Hainanese chicken rice is the national dish of Singapore. The chicken is actually poached whole and then quickly stopped from cooking by placing it in an ice bath. The rice is seasoned with a chicken oil made from the chicken fat and cooked in the poaching liquid.
The chicken ends up with a gelatinous type texture and served sliced with the skin attached. What makes this dish go from great to extraordinary is the sauces that are served with the chicken rice. There are three, one considered a dressing that is soy based and the other two, a chili sauce and a ginger and spring onion oil. This dish is typically also served with tomato and cucumber slices to complete it.
Hawker centers are dotted all over the country of Singapore and I would argue where you find the best food. Hawker centers are food stalls where you can find an array of food from their diverse population. There is one famous stall that only makes this Hainanese chicken rice and actually has a Michelin star. One serving is only around $1.50 making it a truly affordable meal anytime.
I had the privilege to visit Singapore and I can attest that this recipe is pretty darn accurate to what you find there. It is a process to make so if you don’t live in Singapore here is your opportunity to make and try their beloved national dish. It is a winner- winner chicken dinner!
The ingredients should all be easy to come by and I do highly recommend you use poultry hooks while cooking the chicken to keep it off the bottom of the pot, this ensures the skin will stay attached to the chicken. You can pick some up here if you do not have any.
Have you ever been to a Hawker center in Singapore? If so, I would love to hear what you ate when you were there.
Did you know that Singaporeans are the worlds fastest walkers? Cars are only for the super rich in Singapore and so people walk a lot. If you would like to learn more about this tiny city-state, be sure to check out “Our Journey to Singapore”.
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Hainanese Chicken Rice
- 1 large whole chicken at room temperature
- 2 inches fresh unpeeled ginger
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp monosodium glutamate or 1 tsp chicken stock powder (optional)
- 1 Tbsp sesame oil
- coriander to serve
- sliced cucumber to serve
- sliced tomato to serve
Ginger and spring onion oil
- 2 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
- ½ tsp fleur de sol
- 4 spring onions thinly sliced, green tops reserved for chicken poaching.
- ¼ cup peanut oil
- 3 1/3 cups jasmine rice
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 4 garlic cloves
- 2 shallots roughly sliced
- 2-3 pandan leaves optional
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 cup chicken stock from poaching chicken
Chili Sauce for Chicken
- 4-6 red birds-eye chilies
- 6 thick slices of peeled fresh ginger
- 6 garlic cloves
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2-1 Cup chicken stock from poaching chicken
- 2 Tbsp lime juice
- 2 Tbsp rendered chicken fat
- Remove the fat deposits from inside the cavity of the chicken, near the tail. Roughly chop the fat and place in a small frying pan over very low heat to render. Render the chicken fat, stirring occasionally for about an hour until you all the fat is rendered and the solids are crisp. Remove the solids and use them for another purpose. Reserve the chicken oil. You will use this for both the chili sauce and the chicken rice.
For the ginger and spring onion oil.
- Pound the ginger and salt to a rough paste with a heatproof mortar and pestle.
- Add the spring onion and pound lightly to combine.
- Heat the peanut oil in a small frying pan until it is smoking then pour the hot oil over the ginger mixture. Stir, then set aside until ready to serve.
For the chili sauce :
- Pound the chili, ginger, garlic, sugar and salt together in a mortar and pestle until very smooth. Pounding chili can take some time so to speed up the process you can start it in a blender or food processor and pound to finish, or grate the ingredients into the mortar using a rasp grater.
- Add the boiling stock to the pounded mixture.
- Stir in the juice, adjust the seasoning if necessary so that the balance of sweet, sour and salty is perfect.
- Heat the chicken oil in a small saucepan until hot, the pour over the chili mixture and stir to combine.
To begin poaching the chicken:
- Pound the unpeeled ginger in a mortar and pestle and add to a very large pot containing about 1 gallon of water, along with the tops of the spring onions used for the ginger and spring onion oil.
- Add the salt and MSG or chicken stock powder (if using) and bring to the boil over high heat.
- Taste the water and adjust the amount of salt so that it tastes savory and a little salty.
- Reduce the heat to very low and add the chicken to the pot.
- There should be enough water in the pot so that the chicken doesn’t touch the bottom of the pot, as that will cause the skin to tear.
- Using Poultry hooks, lift the chicken in and out of the water a couple of times to get the liquid in the chicken’s cavity.
- If you have poultry hooks, use them to hang the chicken in the pot.
- The water should now be steaming but not bubbling. Keep the heat low at this level and cook the chicken for 45 minutes.
- Using the poultry hook (or slotted ladle), carefully lift the chicken out of the pan, ensuring you don’t break the skin, and plunge into a large bowl or sink of salted iced water.
- Reserve the stock and stand the chicken in the iced water for at least 10 minutes, turning once. This will stop the cooking and give the skin its delicious gelatinous texture.
- Remove from the iced water and hang over a bowl or the sink to drain well.
- Rub the skin all over with the sesame oil.
- The chicken should be cooked very lightly, pink inside the bones and with a gelatinous skin.
To make the chicken rice:
- Pound the garlic and shallot lightly with a mortar and pestle.
- Combine the rendered chicken oil with vegetable oil to make ½ a cup of oil.
- Heat in a wok over medium heat.
- Add the garlic and ginger stir until starting to brown, then strain through a sieve.
- Reserve the oil and discard the solids.
- Place the rice in a rice cooker or heavy-based saucepan. Add about 5 cups of the reserved stock from the chicken (strained) and the reserved flavored chicken oil.
- Tie the pandan leaves in a knot (if using) and add to the rice.
- If cooking in a rice cooker follow cooker directions. If cooking in a pot, bring to the boil over high heat and continue to boil for about 5 minutes until the level of the liquid reaches the top of the rice, then reduce the heat to very low, cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and cook for 12 minutes, then remove from the heat and stand for another 10 minutes.
For the dressing:
- Combine the ingredients with about half a cup of the stock from cooking the chicken.
Putting it all together:
- When the rice is ready, use a cleaver to slice and debone the chicken Chinese-style and pour the dressing over it. Scatter with the coriander sprigs, and serve with sliced cucumber, tomato and serve with the rice and sauces.