Put star anise, Sichuan pepper, sesame seeds, fennel seeds and salt into a cold pan. Toast over low heat. Stir around from time to time.
Once the colour of the salt slightly darkens, transfer everything to a mortar. Leave to cool then grind with a pestle (You may also use a spice grinder).
Marinate the chicken
With kitchen paper, pat dry the chicken thoroughly. Sprinkle the dry rub all over the chicken, including the cavity. Use your hand to gently rub for better absorption (wear kitchen glove if you wish). N.B. You would need about half of the dry rub. Save the rest for sprinkling when serving or for seasoning other dishes (Please make sure the remaining dry rub has not been contaminated by your hands/gloves which have touched the chicken).
Put the scallions and ginger inside the cavity. Leave to marinate for 4 hours or longer.
Steam the chicken
Put a steamer rack in a carbon steel or cast iron wok (see note 2 for alternative cookware). Fill with water (lower than the rack). Once it starts to boil, place the chicken on top of the rack with the breast side facing upwards.
Bring the water to a boil then turn down the heat to medium. Cover the wok with a lid (If the lid isn’t tight enough, place a WET towel/cloth around the rim). Leave to steam for 40-45 mins (See note 3 on how to check the doneness). N.B. After 25 mins of steaming, open the lid and check the water level to prevent drying out. Top up with hot water if necessary (see note 4).
Season the chicken
Leave the chicken to cool for 5 mins or so. Mix light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, oyster sauce and honey until well combined. Brush it over the chicken.
Smoke the chicken
Lay a piece of kitchen foil in the wok (cleaned and dried). Put brown sugar, tea leaves and rice on top. Mix well then cook over medium-high heat.
As soon as you notice smoke, place in the steamer rack and chicken. Cover with the lid immediately (Cover the rim with a WET towel/cloth if the smoke leaks).
Turn off the heat after 8-10 mins (the longer the smokier the taste is). When you uncover the wok, turn on the extractor or take the wok outside to release the smoke.
Transfer the chicken to a chopping board/serving plate. Brush sesame oil all over. Rest for 10 mins then serve.
Serve the chicken
Option 1: Tear the chicken into small pieces with hands (or chop it with a cleaver). Serve on its own or sprinkle some of the remaining dry rub over.
Option 2: Make a dipping sauce: Put scallions and ginger into a bowl. Heat up the oil then pour over. Add light soy sauce and black rice vinegar. Mix well.
1. A short-cut version of the dry rub is to mix 1 teaspoon of Chinese five-spice powder with 2 teaspoon of salt.2. You can also use a stockpot that’s deep and wide enough to fit in a whole chicken. Please be aware that cookware with non-stick coating are NOT suitable for this recipe as they are not designed for very high temperatures.3. It takes a little longer to steam a chilled chicken than one at room temperature. To check the doneness, insert a chopstick into the thickest part of the chicken (inner thigh area near the breast). If the juice coming out appears clear, it’s fully cooked. Alternatively, test with a kitchen thermometer, the thickest part should read over 165°F/75°C.4. Don’t discard the water left in the wok after steaming. It contains lots of juice from the chicken so can be used as a flavourful stock for other dishes such as Wonton Soup. If it’s concentrated enough and turns into jelly once cooled, you can mix it into the filling for Soup Dumplings.