Hainan Chicken Rice

Hainan Chicken Rice

Cook time: 1.5 hours  |  Total time:  2 hours  |  Serves: 4 people

Despite having a name derived from the southern most island of Mainland China, Hainan Chicken Rice 海南鸡饭 is actually the national dish of Singapore. How that exactly happened... I do not know, but I know if done well the meat melts in your mouth. I will be going to Singapore for the first time this autumn so I suppose I will have to try the real thing. It won't be hard to twist my arm.

hainanchickenrice

The first time I made Hainan Chicken Rice, I was hanging out with my friends Kathleen and Adam at a bar in London's Soho on a Friday night and when the proposition of dinner presented itself, we thought "hey let's cook dinner at our flat instead of going to a restaurant." Perhaps the restaurants seemed packed or we were being cheap that particular night, I don't remember. As they both grew up in Singapore I pitched the idea of making Hainan Chicken Rice since I knew it would be hard for them to say no. They mentioned they had a Hainan Chicken box mix at which I rolled my eyes and told them "oh hell no, we can do better than that." I had recently seen an online video of an Australian Singaporean giving a tutorial of the dish and re-watched quickly before proceeding to make the dish while slightly inebriated (I cut my finger at one point). The spur of the moment cooking night yielded a surprisingly authentic version that my friends were pretty stoked about. Since that somewhat culinary reckless night I've tried various published methods and fused them into my own recipe, mainly at the behest of my aunt Fopin who requests that I make this every time I hang out with her at her house in South Wimbledon.

The trick is to poach the chicken without letting it ever come to a full-on boil. To most Westerners that sounds scary as hell—like salmonella brewing in a pot. That is so not true. The boiling water and steam fully cook the chicken slowly making it incredibly tender. The taste is quite light enhanced by ginger, spring onions and soy sauce with hot chilli to your liking. Note: do not skip making the ginger sauce!

What you'll need and how much:

— 1 cup of grated ginger
— 1/4 cup of very thinly chopped spring onions (scallions)
— 1/2 cup of moderately chopped spring onions
— 1/2 cup of minced garlic
— 1/2 cup of Shaoxing wine
— 1/4 cup of sesame oil
— 1/3 cup of soy sauce
— 2 tablespoons of rock salt (for exfoliation)
— 2 tablespoons of salt
— 1 lime
— about a dozen large ice cubes
— 1 whole medium sized chicken
— bits of chicken fat
— 1 cucumber sliced thinly
 

See and read

Or skip to abridged recipe

Grate the ginger while being careful to also retain the juices. Mince the garlic finely. Thinly chop about 1/4 cup of the white ends of the spring onions. This is for the sauce. Chop the remaining more green portion of the spring onions—this doesn't need to be chopped as finely.
 

Rub 2 tablespoons of the rock salt on the chicken in a large bowl and massage the salt all over of the chicken's skin. You're essentially exfoliating the chicken skin to get rid of the grime and to give it a nice smoother surface (don't skip this step!). Rinse the salt off the chicken and remove parts of the chicken fat from about the body cavity opening and set that aside to fry for the rice prep.
 

Spoon half of the ginger mixture, half of the minced garlic and half of the moderately chopped green spring onions onto the chicken. Douse it with the shaoxing wine, sesame oil and soy sauce and rub the marinade mixture all over the chicken, outside and inside the cavity. The aroma created from this almost orgasmic.
 

Heat a large stockpot of water till it's reached boiling. Lift and drop the chicken in breast side up and pour the remaining mixture from the bowl into the pot with all of the chopped aromatics and 1 tablespoon of salt. The chicken should be just barely fully submerged in the water. Cover and let it come to a light simmer. Once it reaches the medium simmer stage (water is bubbling but not at a highly vigorous pace), turn the heat off and keep covered. Don't let it come to a complete boil—if you do, it's not the end of the world, but try not to.

* You will be poaching the chicken for 1 hour total while flipping/draining the chicken 3 times and bringing it back to a medium simmer once during the middle of the process.
 

15 minutes from when you first dropped the chicken in the liquid, uncover and lift the chicken out of the pot with a strong wooden spoon and drain the liquid out of the cavity. Drop the chicken (slowly of course) back in the liquid breast side down this time and cover.
 

15 minutes later repeat the process of lifting the chicken out, draining the cavity and flipping it so she's now breast side up (female chicken, right?). Bring the pot back to a boil and turn off once it's reached a medium simmer and keep covered.
 

15 minutes later lift the chicken out again, drain liquid from cavity and return to liquid breast side down. The chicken is done 15 minutes after this last step. At this point you will have cooked the chicken in this slow poached method for exactly 1 hour, turning it over 3 times and bringing it to a medium simmer twice (at the 1 min and 30 min mark). Immediately remove the chicken from the stock, drain and dump into a large bowl with a dozen ice cubes in cold water to kill the cooking process. Leave the chicken in the ice bath for 15 minutes.
 

