I feel a bit bashful for putting up a recipe for Chicken Rice.  There are countless versions on the internet, many handed down from mothers or mums’ mums, others gleaned from chefs who sell chicken rice for a living, and most written by Chinese, and rightly so because Chicken Rice as we know it is Hainanese in origin.  And if you didn’t know (though I’m sure you do.  Right?) the Hainanese are Chinese.

But here I am, this Malay chick who looks sort of Chinese, whose accent has an identity crisis, who’s spent more than half her life away from her non-birthplace of Singapore, is going to share with you her version of Hainanese Chicken Rice.

At this point, I’m writing this post to myself because I’m sure at the end of that last paragraph, anyone reading would have shut their browser tab on me.  So I console myself that this post is for me to remember, for posterity, for my children when they’re grown, given I’m still around to pay for my domain.

Interestingly, this is one recipe I don’t have written down in my tattered notebook of hand written recipes, I’ve made it often enough that I remember what to add to it every time I make this dish.  But also, Chicken Rice is actually really, really simple to make, it just takes a bit of care and attention.  Don’t turn your back on the stove, you want to see exactly when the stock reaches a boil, at which point you turn it down to the gentlest of simmers.  Seriously, that’s the hardest part, everything else is a cinch.

for the chicken stock

For the stock (can’t find any other spring onion here, but that’s what these are sold as even if it looks like miniature leek to me)

I’m sure you know by now from your readings on the internet, that the Chicken Rice we speak of is peculiar to Singapore and Malaysia, but originates in the Hainan province of China and was imported by some of our, ahem, pioneer immigrants.  Yes, it is essentially poached whole chicken served with rice cooked in chicken stock, and as simple and boring as that sounds the combination of flavours, sing.  Like, really sing, like Beyoncé Patti LaBelle Pavarotti sing.  No Chicken Rice of value can be served without its condiments, ie, soy sauce, sesame oil, freshly made chilli sauce, and ginger dressing.  Certainly there are other versions of Chicken Rice that can be found in Singapore, and maybe Malaysia too, that are prepared differently and served differently, known as Nasi Ayam or perhaps also Nasi Ayam Penyet.  Yes, both translate as Chicken Rice, and one has the added element of its chicken being squashed for whatever reason I can’t fathom and served with sambal belacan, but these are Malay translations where inevitably deep frying is involved, good in their own right but should not be mistaken for the Hainanese variant.  They also taste different; Nasi Ayam uses onion in its recipe and has a slightly sweeter flavour compared to Hainanese Chicken Rice which does not have onion but does include spring onion/scallion/green onion in the stock.

production line 2013

I never really paid attention to the making of Chicken Rice until we moved to New Delhi a few years ago and were involved in selling chicken rice as part of an informal representation of Singapore.  It was for an International Fair to raise funds for charity and was a major team effort amongst the colleagues of my husband and all the spouses.  The first year, we sold Chicken Rice, Nonya Laksa, Soto, Pandan flavoured cupcakes (thanks to yours truly who, whilst pregnant, made over 200, frosted and sprinkled!) and drinks.  Subsequent years saw much of the same menu with a few changes (I didn’t make cupcakes again), but the point is, everybody chipped in as we cooked absolutely massive amounts, and despite that, the stall always sold out.

So because of the fair I learned two ways to cook chicken rice, one from the personal cook of our first boss, and the other from the cooks of successor-boss and each time it was they who were in charge of the chicken rice for the fair (mainly because they had the biggest kitchens, built for regular entertaining of large crowds).  Subsequently I learned from another spouse who was my neighbour and who swears by her own method one she had developed over decades.  I was doing a lot of chicken rice reading as well by this time, but the one that stuck in my mind the most was the recipe by Adam Liaw, the Malaysian Australian winner of MasterChef Australia.  Then I remembered that in 2007 I had taken notes from our cooking lesson at The Raffles Hotel in Singapore (we were sent there, along with other officers and spouses, for a crash course in Singapore cooking before going on our postings abroad).  But the most recent lesson was, unexpectedly, from waiting in line at the Chicken Rice queue one day at Changi Airport Terminal 3.

for the chilli sauce

for the chilli sauce

I knew at the time that that was the last chance I’d get to order Chicken Rice in Singapore before we were to leave for Jeddah, as the following days running up to our departure were already scheduled to the brim and there wouldn’t be another opportunity.  And it was for this reason too that I decided to order a second plate for myself, something I don’t ordinarily do.  As I stood in line saying my silent goodbyes, eyes wandering taking mental photographs of everything, I noticed the kitchen guy holding lemongrass and pandan leaves in his fist while he stirred a pot that had something sizzling in it.  As I stared, I realised he was at the initial step of cooking the rice, which is to fry it before adding the stock and he was holding a stalk of lemongrass and pandan, waiting, I speculated, to chuck it into the pot along with the stock.  I was intrigued; I’d always eaten this stall’s chicken rice and liked it, and these were ingredients I’d never tried adding to my rice though I’d vaguely known of this method, but seeing him about to, and knowing how it tastes, I told myself these are two additions that I ought to try next time I cook Chicken Rice.  Then front of house guy put my plate of chicken rice in front of me, and as I picked it up to walk away, kitchen guy turned his face away from the pot he was watching and repeatedly coughed towards the rest of the kitchen.

