Hainanese chicken rice is a perennial favorite in Malaysia and Singapore. This simple yet tasty dish is enjoyed by all and is a mainstay in the food courts there. For many visiting westerners wary of the more spicy and exotic local fare, chicken rice is also a great choice. The dish can be as mild or spicy as one likes, with the optional chili sauce.
The fair appearance of the dish stands in contrast with the wonderful flavor of the rice and chicken combined with the sesame garlic and chili dipping sauce. Achieving the smooth silky texture of the chicken is an important part of the preparation. This can be tricky as boiling the chicken will give a dry and rough texture but under cooking it may leave the chicken a little too “pink” at the joints, hence, not safe for consumption. To get it just right calls for a short and gentle simmer on the stove followed by a long steeping of the chicken in the boiling water with the heat turned off. The chicken is then shocked in a cold water bath for a few minutes to stop the cooking.
It has been a while since I ate this delicious dish. During my stay in England, my dear friend DongXing and I decided to cook it with chicken thighs and drumsticks instead of the whole chicken, using her mom’s recipe. We reduced the steeping time and omitted dunking the cooked chicken in the cold water bath. We also cooked the rice using butter and saved the little reserved broth for soup. This worked out really well as we were able to cook the rice while the chicken hung out in its hot and steamy bath. The results were no less stellar! The thighs and drums were perfectly cooked – silky smooth and not pink at all! I have since cooked this twice at home and the family totally enjoyed it.
I would like to add that the simmering and steeping time is just right for this time of the year with the home ambient temperature in the mid 70′s F (mid 20′s C). Changes will likely be needed in the winter when the average temperature in the house drops to the mid and upper 60′s Fahrenheit (upper 10′s C). Ahh…the trials of cooking in temperate climate! Hopefully I will be able to test out my theory and add a note to the recipe in the winter. In the meantime, please do enjoy this now.
I adapted the recipe a little by using chicken leg quarters and making a simple sesame garlic sauce to drizzle on the chicken.
- 3 chicken leg quarters (thighs and drums attached)
- 1 piece ginger about 1 inch thick, smashed
- ½ cucumber, sliced thinly into coins
- 4 Napa cabbage leaves, sliced
- Salt and pepper
- 2 cups long grain rice, rinsed and drained
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 piece ginger, about 1 inch thick, smashed
- 3 tbsp butter
- 2¼ cups (540ml) water
- ½ tsp salt
- 5 red Anaheim chilies
- 1 piece ginger, about 1 inch thick
- 3 cloves garlic
- ¼ cup (60ml) rice vinegar
- 2 tsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
Bring a pot of water with ginger (enough to cover chicken by about an inch on the top) to boil. Rub chicken leg quarters with some salt and lower into boiling water. Bring water back up to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and allow it to simmer for 5 minutes if using electric stove. Allow it to simmer for 7 minutes if using gas stove. Turn off heat and leave chicken to sit in boiling water on the stove for 30 minutes. Do not open lid.**
Melt butter in deep fry pan. Sauté garlic and ginger for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in rice and fry for 2 to 3 minutes.
Transfer rice to rice cooker. Add water and salt and press the cook button. Alternatively, add water and salt to pan and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and allow it to simmer until all water is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Turn heat down to the lowest setting and leave pot on for another 5 minutes. Turn off heat, remove pot. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.
Place all chili sauce ingredients in a food processor and process until fine. Remove and divide into 4 small dishes. Drizzle a little soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil on the chili sauce. Store the remaining sauce in a glass jar.
Place garlic and sesame oil in a small microwaveable dish and microwave on high for 1½ minutes. Remove and mix in 2 tablespoon soy sauce. Set aside for now.
Line a dinner plate with sliced cucumbers. When chicken is ready, remove and immediately submerge it in a cold bath for 2 to 3 minutes. Reserve the chicken broth for soup. Remove skin and bones from chicken leg quarters and slice into bite size pieces. Place onto sliced cucumbers. Drizzle the prepared sesame garlic sauce over chicken.
Skim off fat from reserved chicken broth. Discard ginger. Bring it back up to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Add Napa cabbage and allow it cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off heat. Ladle into 4 serving bowls.
To serve, divide rice onto 4 plates. Dish a portion of chicken onto each plate. Serve immediately with chilling dipping sauce and a bowl of soup for each place setting.
** Simmering and steeping time is right for home ambient temperature in the mid 70’s F (mid 20’s C). Changes will likely be needed in the winter when the temperature drops to the mid and upper 60’s F (upper 10’s C).
Enjoy…..and have a wonderful day! 8)