To make the rice, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and fry the chicken fat with the remaining garlic until the garlic is light brown. Add this to your rice cooker, add 2 cups of jasmine rice and ladle in the broth from the stock pot into the rice cooker until it covers the rice a 1/3 of an inch and hit the cook button. If you're cooking the rice in a pot on the stove, bring it to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to the lowest gauge on our stove, cover and let it steam until it's cooked (about 10 minutes). Uncover and taste accordingly.
 

To make the ginger sauce, mix the remaining ginger with the remaining thinly chopped spring onions. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a small sauce pan until it just starts to smoke and remove. Slowly pour the hot oil over the ginger / spring onion mixture (the oil with sizzle). Add half a teaspoon of sugar and a half teaspoon of salt and mix.
 

Remove the chicken from the ice bath, let it drain for a few minutes. Cut the chicken in bite sized slices with a sharp kitchen knife or Chinese cleaver. If you're having trouble cutting through the bone, place the palm of your hand over the top dull part of the knife blade to add pressure while cutting down. Squeeze a lime over the chicken after arranging on a plate and douse with 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce. 
 

Serve with the rice, sliced cucumbers, the ginger sauce, hot chilli sauce (homemade or Sricha), soy sauce and a bowl of the broth. Sprinkle with coriander and any remaining chopped spring onions.

 

Abridged Recipe

Ingredients:

Chicken & Prep
— 1 whole medium sized chicken
— 2 tablespoons of rock salt

Marinade
— 1/2 cup of grated ginger
— 1/2 cup of moderately chopped spring onions (scallions)
— 1/4 cup of minced garlic
— 1/2 cup of Shaoxing wine
— 1/4 cup of sesame oil
— 1/3 cup of light soy sauce

Ice Bath
— 1 large bowl with cold water and 12 ice cubes

Ginger Sauce
— 2 tablespoons of salt
— 1/4 cup of very thinly chopped spring onions (scallions)
— 1/2 cup of grated ginger
— 1/2 teaspoon of salt
— 1/2 teaspoon of sugar

Rice
— bits of chicken fat
— 1/4 cup of minced garlic
— 2 cups of jasmine rice (or more if you prefer)

Garnish
— coriander leaves
— 1 sliced cucumber
— 1 lime
— 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce

Recipe:

  1. Rub the rock salt on the chicken and massage the salt all over the exterior of the chicken. Rinse the salt off the chicken and remove parts of the chicken fat from about the body cavity opening and set that aside.
  2. Combine the marinade ingredients of ginger, garlic, spring onions, shaoxing wine, sesame oil and soy sauce and rub all over the outside and inside of the chicken.
  3. Heat a large stockpot of water till it's reached boiling. Lift and drop the chicken into the stockpot breast side up and pour the remaining mixture from the bowl into the pot with all of the chopped aromatics. The chicken should be just barely fully submerged in the water. Cover and let it come to a medium simmer. Turn the heat off and keep covered. The chicken will poach for a total of 1 hour. Every 15 minutes, using a strong wooden spoon, lift the chicken out of the stockpot, drain liquid from the cavity, and return to the stock flipped over (3 times). At the 30 minute mark, turn the heat back on and bring to a medium simmer and turn off.
  4. After 1 hour, immediately remove the chicken from the stock, drain and douse in the ice cold water bath to kill the cooking process. Leave the chicken submerged for 15 minutes.
  5. To make the rice, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and fry the chicken fat with the remaining garlic and fry until the garlic is light brown. Add this to your rice cooker, add the rice and ladle in the broth from the stock pot into the rice cooker until the stock covers the rice by about 1/3 inch and hit the cook button. If you using a pot on the stove, bring to a boil and then lower to the lowest heat level and cover until fully steamed through (about 10 minutes).
  6. To make the ginger sauce, mix the ginger and spring onions mixture in a bowl. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a small sauce pan until it just starts to smoke and remove. Slowly pour the hot oil over the ginger / spring onion mixture (the oil with sizzle). Add half a teaspoon of sugar and a half teaspoon of salt and mix.
  7. Remove the chicken from the ice bath, let it drain for a few minutes. Cut the chicken in bite sized slices. Arrange on a plate, squeeze a lime over the chicken and douse with 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce. 
  8. Serve with the rice, sliced cucumbers, the ginger sauce, hot chilli sauce (chilli oil or Sriracha), soy sauce and a bowl of the broth.

Photo Credits: Jenny Smart, Xu Da

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