For the most part, I follow Adam Liaw’s  timings and instruction for poaching the bird, keeping it between 1.2 and 1.5kg and it works well.  I’ve read on many blogs, including Adam Liaw’s, the step of stuffing the bird with the ginger and garlic and spring onion; I do this too, but stop at trying to sew the bird’s bum shut after stuffing it.  The point of the gentle poaching method, according to my neighbour in Delhi, is so that the meat doesn’t overcook, it remains tender, and the skin (the best part for some) doesn’t split and start ripping all over the place, a sign of over doneness.  I don’t do this myself, but once the bird is cooked, many swear by dunking in an ice bath to halt cooking and for the skin to take on a gelatinous texture, in fact, a layer of jelly forms between the muscle and the skin of the bird, a sign of good technique and to many Chinese the favourite part of Chicken Rice.  Said neighbour insists on using a pot large enough such that the bird is completely submerged in water.  Cook of first boss taught us to poach with a small pot that just barely covered the bird.  I have used both methods (also because I only have one medium pot for now), and to me, both were delicious, and the stock from the smaller pot understandably was more flavourful.  Some will debone the entire bird and serve beautifully deboned chicken on a platter, which I have done in the past, but recently I’ve given up this step in favour of sitting down and simply stuffing my face.  You can find several youtube videos of Chinese cooks expertly deboning whole chicken with cleavers in mere seconds like it was butter, pretty friggin awesome.

Don’t forget, before poaching, to snip off some fat from the chicken’s rear end to render down for cooking the rice.  The chef at Raffles Hotel fried it up briefly for about 3-4 minutes along with whole garlic cloves and a knob of ginger before adding the rice and then adding the stock.  Adam Liaw dedicates an hour to rendering chopped up skin and fat slowly until the skin browns and crisps up (which I then crumble over chicken soup noodles the next day).  Both techniques are delicious.  I remember at the Raffles Hotel lesson being completely stunned at how such few ingredients were needed to result in that unmistakeable savoury aroma that is Chicken Rice.

The stock is the basis for everything, and if you follow the instructions to cook low and slow, the stock will be completely clear, as it should be.  Use this stock to add body to the chilli sauce (don’t be alarmed if you find yellowy lumps that weren’t there before you stored the left over chilli in the fridge, it’s fat from the stock; just reheat gently and all will be right again).  Use the stock to cook the rice.  Add some chunks of carrot to whatever is left and serve it alongside the plate of chicken rice for slurping (carrots are not traditional but I put it in the stock for my Malay chicken rice, along with celery, and always felt it added a lovely, sweet dimension to the slurping.  Also a Cantonese friend of mine, and expert cook, kept refilling her bowl with this soup so obviously I feel very proud).  Or make chicken congee the next day using the stock, or chicken soup noodle, always a favourite and as easy as instant noodles but miles better.

The chilli sauce is a hybrid recipe of another neighbour of mine (who also adds chicken stock granules for umami, trust the Malaysian Chinese for their excellent cooking skills), and the Raffles Hotel chef.  Try to find Southeast Asian chillies, the flavour is more accurate, although Indian chillies are fine if you can’t.  Try not to use Scotch Bonnets, those taste entirely different.  The ginger sauce I’ve blatantly taken from the cook of our second boss during our time in Delhi.  Enjoy!!!

P.s.  If you’re not from southeast asia, and are one to think anything Asian is exotic, please, please do not eat this with chopsticks, it is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.  Grab a fork and spoon and shovel it in!  Reserve the chopsticks for regular steamed rice if you must be ‘authentic’.

 

p.p.s.  this is me making ginger dressing:


