A Southeast Asian adaptation of wenchang chicken from the Hainan region of China, Hainanese chicken rice is an iconic Singaporean dish.
The cooking process is simple and the ingredients are basic. But getting the right “doneness” is a bit tricky and I have to admit that it took me several attempts over the years to get the result I wanted.
The chicken has to be cooked through but never overcooked. The breast meat, especially, has to be succulent. Since the chicken is cooked whole and it follows that not all parts will be done at the same time, cooks have different techniques to achieve the best results.
Some boil the chicken then immediately turn off the stove and let the bird cook in the residual heat. Others poach the chicken throughout. I prefer to simmer the chicken then let it finish cooking in the residual heat.
And I have a test for determining whether the chicken was overcooked. After the chicken is cut up and some parts are chopped through the bone, I check the center of the bone. It should still be pink. If the color is dark gray, the chicken is overcooked. The meat cannot exhibit such color though as that would mean it’s still raw.
How do I cook Hainanese chicken to get such results? Check out the recipe below.
Hainanese Chicken Rice
Ginger scallion dipping sauce
Sweet soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- ¼ cup dark soy sauce
- 2 heaping tablespoons chili garlic oil (available in Asian groceries; I used Lee Kum Kee)
- 1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice (you may need more)
- chicken broth
- refined salt
Cook the chicken
- Boil water in a pot.
- Dry the chicken with paper towels, place in a bowl and add about three heaping tablespoons of salt.
- Rub the salt on the chicken, including the cavity, to remove impurities.
- Rinse the chicken to remove excess salt.
- Plunge the chicken, breast side up, into the boiling water.
- When the water comes to a rolling boil once more, pour off the water leaving the chicken in the pot.
- Refill the pot with enough water so that about half an inch of the breast is above the surface of the water (it really helps prevent overcooking the breast meat).
- Add the scallions and ginger, and a tablespoon of rock salt.
- Bring to a simmer and skim off any scum that rises (if you salted the chicken well, there will be very little scum).
- Cover the pot and let the chicken continue simmering for 20 minutes (note that it's a 1.4 kilogram chicken so the cooking time will be longer or shorter depending on the weight of your bird).
- Turn off the heat and leave the chicken to cook in the residual heat for 15 minutes.
- Fill a large bowl with ice and cold water.
- Scoop out the chicken and plunge into the iced water.
- Leave to cool while you prepare the rice and dipping sauces.
Make the ginger scallion sauce
- In a bowl, mix together the ginger, garlic, scallions and peanut oil.
- Stir in salt, a quarter teaspoon at a time, until you get the level of saltiness that you prefer.
- Leave to steep to allow the flavors to blend and mellow.
Make the sweet soy sauce
- In a microwavable bowl, melt the sugar in one tablespoon of water.
- Stir in the soy sauce.
Make the chili garlic sauce
- In a bowl, stir together the chili garlic oil with a tablespoon of lime or lemon juice.
- Pour in two to three tablespoons of the chicken cooking broth to thin out the mixture.
- Taste and add more salt and lime or lemon juice, or both, to get the balance that you prefer.
Cook the rice
- Heat the cooking oil in a wok or frying pan.
- Saute the garlic and shallot for a minute then stir in the rice.
- Pour in the chicken broth, cover the pan and cook until all the liquid has been absorbed.
Complete the Hainanese chicken rice
- Take the chicken out of the water bath and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel.
- Optionally, rub all over with sesame seed oil before cutting.
- To cut, start with the appendages. Cut off the legs, thighs, wings and drumettes by cutting through the joints.
- Arrange the cut pieces on a platter.
- Cut to separate the back from the breast.
- Cut the back part through the bone into three to four portions and place on the platter.
- Cut the breast into halves, cut each piece through the bone into half-inches slices and arrange on top of the other chicken pieces.
- Serve your Hainanese chicken with the rice and dipping sauces.
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