Hainanese Chicken Rice
Hainanese chicken rice is a dish that was created by Chinese immigrants from Hainan; a small island off southern China. It is based off the original version called Wenchang chicken; which uses a specific breed. This dish consist of a whole poached chicken accompanied with aromatic seasoned rice, a warm bowl of soup, served with various sauces and garnished with cucumber slices that completes the meal. Hainanese chicken rice is popular across Southeast Asia; particularly well known in Malaysia and Singapore. It is one of the most popular national dishes of Singapore. There are other variations of this dish in Indonesia (nasi ayam hainan), Thailand (khao man gai), and Vietnam (cơm gà hải nam) as well.
These days I try to stretch my food supply and work with whatever is available from home, that way I can limit the amount of trips to the grocery store. With that being said, we’ll be using chicken thighs as opposed to using a whole chicken. It cooks in less time and is a better option for feeding smaller families. Hainanese chicken rice is an elaborate dish that involves a number of steps and a list of ingredients but don’t let that intimidate you, it’s quite simple to make. There are three components to preparing this dish (chicken, rice, and sauce) which will take some time and energy but the end results will be worth it. Let’s begin!
The most crucial part to Hainanese chicken rice is the preparation of the chicken. First, the chicken will be poached; this method will produce a more juicy and tender chicken. Then, it will be submerged into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. This will help seal in the juices from the chicken and tighten the skin giving it a springy gelatinous texture that it’s known for. Lastly, rub some oil onto the chicken for extra flavor and to prevent it from drying out. Once the chicken has been prepared, reserve any of the liquid that was used to cook the chicken as it will also be used to make the rice. The remaining leftover liquid will be used for the soup and dipping with the sauces.
Typically, the rice is cooked with the reserved chicken poaching broth and render fat from the chicken skin trimmings with a few other aromatics. I used a pot to cook the rice on the stove top instead of using the rice cooker since I assume it’s more accessible for most. If you already have leftover white rice like I usually do, I’d suggest to repurpose that rice and prepare it the same way as you would with fried rice. That way, you don’t have to make a new batch. Also, if you have leftover broth, you can add in various vegetables to make a new dish, add in rice to make rice porridge (congee) or boil some noodles for chicken noodle soup.
The simplicity of this dish relies on the chicken’s natural flavor but with the pairing of the sauces, it elevates the taste of the chicken. The sauces are usually prepared after the chicken has been cook as the poaching liquid is needed. I’d suggest to make them while the chicken is cooking, then add in the reserved poaching broth before serving. I’ve made all three sauces; soy dipping sauce, chili garlic paste, and ginger scallion oil. To prepare the sauces, you can either pound the aromatics with a mortar and pestle to extract more of their flavor but it takes more time. Alternatively, chop, blend, or grate the ingredients together with whichever tool is available.
Hainanese chicken rice can be time consuming to make but it only takes simple ingredients, which are my usual kitchen staples. While the simplicity of this dish may not sound too impressive, it doesn’t fall short on flavor; every component works in perfect harmony. To serve drizzle some of the soy dipping sauce onto the chicken, dip in the chili garlic paste and scallion oil with a spoonful of rice, and take a sip of that warm soothing bowl of soup. Lastly, freshen your palette with some cool crisp cucumbers.
- 3 lbs chicken thighs
- 6-8 cups water
- 3 garlic cloves (whole)
- 6 ginger slices
- 3 scallions (cut into 2 in’ pieces)
- 1/2 onion
- salt to taste
- cilantro to garnish (optional)
- 2 tbsp oil from chicken skin trimmings
- 2 cups jasmine rice
- 2 3/4 cup chicken poaching broth
- 1/4 onion (diced)
- 3 garlic cloves (minced)
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tsp rice vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
- 3 tbsp chicken poaching broth
- 1 in’ ginger (grated or pounded)
- 2 scallions (sliced)
- 3 garlic cloves (grated or pounded)
- 4 tbsp avocado oil
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp chicken poaching broth
- 1/2 red capsicum (blend or pounded)
- 3 garlic cloves (blend or pounded)
- 1 in’ ginger (blend or pounded)
- 2 Thai chilies (blend or pounded)
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- 2-3 tsp rice vinegar
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1/2-1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp chicken poaching broth
- Clean and pat dry the chicken, remove excess skin; reserve for later use for the rice.
- In a stock pot, bring water to a boil, add chicken and lower heat to a simmer; cook for 10-15 minutes then turn off heat and cover. Allow chicken to stand for another 15-25 minutes or until the juices from the chicken runs clear.
- Remove chicken and place in an ice bath to stop the chicken from further cooking.
- Rub with sesame or turmeric oil for more of a golden color.
- Remove the aromatics and discard, as this stock will be used for the soup.
- Season the stock with more salt if needed.
- Add in cilantro before serving.
- Wash rice about 3 times to remove excess starch.
- Heat pan on medium-low heat and render fat from the chicken skin trimmings; cook until crisp and remove.
- Add in onion and garlic, sauté for about 5 minutes or until golden.
- Add rice, toast for about 5-8 minutes to dry out rice; tossing occasionally to not burn.
- Add in chicken poaching broth to rice, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low and cook for about 15 minutes or until the water level reaches the rice; turn off heat.
- Allow the rice to sit for 5 more minutes before removing the lid, then give the rice a mix.
- Soy dipping sauce: add soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and sesame oil.
- Mix till sugar is dissolved; taste and adjust if needed.
- Ginger Scallion Oil: pound or grate garlic and ginger, cut scallions into small pieces.
- Heat up oil until smoking, pour over mixture, and season with salt.
- Chili Garlic Paste: pound capsicum, garlic, ginger, and chilies with a mortar and pestle or blend in a food processor.
- Add lime juice, vinegar, sugar, and salt; adjust to taste.
- Add in poaching broth to sauces before serving.
- Rub coarse salt all over chicken to exfoliate for smoother skin.
- Prepare sauces as chicken cooks.
- Properly season the poaching liquid; taste and adjust seasoning after the chicken has been cooked.
- Use any neutral oil for the ginger scallion oil sauce
- The chili garlic sauce should have good balance between sweet and sour to offset the savory chicken.
- Add in pandan leaves and sesame oil to rice for more fragrant rice.
- Rub sesame or turmeric oil onto chicken for extra color and additional flavor.
- Cut chicken into slices off the bone for serving.