Hainanese Chicken Rice
Print Recipe
Don't be alarmed by the long list here, you'll find that the ingredients actually get repeated, lots of garlic, ginger, garlic, ginger. I've used both Thai Jasmine Rice and Basmati rice with great success, the latter being even easier to keep fluffy without going soggy. Just remember that for Jasmine rice, rice to liquid is 1:1 (I actually use about 1:4/5ths if that makes sense because I hate clumpy rice) in VOLUME, and basmati rice to liquid is 1:1.5 (or 1.25 if you want to be anal like me). I use Thai Royal Umbrella brand Jasmine Rice. If you do not have the rice cooker cup, a 3/4 cup measure is about equivalent to one rice cooker cup. The condiments are essential to the overall enjoyment of Chicken Rice, don't be tempted to buy bottled chicken rice chilli if you find it on your shop, just make it with fresh chillies!
Servings
4 servings
Cook Time
1 hour
Servings
4 servings
Cook Time
1 hour
Hainanese Chicken Rice
Print Recipe
Don't be alarmed by the long list here, you'll find that the ingredients actually get repeated, lots of garlic, ginger, garlic, ginger. I've used both Thai Jasmine Rice and Basmati rice with great success, the latter being even easier to keep fluffy without going soggy. Just remember that for Jasmine rice, rice to liquid is 1:1 (I actually use about 1:4/5ths if that makes sense because I hate clumpy rice) in VOLUME, and basmati rice to liquid is 1:1.5 (or 1.25 if you want to be anal like me). I use Thai Royal Umbrella brand Jasmine Rice. If you do not have the rice cooker cup, a 3/4 cup measure is about equivalent to one rice cooker cup. The condiments are essential to the overall enjoyment of Chicken Rice, don't be tempted to buy bottled chicken rice chilli if you find it on your shop, just make it with fresh chillies!
Servings
4 servings
Cook Time
1 hour
Servings
4 servings
Cook Time
1 hour
Ingredients
Chicken and the stock
Chilli sauce (makes 1 cup)
Ginger Dressing
Rice
soy dressing
Garnish
Servings: servings
Instructions
Chicken and stock
  1. Trim as much visible fat without slicing through any skin, and chuck into a small pot to start rendering now over low heat. Or skip that long rendering and set aside for rice as is. Stuff the cavity with the spring onion, and some of the garlic, and one knob of the ginger. Place the remaining garlic and ginger in the pot. Place the chicken, breast side down in the pot, and fill with water to cover, or nearly cover. (in the picture it's breast side up, and I sliced the skin! ignore that!)
  2. Place on medium heat, and allow the water to reach a boil which is when you will immediately bring the heat down so the water is at a very gentle simmer, no major bubbles here. If you are using an electric hob like I am now (boo), I suggest heating up another hob on a low heat so you can do an immediate pot transfer so you're not faffing about trying to get the temperature right (as I was, BOO). This is however not approved for your health and safety as you may forget it's heating without a pot on, proceed with caution.
  3. Allow chicken to uber gentle simmer for about 20 mins, covered, and then turn off the heat and let it sit for about 30mins, covered in the pot. Then remove the chicken from the stock with a sturdy fish slice and a big ol' spatula, or impaling with a wooden spoon through the cavity, to a platter. Brush with sesame oil and cover with cling film until you are ready to devour.
Chilli sauce
  1. While the chicken is simmering you can do this bit. Place all the ingredients in a stick blender canister or blender, and blend. If you want to use a mortar and pestle (somehow it tastes better), roughly chop your chillies first, and pound in small batches. Be careful when inhaling whilst blending or opening blender. Taste and adjust seasoning or soup stock levels (it should be runny, not a thick puree). Set aside.
Ginger dressing
  1. Slice the spring onions finely. Grate ginger, and combine with spring onions.
  2. Heat sesame oil in a small pot til it just reaches smoking point. Carefully but confidently pour hot oil over the grated ginger mix. Stir and set aside.
Rice
  1. Start this step once your chicken is removed from the stock. Wash rice. If you have time or you remember, leave to soak the grains for about ten minutes in water enough to cover. Drain. Set aside. Measure out the equivalent volume of stock and set aside.
  2. Get a medium pot on medium heat. Add the oil from the rendered chicken fat which should measure about 1 tbsp, or the chicken fat reserved from earlier (in which case please add 1 tbsp of vegetable oil to help it along), along with the whole ginger, garlic cloves and lemongrass. Fry til fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the drained rice and salt, and pandan leaves. Fry, stirring, til the rice turns opaque, about 4 minutes. (if you use a rice cooker, transfer the rice to the cooker after frying and add the stock there, press COOK). Add the measured out stock from earlier, stir, and cover the pot. Once the liquid reaches the boil (in about 3 mins) and you can tell by the copious amounts of steam shooting out, lower the heat to lowest setting, and allow rice to cook til steam begins to slow, typically this takes 5-8mins so don't run off and take a shower. Turn off the heat, give the rice a quick stir with a spatula and cover again, leaving it alone for about 5minutes more. (If using rice cooker, do this last stir when it turns to WARM)
Sesame oil and Soy drizzle
  1. One only needs about a tsp of this on each individual serving, drizzled over rice and/or chicken. Mix in a small bowl 2tbsp sesame oil, with 2tbsp sweet soy and 1tbsp light soy.
Plate up and Serve
  1. Carve your chicken into parts, breast, leg, drumstick; this is typically done in the kitchen so the parts are served nicely on a platter and you don't soak anyone else except yourself in chicken juices. Garnish chicken with cucumber slices and coriander leaves. The rice can be served straight from the rice cooker at the table so it remains warm, but if you like it dainty, use a nice serving bowl, but not too big; leave rice in the pot so it stays warm and refill bowl for seconds. Each serving should have the rice, chicken, coriander leaf garnish and some cucumber slices (if you're really into veg, stir fry some kai lan or bok choy in garlic and oyster sauce and serve on a platter). Place the chilli sauce, ginger dressing, and soy dressing on the table for people to help themselves to as they like. Typically, Rice is served hot while chicken is room temperature (or lukewarm if you're somewhere wintry).
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