Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Hainan Chicken Rice

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

Serves 4

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:

400gr 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.

Chilli sauce

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?


Mr Noodles said...

One of my faves but I prefer ginger sauce rather than chilli sauce on the side. I'm such a wuss.

This dish got me thinking why the Chinese will merrily eat just done chicken yet you won't find many Chinese recipes where beef is done rare.

KL Foodie said...

Everyone takes for granted the simplicity of this dish, but it's one of the hardest to get right! Your chilli sauce looks so delicious and authentic~

Helen said...

Mmm yummy. I'm not sure I've ever eaten it but I totally get it. Love the idea of cooking the rice in the chicken fat. Mmm chicken fat.

Hollow Legs said...

Mr Noodles - I confess, I couldn't be bothered to make ginger sauce so I just whacked it in with the chilli. From my experience it's the blood in rare beef; and that kind of flavour my grandmother called 'sow' in Cantonese, that I can never quite explain in English - perhaps that?

Adrienne - I am surprised I managed to get it as tasty as I did on a first attempt; my internet research paid off!

Helen - rice flavoured with chicken fat = pure comfort. Mmm. FAT.

PDH said...

I think this would be a marmite dish for me, i'll either love it or hate it but I'm bloody intrigued!

Sharmila said...

I love chicken rice. Remember eating tons of it from Maxwell's Food Centre when I was working in Singapore for a month.

The blood thing in meat is right - the flavour of "rare" meat is often not appreciated in Chinese cookery, from what I've read. Maybe another reason why many dishes call for blanching of meat prior to cooking?

London Foodster said...

Mmm....chicken & ginger goes so well. This looks like a v interesting yet simple recipe. I will definitely be trying it out!

Jessica said...

I want it. Immediately. I'm such a sucker for chicken soup but this just looks next level.

However. Not sure about doing it with the bones. How does that work - surely it's so splintery?

Chris Pople said...

I had pale, flabby chicken from Bistroteque on Tuesday and that was supposed to be "roasted". This looks really interesting.

P.S. Thanks for the mention of Ink Dish!

Hollow Legs said...

Jess - Chop it cleanly with a sharp knife and you should be fine. The Chinese often serve chicken on the bone, it's never really an issue.

Corina said...

I love the chilli sauce you've posted with this. I can't think of anything better than chilli, ginger, garlic and lime

Charmaine said...

My mother's trick (which I've also seen elsewhere and swear by) is to bring the pot of water to the boil, submerge the chicken, cover with a lid and turn off the heat. Leave for around an hour. You'll find that the residual heat from the water gently poaches it to super silky goodness - once I was in a hurry and did a slow simmer and the chicken was noticeably tougher.

Uncle Lim's has been going downhill for a while now :(

Helena Lee said...

so glad you posted this. It's The best dish in the world and the most important thing about it is the texture and the moistness (sorry, awful word). It's so easy to get it wrong. I make this so much that my boyfriend thinks he's chinese.

My favourite sauce to go with this is to heat up oil until it sizzles a chopstick and pour it over finely chopped spring onions, minced ginger and salt. Sometimes with coriander.

Also - my parents love to moisturise the chicken with sesame oil afterwards. Not that authentic, but makes the skin taste bloody good


The Shed said...

A very strong contender for my favourite dish - pure, utter comfort. Great post!

Hollow Legs said...

Charmaine - I've read this somewhere else but couldn't remember where so i chickened out. Arf! I will try it again. Shame, I liked Uncle Lims. Rasa Sayang Express' version isn't bad.

Helena - love the idea of exfoliating and then moisturising!

The Shed - absolutely; I want it again already.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

Perfect comfort food .

Anonymous said...

I've never had a dish like this but it does look comforting in its simplicity. Can imagine it's pretty hard to get right so that the chicken doesn't feel too flabby.That chilli sauce looks awesome too.

A BRIT GREEK said...

This is one of my fave dishes in the world, it's just so simple and tastes sooooo good!
My pops makes the best Hainanese chicken dish, only i'm across the pond now, and am seriously craving Asian food by the bucketload!

Terd said...

Important to include the ginger sauce, I think. But nice post nonetheless.

Mzungu said...

It is simple cooking at its finest. The best I've ever had was at a small family run place underneath a block of flats somewhere in Singapore.
Sorry no idea where, as we were taken there by a friend who also cannot remember where it was.

Anonymous said...

Ran across this recipe and having heard about this dish for years, I decided to try it.

Really, really good. The chicken was wonderful and the sauce was amazing. I've been enjoying the leftover sauce and rice for a couple of days now and I turned the poaching liquid into stock which is now in the freezer for future use.

Thank you. I will continue to follow your blog for more great ideas.


Dan said...

I have been wanting to try this dish for ages, mainly due to comments about it from you, Mr Noodles, other bloggers...

Was not expecting it to be so simple, and yet so tasty.

About to eat the final leftovers for lunch. Thank you!

J@feasttotheworld said...

Like yourself, I grew up on this dish. One of my favourite childhood dish of all times. I can still remember having this at least once a week when I was growing up in Singapore.
I learned how to make this from my nan and I have posted the recipe on my blog a few months back, thought I'll share it with you. Her's was the bring water to boil, submerge chicken and turn off heat version. This is then repeated twice. Sounds scary but it does produce the most beautifully succulent and tender chicken.