*Too lazy to make it yourself? Place a catering order for your next event, or look out for the next Malaysian Monday!
*This is an updated and improved version of a 2010 post on my old blog. Thank you Marisa for being my first chicken rice guru!
Sometimes the simplest things in life are the most delicious, and nowhere is that more exquisitely, orgasmically true than with Hainan/Hainanese Chicken Rice.
If you are still unfamiliar with what, IMHO, is simply the best freaking meal on the planet, let me joyously break down this little tripartite of gourmet harmony for you.
Part 1: The Chicken. An entire bone-in, skin-on bird is poached with ginger and spring onions, then cooled to room temperature, then chopped and drizzled with light soy sauce and sesame oil. The deceptively flavorsome result: fragrant and delicately infused meat that is unbelievably tender and juicy (yes, even the breast part)!
Part 2: The Rice. The real star of the show, cooked in all that rich broth and unctuous rendered chicken fat from Part 1.
Part 3: The Condiments. A fresh ginger scallion dip and a zingy red chili and garlic sauce to round the entire flavor fiesta off. Some versions also come with a thick, tar-like dark caramel soy sauce (e.g. the Cheong Chan red label cooking caramel in Malaysia).
Now I did say "tripartite", but I can't neglect to mention the optional (though in my view, necessary) Part 4: The Soup. A hot steaming bowl of sweet clear chicken broth, to wash down the entire meal.
The sum of all these parts? Culinary sublimity.
While this post has been audaciously titled Perfect Hainan Chicken Rice, my recipe below is merely "perfect" according to my own tastes and is by no means definitive. Various incarnations of Hainan Chicken Rice exist throughout Southeast Asia, with tiny yet notable differences. I prefer my chicken cooled naturally to room temperature, but many chefs dunk their cooked birds in ice baths or put them through a tedious refrigeration process. Singaporeans define the authenticity of their Hainan chicken on its "jelly"- the under-skin fat that solidifies into a clear gel when the chicken is served stone cold. In my mother's hometown of Ipoh, the popular Cantonese version is served with pork meatball soup and blanched beansprouts (hence the name nga choy kai fan or "beansprout chicken rice"). In Thailand, it goes by khao man gai and comes with a much sweeter bean-based dip, whilst in Hainan the dip of choice is oyster sauce with minced garlic. Still others refer to it as "Hailam" chicken rice or simply "pak cham kai fan" (white chopped chicken rice). Click here for a more detailed rundown of the regional variations than I could ever hope to write.
The cherry on top is that, no matter what you call it, this divine creation is actually not that difficult to make. Give it a shot, you'll be amazed! :)
Perfect Hainan Chicken Rice
- PART 1- THE CHICKEN
1 large whole chicken *If you only have chicken legs or portions lying around, you can use those too, but be sure to reduce the cooking time by about half. Do not use boneless or skinless chicken.
1 bunch scallions/spring onions (about 8 stalks)
A large knob of ginger (about 2"), peeled and sliced into thick discs
Salt to taste
Light soy sauce
Cucumbers, sliced thinly
Sliced spring onions or cilantro leaves for garnish
Slice off the roots and green parts from the spring onions. Discard the roots, and set aside the green parts for garnishing later.
Fill a large stock pot with water until about half full (you should be able to add the chicken later without it overflowing). Throw in the ginger slices, white parts of the spring onions and a generous amount of salt. Bring to a boil.
Gently lower the whole chicken into the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cover.
Simmer the chicken for about 45 mins (much less if you're using portions) over medium heat. The chicken is cooked when its juices run clear.
Carefully lift the bird out and leave the chicken to cool thoroughly before chopping into pieces. This is essential so that the skin has a chance to firm up and prevent the meat shredding apart when you cut it.
Just before serving, stir together some light soy sauce and sesame oil and drizzle generously over the meat. Arrange the cucumber around the chicken, and garnish with thinly sliced spring onions or fresh cilantro leaves.
*Garnishing tip- to make the spring onions curl, slice them into very thin strips and soak briefly in cold water.
- PART 2- THE RICE
4 cups long-grain white rice *This makes a generous amount for second helpings, which inevitably people will want! :)
1 small onion, cut into chunks
1" ginger, peeled and cut into chunks
4 cloves garlic, peeled
Salt to taste
1 tsp sugar *optional
2 pandan (screwpine) leaves, knotted
Place the rice in a rice cooker bowl. Wash and drain it twice.
Blend everything else except the pandan leaves to a fine paste. Stir the paste into the rice until well-dispersed. Add the knotted leaves, then pour over just enough chicken broth (especially the rendered fat at the top) until the liquid level is about 1" above the rice.
Cook as per usual. Fluff up before serving.
- PART 3- THE CONDIMENTS
Ginger scallion sauce
Blend a large knob of ginger (about 4") to a fine paste.
Heat about 2 tbsp oil in a small saucepan, and saute the ginger paste over low-medium heat for about 10 minutes. Season with salt, then stir in some chopped spring onions. Cool before using.
Chilli garlic sauce
Blend together in a food processor:
50 g (4 medium) fresh red jalapenos, stemmed
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
Salt to taste
Store in a glass jar and refrigerate until ready to use.
Serve about 1 tablespoon of each sauce per portion of chicken rice.
- PART 4- THE SOUP
Taste the remaining broth and add salt if required. Serve steaming hot with a dash of white pepper and a sprinkling of chopped spring onions (the green part).