Aya’s Kitchen: Hainanese Chicken Rice

Do I really have the audacity to publish a blog post on how to make Hainanese Chicken Rice? Growing up in Singapore, my family’s favorite chicken rice spot was Wee Nam Kee (the original location in Novena). Maybe partly because of the proximity (since we were living in Bukit Timah), but we tried a lot of other chicken rice and found that Wee Nam Kee had great consistency and their chicken was moist, succulent and very flavorful. Some people are grossed out by the skin but it’s my favorite part! And of course, the rice (the best part) was amazing without being too heavy on the garlic and ginger. Their chili sauce and ginger sauce were spot on as well. The added bonus was their wonton soup (not your regular wonton soup- they filled theirs with pork, shrimp and water chestnut).

Everyone in Singapore has different opinions when it comes to the best chicken rice, but that’s true of any kind of dish (whether it be ramen, BBQ, hamburgers etc.) but one thing that most people can agree on is that this is one of our favorite Singaporean dishes. Even expats, who may shy away from or never try dishes like bak chor mee, char kway teow etc, love chicken rice.

I’ve lived away from Singapore since 2003 and I have yet to come across any decent chicken rice in New York. Nyonya is most certainly the go-to place for Singaporean/Malaysian food, and I tried Chomp Chomp shortly after they opened, but the chicken rice is only okay. If you think about how chicken rice stalls in Singapore specialize in this one dish, it’s not surprising that you can’t find good chicken rice here. They dedicate their lives to making chicken rice!

So when I crave chicken rice, I just cook it at home now. It’s not the best chicken rice I’ve eaten, but better than what I’ve eaten at restaurants here. And it’s surprisingly simple to make!

The choice of chicken is of course important. Stay away from Perdue or Tyson (and this is not just specific to chicken rice!) because their “farming” practices are unethical and disgusting, and their chicken is probably 30% water by weight anyway. When I go to supermarkets I usually choose Bell & Evans air chilled chicken, and if I can go to butcher shops or markets, I’d recommend Dickson’s Farmstand Meats (I once poached a whole free range chicken I got from there and it was amazing!), Honest Chops (got some great thighs and grilled them over charcoal) and Violet Hill Farm (their wings are something else!). The chicken from these places are all locally sourced (NY, NJ or PA) from small farms.

I’ve searched for recipes online but I’ve never properly followed one recipe. I’ve taken tips from all of them and cook it my way.

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Ingredients:

Whole chicken
1 tbsp Sea Salt
1/2 bunch Scallion
2 cloves of Garlic
2 inch Ginger (smashed)

For the rice:

1 tbsp Neutral oil or chicken fat
1 tbsp Grated Garlic
1 tbsp Grated Ginger
1 tbsp Minced Shallots
1 1/2 cup Thai Jasmine Rice
Pandan Leaf
Sea Salt
2 cups chicken stock (from poaching the chicken)

To finish:

Sesame oil
Soy Sauce
Cilantro
Scallion (optional)
Fried onion (optional)
Cucumber (preferably not the Japanese or European kind)
Chili Sauce
Ginger Sauce

  1. Start by washing your chicken under cold running water. Massage the whole chicken with the sea salt and place in a deep pot.
  2. Add enough water to cover the chicken, then add the scallion, garlic and ginger. Place over medium heat and bring to a rigorous simmer.
  3. Simmer for 15-20 minutes then cover with a lid and remove from the heat. Allow the chicken to cook in the residual heat for 45 minutes (the internal temperature around the thigh should reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit). This is a method I took from Robert Dahni’s book, Southeast Asian Flavors, which is the best cookbook I’ve come across for Southeast Asian cooking. This is the best way to prevent overcooking and drying out the meat.
  4. Remove the chicken (be careful not to rip the skin!) and submerge in ice water for 10-15 minutes to stop the carry over cooking and to achieve a nice texture for the skin (prevents the dull, dry and rubbery looking skin).
  5. Mix equal parts of toasted sesame oil and soy sauce (I would get a Chinese soy sauce), a bit of the poaching liquid, and brush around the whole chicken.
  6. Keep the chicken whole until time for serving.
  7. Now that you have the poaching liquid, you can make the rice.
  8. Saute the shallots, garlic and ginger in some oil (most recipes call for chicken fat but I think the poaching liquid has enough fat from the chicken) until slightly brown and fragrant.
  9. Add the rice, coat each grain with the oil, and add the chicken stock/poaching liquid and salt (to taste).
  10. Top with the pandan leaf, cover with a lid and cook for 15-20 minutes (until done).
  11. Before serving, cut the chicken into desired pieces, and garnish with scallion (optional), fried onion (store bought one- also optional) cucumber and cilantro. Most chicken rice places will serve the chicken with the sesame oil and soy sauce mixture, with the cucumber soaking in this sauce.
  12. The choice for ginger sauce and chili sauce is important. You can either buy them or make them yourself (I will post a recipe another time).
  13. Use the remaining poaching liquid to make a soup (I usually add either cabbage or lettuce, and minced scallion) and simply season with salt and a bit of white pepper.

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