Hainanese Chicken Rice is considered by many to be the national dish for Singapore, originating from the Hainan Chinese people overseas in Singapore and Malaysia wanting not only to recreate a taste of their native Hainanese cuisine, but also combined with some flavours from their adopted Countries. The dish itself looks simple but it is deceptively so – There is a fair bit of preparation and cooking to do, but the results are very tasty and as a consequence is one of my favourite dishes to eat. The ingredients you need are: A Chicken (obviously), some spring onions, ginger, garlic, rice and you could have some chillies.
Firstly, the chicken. Try to get a decent one, yunno, one that (hopefully) had a happy life (I do believe that a happy animal makes for a tastier specimen) and it’s worth paying a bit more for better quality in this dish as the simplicity of it will enable to quality of your ingredients to really shine. If you can get one that has some chicken fat still clinging to its (cleaned out) cavity, even better, but don’t worry too much if it’s completely clean inside as you can always improvise with what you’ve got. In this case, I got a Free-Range bird and was fortunate enough to find a big clunk of chicken fat rooted in the bird’s cavity, which I duly extracted and kept aside for use later. Bring some water to the boil in a pot large enough to hold the chicken, you can salt the water but I don’t bother. Once the water has reached boiling stage, gently lower the chicken into the pot along with some peeled and smashed garlic and (reasonably thinly) sliced ginger. Oh, make sure that the water covers the chicken entirely (but only just). Lower the heat to medium for about 10 minutes before turning the heat off completely and leaving the bird in the pot, covered, for about 45 mins – 1 hour or until it’s cooked through before removing from the pot and setting aside for it to come to room temperature. Whatever you do, do NOT discard the stock as you’ll be needing that for the rice..
For the rice, heat a little oil in another saucepan and (if you have any), add the chicken fat and render it out as best you can. Add some finely chopped shallots and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until lightly brown, now add the rice and rather like risotto, you want to make sure that every grain of rice is coated in the flavoured oil and the garlic and shallots are well mixed in and all the rice grains are glossy. Now add the stock to the pot – Using a 2:1 ratio of stock:rice, bring to the boil before bunging a lid of the saucepan and turning the heat to the lowest possible setting and letting it cook for about 20 minutes. What you should find is that the rice has absorbed all the liquid and there are small dimples along the surface of the rice. I’m still a bit anxious about cooking rice this way which I view as old fashioned – It’s certainly how we used to cook rice before we got rice cookers. But it also meant that whenever we tried this method when we were growing up, there were inevitably times when either we didn’t turn the heat down low enough and/or we would leave it on the flame for too long which meant that the rice would be encrusted to the bottom of the pan and burn, leaving an acrid smell throughout the rice (although, we later learned of adding onions to absorb the smell but there would still be a light brown tinge to the rice as a reminder of our failure). That said, so long as the heat is on low and you leave the lid on, it should be done in 20 minutes and there’s no danger of it burning.
Whilst the rice is cooking, you can get on with the dipping sauces. Admittedly, I usually pound some chillies in a pestle and mortar to go with this dish and I had every intention of doing so again this time, but for whatever reason I decided against it at the last moment so only made the ginger and spring onion dipping sauce; Take a small knob of ginger and you can either finely chop or grate it on a microplane into a deep heat-resistant bowl, don’t use a normal grater as that is too coarse. Trim off the root part of the spring onions and finely chop them before adding them to the ginger and a liberal amount of salt to season. Now, heat up some oil in a small pan until it’s smokingly hot, then give it an extra couple of minutes to be absolutely sure that it’s hot enough. You want enough oil to at just cover the ginger and spring onion mixture but not too much so that the mixture gets drowned in oil. Standing at arm’s length away to reduce any possibility of burning yourself, pour the hot oil over the ginger and spring onion mixture, adding a little at first because it will bubble up and rise upon contact (hence the need for a deep bowl). There will a sizzling sound when the oil touches the mixture (which I find quite satisfying for some reason) and immediately the air will be permeated with the wonderful smell from this condiment. Continue to add the oil in small batches until there is just about enough oil to cover the mixture, you could of course have more oil but I personally like the ginger and spring onion part more than the oil so it’s down to personal preference, really.
Portion the chicken up (without the skin as it’ll be all flabby) and serve with some of that delicious rice which has been flavoured with the stock and the ginger and spring onion dipping sauce. I got a but fancy and did some cucumber and added some coriander making my plate look quite plain (I should have added some pounded chillies, but opted for some sriracha instead). Reserve the stock – it freezes very well – so that you can use it for the next time you cook this dish (making the stock stronger every time you use it). And when the results are tender and chicken with rice which has also taken on the flavour of the stock, served with a dipping sauce which is so delicious on it’s own that I could just eat that served with rice, why on earth wouldn’t you want to cook this dish again? As I said earlier, the dish may look quite simple but the tastes it yields are sensational.
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