I'd been sitting on this post, since my Mum and I made Singapore Hainanese Chicken Rice together for the first time in London when she came to visit recently. Then I saw "chicken, red chilli and garlic" as the key ingredients for the August "In The Bag" recipe competition on Julia Parson's A Slice of Cherry Pie blog, and decided to make the most of sitting around in a laundromat in Tallinn, Estonia!
Hainanese chicken rice is a signature local fast food dish in Singapore, available at just about every corner coffee shop and food court. A plate for 1 usually costs between S$2-5, depending on the fanciness of the purveyor (I think the Chatterbox Cafe at Mandarin Meritus still holds the record at S$22). Almost every Singaporean you talk to will have a personal favourite chicken rice stall -- some in very obscure neighbourhoods -- but for mainstream and Main Street diners, the ongoing tussle is between the Boon Tong Kee and Five Star chains, who for a few years stubbornly sprouted branches all over our sunny island, always on the same street, always a few doors down from the other. The great gang of guys behind Hungrygowhere.com will have the most comprehensive listing of branches.
So, when a Singaporean moves abroad, sooner or later they learn how to make this dish...or invest in a friendship with someone who does! It sparks delicious and comforting memories of home. A weekend meal with the family. A quick lunch with mates from work. A vaccination against hangover after a night of clubbing, if eaten at a 24-hour chicken rice joint (yes they exist, and I am thankful!).
What delighted me most about making this dish with Mum so far away from my native Singapore was that I was able to source almost all the ingredients from my fortnightly Riverford Organic veggie box, and Queens Park Farmers Market -- an unexpected local and seasonal treat from the UK summer!
This recipe makes 6-8 servings, so have some family or friends come on over.
- 2 whole chickens, about 1kg each. Preferably free range and organic. These will have great tasting and muscly meat but might be missing some fat that you will need for the rest of this recipe
- 2 or 3 teaspoons salt per chicken (My Mum says 2 for health, I say 3 for taste)
- 1 medium bulb of garlic per chicken, skin left on, cloves lightly bashed
- 1 piece of ginger about 2 fingers big per chicken, sliced thickly and lightly bashed
- 1 pot half full of boiling water. The chicken needs to fit into the pot and be fully immersed, but you don't want too much water as this will mean diluted chicken stock. So you're looking for a pot that is tall rather than wide
- Salvage whatever chicken fat you can from around the thighs, necks and butt. Set the fat aside
- Rub salt on the outside of the chickens and inside the cavities
- Stuff the ginger and garlic in the chickens. Use a toothpick to seal the cavities
- Use string to truss up the chickens (under the wings) so that you can lower them into and raise from the pot more easily
- Bring water in the pot to a rolling boil, then turn the heat on the stove down to low
- Place the 1st chicken in the pot and let it cook for 15 minutes. Raise it, let all the water drip out of the cavity, then dunk again, cook for another 15 minutes. Raise, let drip and dunk a 3rd time (i.e. total cooking time is 45 minutes)
- Repeat with the 2nd chicken
- Let the cooked chickens cool to room temperature on a platter
- Set aside the chicken broth in the pot
- Use a carving knife to remove the wings, the breasts from the breastbone and whatever meat you can from the back. Slice the breast meat thickly.
- If you feel sufficiently confidently about your knife skills, remove the bones from the chicken legs and slice thickly. Otherwise, use a sharp and heavy cleaver and chop the legs into thick slices (hopefully without chipping the bones too much)
Chicken Garnish & Gravy
- 2 cucumbers, halved, then thinly sliced on the bias
- 2 large tomatos, halved, then thinly sliced on the bias
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
- 2 stalks spring onion, sliced thinly on the bias
- ~5 tablespoons light soya sauce
- ~2 tablespoons sesame oil
- A splash of chicken broth
Combine all the liquids. Place the vegetable and herbs on the platter of chicken meat, and drizzle on the gravy mix just before serving.
- 6 cups Thai fragrant rice, preferably organic
- Chicken fat, garlic and ginger salvaged from above
- 1 small bundle of screwpine leaves (optional but get it if you can find it at an Asian grocer)
- 18 cups of chicken broth (i.e. 3 cups broth for every 1 cup rice) -- whatever is left over can be served as soup
- 1 wok, or large frying pan
- 1 rice cooker or large saucepan / pot
- With the heat under the wok on high, heat up the chicken fat, then toss in the garlic and ginger and fry for ~1 min
- Add the washed uncooked rice, and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, until the rice is evenly coated in chicken fat
- Fill the rice cooker / pot with the chicken broth from above
- Add the contents of the wok , and the screwpine leaves to the rice cooker / pot
- Cook for ~20 minutes, until the rice is soft and fluffy
The Chilli Sauce
Every chicken rice purveyor in Singapore has their house style of chilli sauce (some are known specifically for them) so depending on what floats your boat, you can dial up and down the level of heat, garlicky-ness and gingery-ness. Personally, I like a lot of minced ginger and garlic, which means I ended up with a very pale orange sauce.
- 8-10 large fresh red chillies. If you want extra kick, add 2-4 little birds eye chillies into the mix
- 1 large thumb of ginger, peeled and sliced
- 6-8 cloves of garlic, skinned and sliced
- 2-4 large limes, quartered
- 1/2 tablespoon light soya sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
- A few cilantro leaves for garnishing
- Dark soya sauce, served separately as per diner's taste
Combine the chili, garlic and ginger in a food processor. Thin it out with the lime juice, soya sauce and sesame oil. My Dad and a couple of my friends like to drizzle a lot of dark soya sauce on their rice -- I leave this up to you.
Garnish and sauce up the chicken and serve on a large platter. Parse out the rice, and place the chilli sauce in a large bowl with a spoon, or else give each diner a little dipping saucer.
Tuck in. Goes great with Tiger Beer!
I love to use the cold leftover chicken from the fridge for salad. Goes great with cucumbers, tomato and lettuce (try a mix of romain and butter lettuce or lamb's lettuce)
Be sure to save the chicken bones from the deboning process -- they're great for making chicken stock!
Notes on sourcing (for London / UK readers):
For vegetables, I'm a big fan of the Riverford Organic veggie box. You can order extras for your regular box as well. At the farmers markets, I usually end up at the Perry Court Farm stall.
If you try this, let me know how it goes!