|Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)|
Considered one of Singapore's national dishes, Hainanese chicken rice traces its roots to the Chinese immigrants who came from the Hainan province and settled in different parts of what is now Southeast Asia. Although often associated with Singapore, Hainanese chicken rice is also found in the cuisines of Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
The Tradition of Hainanese Chicken
By tradition, Hainanese chicken rice consists of four elements: the chicken, the rice cooked in chicken broth, the broth served as a soup and the dipping sauce or sauces. The first step is to poach the chicken in chicken broth with spices and aromatics. The second step is to cook rice with some of the broth.
The cooking time indicated below says an hour and twenty minutes but Hainanese chicken rice can't be served right after cooking. The chicken has to be cooled completely before it is chopped; otherwise, the juices will flow out leaving the chicken meat, especially the breast, dry. For westerners, think of roast beef which needs plenty of resting time before it is sliced. The same principle applies to Hainanese chicken. Time is essential to allow to juices to settle so that they remain where they should—in the meat—rather than on your plate.
- 1 whole chicken, preferably free range, about 1 and 1/2 kilograms in weight
- rock salt
- 4 quarts chicken broth, preferably made from chicken bones
- 1/2 cup rice wine (is there a substitute?)
- 2 shallots, peeled and halved
- 4 garlic cloves, smashed
- a 1-inch knob of ginger, scrubbed
- 1 stalk of lemongrass (white portion only), lightly pounded
- 6 peppercorns
- 2 cups long-grain rice
- 2 tablespoons grated ginger
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions
- about 4 tablespoons of peanut oil
Rub the chicken all over with rock salt to remove impurities. Do this two to three times until you see that the skin is clean.
Place the chicken in a pot deep enough to allow the chicken to be submerged in the cooking liquid. Pour in the rice wine and enough chicken broth so that there is at least an inch of liquid above the chicken.
Bring to the boil, skimming off any scum that rises. Lower the heat so that the liquid is barely simmering. Add the shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and peppercorns. Add salt if the broth is unsalted. Cover the pot and let the chicken cook.
Now, the most important part about poaching the chicken. Every cook has his or her tricks; these are mine:
Poaching means the liquid should be below simmering point. What I do is to transfer the pot to the smallest burner on my stove and turn the heat to the lowest setting after adding the aromatics.
I base the length of poaching time on the weight of the chicken -- 30 minutes per kilogram. Hence, a bird weighing a kilogram and a half requires a poaching time of 45 minutes.
When the poaching time is finished, turn off the heat but leave the chicken in the pot, still covered, for another ten minutes.
Using kitchen tongs, lift the chicken off the broth. The best way to not break the skin is to insert one arm of the tongs into the cavity of the chicken. Some cooks plunge the chicken in an ice bath. I prefer to let the chicken cool slowly. You still have to cook the rice and prepare the dipping sauce anyway so there's enough time for the chicken to cool. Place the chicken in a shallow bowl, cover very loosely (I cover the bowl with a colander turned upside down) and leave to cool for at least an hour.
Meanwhile, strain the broth and measure enough to cook the rice in. Cook the rice as usual. I just dump rice and broth in the rice cooker. When the rice is done, fluff up with a fork.
Now, for the dipping sauces. I like to serve my Hainanese chicken with three of them. The first two -- chili sauce (I am biased in favor of Sriracha) and hoisin sauce -- need no preparation. To make the ginger-scallion sauce, mix together the grated ginger, chopped scallions, peanut oil and enough salt to taste.
Transfer the chicken to a chopping board. It will have to be chopped through the bones so you'll need a heavy knife for the job. I prefer a cleaver. Find the joint that connects the thigh (not the leg) from the back and carefully cut through the joint, leaving the leg attached to the thigh. Do the same for the other leg and thigh. Find the joints that connect the "little drumsticks" (drummettes) from the breast and cut through the joints to separate both wings from the breast. Set aside the thighs and wings.
Cut through the breast meat then chop all the way through to cut the chicken into halves. Lay the first half flat on the chopping board. Slice the meat at one-inch intervals. Chop through the bones right where you have sliced the meat. Do the same for the thighs and wings.
This is now the part when you can tell if you cooked your Hainanese chicken correctly. When you cut through the thigh bone, check the color -- the center should be pink. If it is gray, the chicken is overcooked.
Pile the chicken slices on a platter. Serve with the chicken rice, remaining broth and dipping sauces.