As a Singaporean author of a food blog, I felt it was most important that the Singaporean favorite – Hainanese Chicken Rice – eventually made an appearance on this blog. Of course, everyone knows Hainanese Chicken Rice – it is the dish of Singapore, followed by the well loved Char Kuay Teow and Hokkien Mee. It has an odd name for something so famous in Singapore, since the name of the dish is Hainanese Chicken Rice, not Singaporean Chicken Rice.
Hainanese Chicken Rice does not exist in Hainan Island, China. It is the brainchild of Hainanese immigrants from China that moved to Singapore, and uses the Hainanese cooking technique of boiling the chickens in stock. The boiled chickens are immediately transferred to ice water after they are cooked, resulting in a nice jelly-like skin, and this also stops the chicken from cooking any further. Chicken rice is often served with a garlic/ginger-chili sauce, thick dark soy sauce (not the thin types) like kecap manis and at some places, a ginger and oyster sauce dipping sauce.
In Singapore, chicken rice is sold everywhere. (We don’t usually call it Hainanese Chicken Rice because it is too long. Actually, I’m surprised nobody started calling it by its abbreviation HCR yet. As everyone knows, Singapore is very fond of abbreviating everything.) And by everywhere, I do literally mean everywhere. You’ll walk around in a food center and there may be two, three or four stalls selling chicken rice. Most chicken rice stalls also sell roasted chicken rice as well, but that is another recipe for another day. Hence, in Singapore, nobody cooks chicken rice at home. Why would you need to if you can walk 5 minutes and pay $2.50 (okay, maybe $3 these days?) and have a nice delicious plate of chicken rice?
When I moved here, I started making my own chicken rice. It is hard. The chicken needs to be boiled properly with the right amount of flavoring ingredients. The rice has to be perfectly cooked and fragrant. The chicken needs to be dunked in ice water. The whole chicken needs to be chopped up nicely. Seriously, there is a lot of skill needed in cooking a perfect plate of chicken rice. Hacking up a chicken may seem easy, but here in the US, everyone buys meat that is already cut up and most home cooks can’t fathom hacking up a chicken on their own. Hell! Some idiot freaked at a fast-food chicken joint once because he/she thought that they had served her chicken brain. It was actually the chicken kidney in the thigh part of the chicken – delicious bit, I have to say.
So, here in this part of the world, I had no one to turn to for help making chicken rice – seriously, out here, I might as well be the chicken rice expert in 100 miles, since I probably am the only person who has had the authentic one from Singapore, and has tried to cook it, not from a packet. So, I made chicken rice, and made more chicken rice. Every time I made it, it was a huge risk and all about learning from past mistakes and trial and error. Eventually, after cooking it so many times, I can say I finally finally mastered it. I mastered the dish of my homeland. Yes, I think my chicken rice is as good as Boon Tong Kee or Maxwell Road’s chicken rice – I kid you not! And definitely, it is the best chicken rice you will find in New England. For sure!
And I’m sharing my recipe below. I’m so proud to be Singaporean – yes, only because of chicken rice and the foods that come out of the island. Politics and whatever else, I’m ignoring it, because what good is it to think about things you can’t change? Food is what keeps me going! (I’m also making this post as idiot proof as possible – photos at each stage of the way – so there is no reason why someone can’t understand it or does it wrong. I’m just keeping all bases covered.) Also, check out my chicken rice chili sauce recipe. It’s probably the most important element of chicken rice.
Ingredients (4 servings)
- 10 cloves garlic
- 3 medium shallots
- 2″ by 1″ by 1″ ginger
- 1 chicken
- 4 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 3 carrots, peeled and cut on the gradient
- 10 leaves napa cabbage, cut into small pieces
- 2 cups uncooked white jasmine rice
- 1/2 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper powder
- 1/2 teaspoon white sugar
- 1/2 gallon water
- 1/4 cup salt
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 cucumber, sliced
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons cooking wine
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1/2 tablespoon white sugar
Place the chicken in the brine for at least 2 hours before cooking. (I usually put it in the brine in the morning, then come back at night to cook it – about 8 hours.) This will ensure your chicken is juicy and tasty when cooked.
Just before cooking, remove the chicken from the brining solution. Put chicken into a large stock pot and fill with enough water to cover the chicken.
Peel and smash the garlic cloves. Peel the shallots and cut into halves. Peel the ginger and cut into slices. Place everything into the rice cooker.
Pour 4 tablespoons of cooking oil into the rice cooker. (May substitute cooking oil with rendered chicken fat for better taste.) Set the rice cooker on ‘cook’ and let the garlic, shallots and ginger fry until fragrant and golden brown.
Remove the garlic, shallots and ginger, and add them to the pot with the chicken. Put some garlic, shallot and ginger into the chicken cavity.
Add 1/2 tablespoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon white pepper and 1/2 teaspoon white sugar to the pot.
Heat the pot with the chicken to a boil. When the water is boiling, turn the heat down and cover the pot. Let the pot simmer for 20 minutes. Remove chicken scum where necessary.
While the chicken is coming to a boil, add 2 cups of white jasmine rice to the oil in the rice cooker. ‘Fry’, using the rice cooker’s ‘cook’ setting, the uncooked rice in the rice cooker until the rice turns slightly transparent.
Add the sesame oil and 4 cups of the water from pot with the chicken to the rice cooker. Set the rice cooker to ‘cook’.
When 20 minutes is up, prepare a large bowl with ice and water in it. Remove the chicken and immediately place the chicken in the ice bath but do not pour the stock away. This is to ensure that the chicken stops cooking immediately.
When the chicken is cool, bring the chicken to a plate and pat dry with kitchen towels.
Put the cut carrots and napa cabbage into the pot with the water that cooked the chicken. Bring to a boil, and let simmer for 10 minutes, until the carrots are soft.
Combine all the ingredients for the dipping sauce in a small sauce pan. Warm and let the sugar melt, then set aside.
Cut the chicken into smaller pieces, and serve with the rice and soup. Garnish with cucumber slices and serve with dipping sauce and chili sauce.
Chicken Soup with Napa Cabbage and Carrots