I have finally mustered enough courage to make a full-fledged Hainanese Chicken Rice. This recipe has always been on my to-do list and I’ve researched high and low for recipes and tips in making a good chicken rice. The main pulling factors preventing me from cooking it is the thought of chopping up a whole chicken and the fear of failure – I won’t want to serve a plate of messily chopped up chicken that is unpleasant to the tongue.
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I have actually tried making it once last year using bone-in chicken thigh but the results weren’t very satisfactory and since then, I’ve contemplated on whether I should just buy one whole chicken to try it out. However, I always thought that I didn’t have the skills to try out such a challenging recipe.
But one day I’ve decided that enough is enough: I would never know how well I fare if I didn’t try it out, right? So off I went to the market and I bought myself my first whole chicken!
If you haven’t heard of Hainanese Chicken Rice, it is a dish of Chinese origin and is an extremely popular dish in Singapore and Malaysia. I won’t go into the history/details of the dish as it’s all written on Wikipedia!
I have adapted the recipes from 3 kind and generous bloggers – Rasa Malaysia, Steamy Kitchen and Adam Liaw – and have made some modifications on my own (mainly on the soup). I proceeded with the recipe really slowly, taking my time to clean, scrub and cooking the chicken. Majority of the time is spent on the chicken, and once the chicken is cooked, the rest of the steps felt like a breeze!
Until I realize there is this step of chopping the chicken.
Lucky for YouTube videos (I’ll provide the links below with the step-by-step photos), I managed to chop the drumsticks and wings off cleanly, but I was lost on how to cut the breast meat, so I just sliced the meat along the bone – it wasn’t perfect as there were still a lot of meat left on the bones, but I had fun just nipping the meat away after that – kind of like a chef’s treat – and thankfully the chicken didn’t look that bad. Even my mom was impressed by my first attempt haha!
I have to say that the dish turned out so much better than I expected – the chicken meat is tender and smooth with jelly-like and springy skin; the soup was very flavourful, sweet and delicious; and the chilli condiment was out-of-the-world spicy but it tasted very close to those good-quality chilli sauce served by hawkers. It was a dish very well worth the effort and I foresee myself making this again in the future – so that I can impress more people and practice on my carving skills!
Here are some notes and tips I’ve learned from cooking this dish:
1) Important! Use a pair of tweezers to pluck out all the remaining feathers.
2) Important! Rub salt all over the chicken.
3) The chicken – after its “facial”!
1) I bought my chicken from a supermarket – and there would always be some small feathers / feather roots not removed, so a pair of tweezers is really useful to help remove the remaining feathers and feather roots. You won’t want to be eating feathers later on, so do a good job plucking them out!
2) & 3) Have you ever used a facial scrub before? Facial scrubs will have these little beads in them, which help to exfoliate our skin, getting rid of the dirt trapped underneath the skin and making our face smooth and shiny. The same theory is applied here in our chicken! The quality of chicken skin is most important in making Hainanese Chicken Rice, so scrub generous amount of salt all over the chicken. Table salt would be too fine to use, so use a cheap coarse salt (and do wash the salt off after that!) You will realize that the chicken skin will be a lot smoother after the scrub!
4) Snip off the chicken fats
5) Chop some spring onion
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6) And some ginger
4) (You can do this before or after the chicken scrub.) Use a pair of kitchen scissors and snip off the excess chicken fats – the chicken fats are highly treasured here so don’t throw them away! The chicken fats are cut into small pieces and cooked in a small pot until the fat has been rendered and the pieces have turned crispy. The melted chicken fat is very flavourful and will be used to cook the rice later on.
5) & 6) I boiled the chicken in plain water – the chicken will give the soup flavour, but I also added spring onion, ginger, carrot (added halfway while cooking the chicken) and napa cabbage (added after the chicken is cooked) to flavour the soup even more. The resulting soup is really sweet and delicious with all the vegetables added! You can add other things like canned button mushrooms or use other combinations of vegetables.
7) Stuff the ginger into the cavity of the chicken
8) The spring onion goes in as well
9) Tuck in the chicken feet so it is not dangling around
7) & 8) I bend the spring onion until it can be fitted into the cavity of the chicken. Stuffing them into the cavity of the chicken also helps to flavour the chicken to some extent. The ginger and spring onion are discarded after the chicken is cooked.
9) I tuck in the chicken feet so it’s not cumbersome to handle, and it also helped to prevent the stuffing from dropping out.
10) Place the chicken in a pot and add water.
