Chicken Rice (Hainanese)

Chicken Rice (Hainanese)

You can’t get any more Singaporean than ‘Chicken Rice’. Another dish to stump my white friends here. If my party includes a bunch of friendly Asian migrants, the constant debate usually ensues with Malaysians on the tussle between Singapore versus Malaysia in the battle to claim ownership to the national origins of Chicken Rice. Malaysia has the ‘rice balls’ version of it. Singaporeans are probably just too busy to smell the roses and simply settled for the quick ‘rice bowl moulded’ mound of rice on a plate version of this pandan leaves-infused garlic-ginger-sesame-oil-chicken-stock flavoured jasmine rice. Aside from the main star which is poached, steeped or steamed chicken, cucumbers on the side are a favourite condiment to balance the savoury rice. I love mine with a steaming bowl of chicken soup garnished with fried shallots, spring onions and coriander. Special chicken rice chilli sauce is a must-have together with some dark caramel sauce. The same soup is used as the stock to cook my Chicken Rice in. In my recipe I use a combination of brining the chicken beforehand with salt, rice wine, ginger, garlic and sesame oil before proceeding to steep the whole chicken covered in chicken stock.

Chicken Rice with garlic chilli - Singapore style
Chicken Rice with garlic chilli – Singapore style

Australia perhaps only first got acquainted with this dish when Malaysian-born TV chef Poh Ling Yeow (host of POH’S KITCHEN on ABC channel), back-then only a contender of the first Masterchef title, made it for wide-eyed judges George, Gary and Matt who were pretty impressed by the ‘uniqueness’ of its taste and hence Poh was to me, the first ever ‘Chicken Rice Evangelist’ of our region.

Needless to say, it’s my eternal favourite and I would’ve moved back to Singapore simply for missing it, had I not been blessed enough to learn how to create my own home-cooked Chicken Rice, which I reckon is authentic enough to give some restaurants here in Brisbane a run for their money. Sad how some would pass it off as ‘Hainanese Chicken Rice’ when their versions are far from the real thing.

My only grouse is not being able to ‘chop’ it as neatly as the ‘skilled old uncle’ you find at your regular hawker stall–I used to just love standing and watching the theatrical sport of how these masters carve the juicy pale-skinned birds with great aplomb, often with cigarettes dangling from the corner of their wrinkly lips, hammering purposefully with their large and dangerous-looking cleavers, segmenting different portions of the chickens into ultra-neat piles, while an assistant coordinates the rapid drizzle of sesame oil, soy sauce and stock onto the white, juicy chicken flesh. 

Chicken Rice with coriander and spring onion garnish
Chicken Rice with coriander and spring onion garnish

Hainanese Chicken Rice (about family of 4)

Marinade for brining and seasoning the Chicken:
1 whole chicken
drizzle of sesame oil
1/2 TB chicken seasoning powder, or crushed chicken stock cube
1 tsp salt
1 TB light soya sauce
1 tsp rice wine, any kind will do (Hua Tiao or Shao Xing are great)
4-5 cm knob of ginger, grated finely
1 garlic clove, grated finely

Stock* to Steep Chicken:
3 C ready-made chicken stock liquid,
plus enough water to fill 3/4 of a pot large enough for chicken
*reserve some to be served as chicken broth with fried shallots, spring onions and coriander

The Chicken Rice:
2 C jasmine rice
2 1/2 cups chicken stock (or as per your rice cooker; obtained from steeping the chicken)
Oil rendered from chicken fat (refer to recipe)
1 TB finely grated ginger
6 garlic cloves, finely grated
3 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp salt
3 pandan leaves, fresh or frozen (tied together in a knot)
–dark soy sauce; for serving

Garlic Chilli Dip:
10-15 large fresh red chillies
1 large tomato, skin removed
10-15 garlic cloves
knob of 5cm ginger
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
(Process above into fine paste, add 1 TB of stock and 1 tsp cooking oil before serving)

Directions for Steeping:
Marinade the whole chicken with the marinade sauces but reserve the fat for rendering the oil to cook the rice. Either leave chicken to marinade overnight If not using immediately, or set aside for about 1and a half hours at room temperature. Bring chicken to room temperature if still cold from having been removed from the fridge.

Bring a pot to the boil, ensuring it is wide and deep enough to cover the entire chicken. Carefully immerse the chicken into the boiling stock and water, ensuring every part of the chicken is below the liquid surface. Turn off the heat, cover, and leave to steep for 1 hour and 30 min. Every half an hour, gently ladle the hot stock from the pot into the middle of the chicken’s cavity so that the stock flows out to the other end of the cavity This ensures even cooking. At the end of the 1st hour, re-boil the stock so that it remains hot enough to continue the steeping and cooking process.

After 1 hr and 30 min of steeping, remove the chicken and place it into a large bowl of iced water. Let it sit in the iced water for 15 min, and transfer to a large colander or sieve with a bowl underneath to drain the liquid out.

Carving, Chopping & Dividing the Chicken:
Prepare a chopping board large enough and a large chinese cleaver, chop the chicken from the middle (breast side down) bone into a clean half, then starting with the drumsticks and chicken wings, chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces, ending with the breast pieces. Arrange the chopped chicken neatly on a platter to as closely resemble the whole chicken (before it got chopped!) as possible.

Kat’s Tip: I like to drizzle the chopped pieces with sesame oil, soy sauce and some chicken stock mixed together for extra flavour. Garnish with chopped coriander.

Directions For Chicken Rice:
Wash and drain the rice on a sieve,ensuring it is rather dry.

Render the fat (oil) from the pieces of chicken fat in a non-stick pan by heating it on low heat (do not add extra oil). You will see the oil being slowly released as you stir the chicken fat gently.

Toss In the grated ginger and garlic, and fry till fragrant, add the washed and drained jasmine rice and some sesame oil. Cook rice in a rice cooker with the pandan leaf and salt. Add the chicken stock to the rice as indicated on the recipe or according to your rice cooker.

Chicken Broth:
Reserve some chicken broth to be served with the chicken rice as a nice accompaniment, garnish the broth with some fried shallots and chopped spring onions and coriander.
Serve Chicken Rice with dark soy sauce and chilli dip.

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