Though Hainan chicken rice would suggest the dish is Chinese, it's massively popular in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. A lot of people don't get the point of it, and I don't blame them; essentially, it is just whole poached chicken. Chicken with flabby skin. But it's so much more. The chicken, poached till just done gets a plunging in an ice bath, making the skin and flesh firm and bouncy. The resultant broth is served along side garlicky rice cooked in a little chicken fat, a gingery chilli sauce enlivening and colouring the plate. So simple, but so comforting and delicious.
I grew up on this dish, and the best version to this date was at The Shangri-La hotel in Singapore, aged around 8. I remember it vividly, the silken grains of rice flavoured liberally with chicken fat, the broth soothing.
I haven't seen many versions in London; the one nearest in Croydon serves the dish without broth, a heresy in my view. So I decided to make it myself.
Hainan Chicken Rice
1 whole chicken (mine was 1.2kg)
5 spring onions
5 slices of ginger, about an inch thick
A few handfuls of flaked salt, not table salt
Enough water to cover the chicken in a pot
Firstly, get the handfuls of salt and exfoliate the chicken. Yes. Grab the salt and rub the skin vigourously to get rid of any pimply feathery bits. Rinse the chicken. Stuff the spring onions and garlic into the cavity. Put into the stockpot with the water and bring to the simmer, skimming off any scum that accumulates. Simmer gently for 35 - 45 mins for a chicken of my size. Remove and plunge immediately into an iced bath. This stops the cooking process and makes the flesh nice and firm.
For the rice:
3 cloves of garlic
1" of ginger
1 stalk of spring onion
In a frying pan, heat some oil and add the ginger and garlic, minced. Fry slowly until fragrant. Bung into your rice cooker with your rice and use the chicken stock, trying to get as much chicken fat in as possible, to cook it. Or use whatever method you do to cook rice. When done, sprinkle with chopped spring onion.
6 mild red chillis, 1 burn-your-face-off hot chilli
2 inches of ginger
4 cloves of garlic
Juice of 1 lime
A pinch of salt
Place the above in a whizzer and whizz til smooth.
To serve; chop up the chicken with the bones and all and serve with a bowl of rice, a little chilli sauce, and a bowl of broth.
I got snazzy new crockery sent to me by Ink Dish. Aint it pretty?