11) After the chicken is cooked, cool the chicken in a large bowl of ice water and rub sesame oil all over the chicken
12) Skim off the fat and scoop some soup to cook the rice
10) I didn’t measure the amount of water used as I think everyone’s pot and chicken is different. Use a pot that can fit your chicken nicely and add water until the whole chicken is submerged. If you use a pot that is too wide, you may end up using too much water – which isn’t necessary a bad thing – you will get more soup, but the soup will be more diluted. Boil the water and chicken together then simmer it for 20 minutes. The chicken is then poached in the hot water for another 30 minutes. Do skim the scum off the surface after the water has come to a boil and just before the chicken poached in the hot water.
11) After the chicken is cooked, remove the chicken very carefully and submerged it into a large bowl of ice water (use a large bowl of ice water and add lots of ice cubes in it to make the water super cold). I forgot to take photos of that step (sorry!) Cooling the chicken in ice water stops the cooking process and allows the chicken skin to tighten and become springy and jelly-like. The meat will also be more tender and soft. According to a Adam’s recipe, he rubbed sesame oil all over the chicken. He didn’t mention what it’s for, but I guess it’s to give the chicken a little flavour and colour. This step probably can be omitted.
12) Fat will be rendered from the chicken during the cooking process. Skim off the fat into a measuring cup – this liquid gold will be added into our rice later on. Skimming off the fat from the soup also makes a clearer soup with a cleaner taste. Top up with the chicken broth so that you get enough water to cook the rice.
13) Heat the chicken fat and cook the aromatics
14) Add in the rice and stir to coat it with oil evenly
15) Add in seasonings, water and steam the rice till the rice is cooked
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13) & 14) The melted chicken fat rendered from the fat pieces is used first to cook the aromatics – ginger and garlic. Rice is then added to coat the rice evenly with oil. If you are using a rice cooker, you can do this step directly in the rice cooker.
15) Salt, light soy sauce and sesame oil is used to season the rice. Pandan leaves are also added to give the rice a nice flavour and fragrant. We call this rice you fan (油饭) which literally meant oily rice.
16) Pound grated ginger, chilli, garlic, sugar and salt together.
17) Add in lime juice
18) And some chicken broth
16), 17) & 18) In Singapore, many of us love our chicken rice with a spicy and sour chilli sauce. I used bird’s eyes chilli as they are more intense in terms of spiciness as compared to normal red chilli. You can use a mix of normal red chilli with bird’s eyes chilli so that the heat is less intense.
19) Chilli sauce – done!
20) Chop up the chicken
21) Drizzle with a finishing sauce
19) I actually made 2 condiments – this chilli sauce and another ginger sauce. However I wasn’t very satisfied with the ginger sauce so I’m not going to post the recipe up here this time round.
20) Chopping the chicken – this is my first time chopping one so it’s definitely not perfect. My grandmother chops the whole chicken – bone and all – with a very sharp cleaver. I didn’t want to make a mess out of my kitchen so I tried to go for the debone method – so my chicken breast parts have no bone at all as I sliced it along the bone to get the meat off. The good thing is that the chicken has already cooled completely so it’s easier to carve up the chicken. Also, the skin and meat are really tender so they give way very easily under the knife. It’s hard to explain with words, so here are some videos that helped me in my chicken-chopping journey: Video 1; Video 2; Video 3; Video 4; Video 5.
21) Combine some sesame oil, soy sauce and chicken broth and drizzle it over the chicken. The sauce goes very well with rice as well – but it can be pretty salty, so taste and add more chicken broth is desired to dilute the saltiness.
And that’s it! It can be pretty tedious, but definitely well worth the effort!
I’m submitting this post to:
Aspiring Bakers #28: Chicken Feast (February 2013) hosted by SSB of Small Small Baker;
Chinese New Year Delights 2013 hosted by Sonia aka Nasi Lemak Lover; and
Recipe Box hosted by Chaya from Bizzy Bakes.
A word of encouragement: Even if you have no faith in your chopping skills (like me), don’t be afraid and do give this recipe a try! Chances are that the meat will still look decent and your family and friends would be impressed. Also, with more practise, I’m sure we will be able to chop up the chicken nicely 🙂 If you really don’t want to carve up a whole chicken, you can also just serve the whole chicken straight and let your family pull the meat off the chicken themselves. You can also substitute the whole chicken with bone-in chicken thigh – but do keep in mind that the soup will not be as thick and flavourful as compared when you use a whole chicken. Refer to all the tips and notes mentioned above!
Edit 28/8/2016: Recipe updated to include ½ large red onion in the rice. You can blend the onion, garlic and ginger in a food processor into a paste before cooking it, you won’t taste any bits in the rice, but the flavour these 3 gave to the rice is irresistible!
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