I attempted to make Hainanese chicken rice last week, which is commonly sold in hawker stalls in Malaysia and Singapore. The main components of this dish is the wonderfully fragrant rice, ‘pak zham’ (white chopped) chicken with tender meat and silky skin which is coated in a light soy sauce mixture, fresh slices of cucumber, a bowl of chicken soup and a garlicky chilli paste. This dish is so common and well-loved that there’s even a Singaporean movie called ‘Chicken Rice War’ which revolves around two star-crossed lovers whose families are archenemies that sell chicken rice!
The recipe isn’t overly complex, but to the dismay of my lazy self (which really is my normal self), there are more steps involved than simply throwing everything into a rice cooker. Besides preparing all the ingredients, the chicken needs to be salted, stuffed and boiled whole, then chopped into manageable pieces. Leftover chicken stock is used to cook the rice, along with a few other ingredients, as well as make a light soup. The rice itself also needs to be fried beforehand for maximum flavour. But of course, put everything together and they all make a magical combination, which is why chicken rice is one of my absolute favourites.
This chicken rice recipe takes about 2 hours to prepare as you can’t boil the chicken on high heat and you need to chop it up afterwards. You’ll also probably need an extra hand to help you remove the chicken from the pot as well as the stuffing because that bird will be pretty heavy. Dad used a pair of tongs and a large spoon, and then quickly lifted it onto a plate which I was holding. Then I removed the stuffing, threw this back into the pot, and he moved the chicken onto the chopping board for dissecting.
Right after the chicken rice recipe, I’ve included my mom’s recipe for the garlicky chilli paste – yay for authenticity! It goes well with a lot of other types of dishes with rice and noodles, so refrigerate the rest as it will keep for about a week. Look, I’d be lying if I said that it’s the easiest recipe to work with, but it is definitely one that produces quite a bit of satisfaction when you’re enjoying your work (read: scarfing down chicken rice and slurping the soup like you’re showing your appreciation to a Japan). Hope you guys get to try this sometime!
Hainanese Chicken Rice
- 1 large chicken (at least 1.7 kg)
- 3 x 5 cm pieces of ginger, washed and peeled
- 4 shallots, washed and peeled
- 8 cloves of garlic
- 4 sprigs of spring onions
- 2 tomatoes, sliced
- 2 screwpine leaves, tied into a bundle and split
- 2 1/2 cups of basmati rice, washed and soaked for 20 minutes
- 1 carrot, roughly chopped
- 1 cucumber, halved then sliced thinly
- 2 1/2 tbsp of soy sauce
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp shao xing rice wine
- salt and pepper
to serve: garlicky chilli paste (recipe below), 2 tablespoons of dark soy sauce/cooking caramel
- Finely slice 2 shallots, 1 piece of ginger and 1 sprig of spring onion. Mince 3 cloves of garlic. Set these aside.
- Wash the chicken and remove the fats at the bottom of the chicken and set the fats aside. Rub about 3 tbsp of salt all over the chicken, including the cavity.
- Stuff the chicken with the remaining 2 pieces of ginger, 2 shallots, 5 cloves of garlic, and 3 sprigs of spring onion (sliced lengthways into half).
- In a stockpot large enough to contain the chicken, fill up half the pot with water and the carrot pieces, and heat this up. When the water boils, put the chicken in, and immediately turn down the heat to low.
- Simmer the chicken for about 45 to 55 minutes, checking to see that chicken is cooked.
- While the chicken is cooking, heat the butter, 1/2 tbsp of sesame oil and 1 tbsp of chicken fats (retain the rest for garlicky chilli paste) in another pot. Fry the sliced shallots and ginger, as well as the minced garlic from step 1. Once these have turned golden brown, add in the rice and fry for about five minutes before putting everything into the pot of your rice cooker. Add in the screwpine leaves. Do not turn it on yet!
- Fill a large bowl (big enough to fit in the chicken) with cold water and add ice cubes to keep it cold.
- Remove the chicken from the stockpot once it is cooked (check the leg joint which should be the best indicator), returning the ‘stuffing’ back into the pot, and immediately blanch in the cold water for about 5 minutes. While waiting, add 2 1/2 cups of the chicken stock into the pot of your rice cooker, give everything a stir, and set it to cook.
- Chop the chicken into manageable pieces and lay them out on a plate. Pour over 1 1/2 tbsp of soy sauce and 1/2 tbsp of sesame oil.
- Heat the remaining chicken stock to make your soup, and add the remaining soy sauce, shao xing rice wine, and pepper to taste. Let this boil and then turn the heat off. Ladle out the soup and carrot pieces into individual bowls and sprinkle the sliced up spring onions on top.
- Once the rice is cooked, portion them out onto plates.
- Serve the chicken as the centrepiece, along with the individually portioned rice, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, and soup. Include small share platters with serving spoons for garlicky chilli paste and dark soy sauce.
Garlicky Chilli Paste
Thanks to my Mom!
- 5 red chillies, deseeded (unless you like it extra hot)
- 8 cloves of garlic
- 3 cm piece of ginger
- juice & zest of 2 calamansi limes or kumquats
- 2 tsp raw sugar
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp chicken powder (optional)
- 1 tsp chicken fat
- Throw everything (except the chicken fat) into a blender and blitz until it forms a paste.
- Fry the chicken fat in a small hot pan until it oozes oil and then remove the piece of fat. Pour the hot chicken oil into the chilli paste and combine well.
- Serve with chicken rice or anything else, really. Oh, and kill a vampire or five with your breath (just kidding!).