Tea-Smoked Duck Breast and Pickled Rhubarb


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Food gifts run the spectrum from sweet and sugary to savory and nutritious. Sean’s Tea-Smoked Duck Breast is savory and so thoughtful, nourishing in a way that candied gifts just can’t match. Don’t forget the Pickled Rhubarb — it’s just about rhubarb season in some parts and a pickle turns the sweetness into something very savory. -Maggie

I find I’m drawn to smoked foods more frequently in the cooler months; perhaps it’s the idea of working with raw flame that appeals. It’s the winter version of huddling around the campfire – but instead of singing songs and roasting marshmallows, we experiment with different smoking chips and foods.


The idea behind smoking is to impart just a whisper of flavor from the smoldering embers into the smoked food, but also as a means to preserve. It’s easy to forget that smoking was a vital part of preservation far before it was a flavor preference. Along with pickling, curing, and air-drying, smoking was an ancient method necessary for survival. Coating fish, meat, or even vegetables in a layer of smoke prevents bacteria from spoiling the food.


The invention of the refrigerator meant we no longer needed to smoke foods … and yet, in the United Kingdom at least, smoke houses are still a vibrant part of our culture.

Smoked duck makes an interesting and thoughtful gift for friends and family as it’s not something you’ll ordinarily find in stores. Likewise, the pickled rhubarb is delightfully spring-like, and can be given away without the duck. However, it’s lip-smacking, tongue tart, wake-up sharpness is the perfect accompaniment to the sweet duck meat.



I like to wrap the duck breast up in some home-decorated wrapping paper with a small jar of rhubarb and give it as an assemble-your-own-gourmet-lunch present.



Tea-Smoked Duck Breast and Pickled Rhubarb


For the pickled rhubarb
  • 2 large stalks rhubarb
  • 1 star anise
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves
  • 3 peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
For the cure
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon mixed peppercorns
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 tablespoon lemon zest (1 lemon)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 cups coarse sea salt
For the smoked duck
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for pan-frying
  • 4 barbary duck breasts
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup loose leaf black tea
  • 1/4 cup rice
  • 3 star anise
Special Equipment
  • Aluminum foil
  • Wok or baking tray
  • A cooling rack or something similar
  • A small canning jar


For making the pickled rhubarb
  1. Cut the rhubarb stalks into 3-inch pieces. If necessary, cut them lengthways so they are about 1/2-inch thick and slot vertically into a sterilised Kilner, or canning, jar. In a small saucepan, add the rest of ingredients and aromatics and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Pour the pickle over the rhubarb and secure the top. Refrigerate and let it pickle for a minimum of 48 hours; it will last for about 1 month.
For making the smoked duck
  1. Roughly grind the spices for the cure in a pestle and mortar and then mix together with the sugar, salt and zest. Spread the cure in a tray that can fit all the duck breasts. Score the duck skin in a criss-cross pattern and bury the breasts in the cure as best you can. Place in the refrigerator overnight to draw out the moisture.
  2. Remove the duck breasts from the cure, rinse and pat them dry. Heat a touch of oil in a frying pan. When it’s really hot, sprinkle the duck breasts with a bit of sugar and salt and sear the breasts for about 2 minutes on each side and then remove.
  3. Prepare your smoking device – it can be a wok with a rack across the top, or a large roasting tin with a rack over. Remember to have a lot of foil to fold and tuck to keep the smoke in, otherwise your kitchen will end up extremely smoky. Line the wok or tray with foil, then combine the rice, tea, sugar and star anise. Add the mix to the wok or tray on top of the foil. Place the rack on the top and balance the duck breasts on the rack.
  4. Place the wok or tray over a low heat. Once the tea begins to smoke cover the wok with a lid and wrap foil around the rim, or cover the tray with foil as tightly as you can.
  5. Smoke on a low heat for about 5-8 minutes. Then turn off the heat but continue to smoke for another 5 minutes. Remove the duck breasts and let them rest for another 10 minutes.
  6. Slice the smoked duck breast thinly. For a decent lunch, about half a breast should do, with a crisp celeriac remoulade, a bit of pickled rhubarb and melba toast.
Photos taken by Sean St. John and styled by Francis Daykin.

Eat Boutique was an award-winning shop and story-driven recipe site created by Maggie Battista – an author, business guide and alignment seeker. After hosting retail markets for 25,000+ guests, Maggie now supports entrepreneurs as they create values-based businesses through We Are Magic StudioFollow Maggie Battista on Instagram.