in my tracks by graffiti with a startling likeness of the Queen. Her Highness (who looks exactly like my mother) was depicted in a trance-like state floating above a cloud of brewing tea. I imagined myself, during a yoga session in the Havens House barn, enjoying a tea-induced meditation.
Tea and fowl, two traditional British foods team up in this recipe for smoked duck legs. Shoot your own or buy legs from Crescent Duck Farms (10 Edgar Avenue in Aquebogue), the last of the East End duck farms. Lapsang Souchong tea is available at the IGA if your supply from Fortnum & Mason is running low.
Tea-smoked duck legs
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Adapted from Renée Marton’s course, “Duck Unlimited,”at the Institute for Culinary Education
6 Long Island duck legs, 4 1/2 to 5 pounds total
3 ounces honey
1 ounce light corn syrup
1/2 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup Lapsang Souchong tea leaves
1 cup uncooked white rice
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons peanut oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Dip each duck leg into boiling water for five seconds, holding each leg by the “ankle.” Dip each leg two or three times, until the skin tightens. The meat itself should not cook. Let the legs dry at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Whisk the glaze ingredients together and simmer for five minutes.
Toss the dried legs with the glaze until the legs are well-coated. Let them dry uncovered on a tray in the wind of a strong fan or even a hair dryer to completely dry the glaze before smoking the legs. If you do not have a fan or hair dryer, you can glaze the legs the day before smoking and leave them uncovered on a tray inthe refrigerator overnight. The skin on the legs should be hard, dry and smooth.
Use a charcoal or gas grill for smoking the duck legs and then use your oven to complete the cooking. The grill must have a cover and must be at a low heat — about 350 degrees if you use a temperature gauge or thermometer, ashy coals on the sides if you are working with charcoal and no thermometer.
Soak the rice for 30 minutes in 2 cups of water and drain. Mix the wet rice with the tea leaves and the brown sugar.
Use a large wok with a rack to smoke the duck legs or an oven-safe pot with a metal steaming rack. Line the bottom of the wok or pot with two layers of foil and loosely spread the rice/tea mixture over the foil. Place the rack above the tea mixture.
Brush the duck legs with the oil.
Place the ducks legs on the rack, skin side up, and brush the legs with the oil.
Place the wok or pot on the grill, cover the grill and let the legs smoke for 30 minutes. Keep the heat low. If the fire is too high and you smell the sugar burning, turn down the fire and let the legs stay in the pan, covered, for about 15 minutes.
After smoking, finish the legs in a preheated 350-degree oven, roasting them until fully cooked (165 degrees) about 30 minutes. Let them rest for 15 minutes before cutting.