In Singapore the search for the best Hainanese Chicken Rice is alive, well and ongoing. Would it be Tian Tian, Boon Tong Kee or Five Star? Of the myriad of chicken rice experts and avid fans of this quintessential dish, not many will agree as to which one is THE best on the island. I will admit, I’ve had my fair share of chicken rice too and it might be rather controversial to say, but I don’t think I’ve had a bad plate of chicken rice yet. They are all utterly delicious, bringing me back to childhood days at hawker centers, sitting in the heat with the soft, moist chicken on a bed of tasty, oily rice, drizzled with sweet soy sauce and chilli and sometimes ginger.
When I met Winnie Chow and found out that she was Hainanese and made her own chicken rice from scratch, I knew that I had to learn how to cook this with her. I love nothing more than finding delicious, family recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. Sometimes I even try to cook them at home. I am looking forward to making this heritage recipe part of our family favourites (despite The Vegetarian living in our household).
We spent the afternoon with Winnie and heard all about her family, from the days of Kampong living to their move to a HDB flat to now where Winnie still makes this heritage chicken rice recipe for her family.
The following is as told by Winnie. Thank you so much, Winnie for sharing this heritage recipe with us.
I would rarely order Hainanese Chicken Rice when dining out because my late mother would often make it at home and it was the best chicken rice to be had. The rice itself was so good that I would eat bowl after bowl on its own.
Both my parents were from Hainan and we spoke mainly Hainanese at home. At every occasion and celebration, chicken rice was always on the menu. In that sense, the recipe from my mother is as authentic as it can get. I consider myself fortunate to have learned the language and other Hainanese dishes. It is unbelievable that up till today I have not gotten sick of eating our family’s chicken rice.
As a child, I remember going to the market with my mother to buy the live chicken. I would also help her slaughter the chicken at home, pluck the feathers, pound the chilli and prepare all the other ingredients. I also remember my mother raising chickens in the corridor outside our flats. She eventually moved the chicken coop into our bathroom, probably after some complaints from neighbours.
I have been to my father’s old home in Wen Chang, Hainan Island twice and tasted chicken rice there, both times prepared by my relatives. Their chicken rice is a little different from what we get here but it still tastes amazingly delicious. Maybe it is because the chickens there are happier, as they are really true free range chickens that go about pecking around the compound. On my first visit, my aunt slaughtered two chickens for me to bring home. What a lovely farewell present!
As a mother myself now, I cook chicken rice for my children and it is pure joy to watch them eat their portions and ask for second servings, sometimes thirds. How satisfying! I always cook at least four cups of rice with one chicken, and the rice still runs out before the chicken is all gone.
Generally, one chicken and 4 cups of rice, accompanied with soup and a side vegetable dish is sufficient for four people. I usually use kampong chicken, but any normal or organic, whole chicken would also fine for this dish.
Hainanese Chicken Rice Recipe
Prep time 30 minutes, Cooking time 1 hour.
You will need:
For the chicken:
- 1 whole chicken (approximately 1-1.2 kg)
- 4 litres of water
- 100g of ginger
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 4 pandan leaves tied into knot
- 1 tsp salt
For the rice:
- 4 cups of jasmine rice
- 8 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 cups of chicken stock
- 100 g of ginger
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 4 pandan leaves
- 1 tspn of salt
For the soup, in addition to the chicken stock made from the chicken:
- Seaweed, OR
- 1 carrot and 3 cabbage leaves
For the chilli sauce:
- Large Chillies
- Chilli padi (small, red chillis)
- 50g of ginger
- 3 shallots
- Kalimansi or lime to taste
- Boil water in a large pot.
- Clean the chicken and remove the fat from cavity, keeping the fat to be used for the rice (optional). Leave the chicken head and feet intact.
- Rub salt inside the cavity and place ginger, garlic and pandan leaves inside cavity.
- Bend the chicken feet and stuff them into cavity.
- Place the whole chicken into the boiling water and cook for 40 minutes under medium heat. Turn the chicken to ensure it cooks evenly.
- After the chicken is cooked, remove it from pot and bath it in ice water for ten minutes.
- Keep the liquid in the pot. This is the chicken stock. Use it to cook the chicken rice and make soup.
- Fry shallots in a wok until brown.
- Remove two-third of the shallots from the wok and place it on a plate lined with kitchen towel.
- Add rice and salt to the remaining shallots in the wok and continuing to cook for 5 minutes.
- Transfer the rice into a rice cooker and add ginger, garlic, pandan leaves and the chicken stock.
- Select auto mode on rice cooker.
- For the rice to have a richer flavour, add a small portion of the chicken fat removed from the cavity to the rice in the cooker. This is optional and will produce a deeper flavour if you don’t mind it being a little greasy.
- Roughly chop chillies, ginger and shallots
- Put everything into a food processor and blend.
- Add kalimansi or lime juice and salt to taste.
- Add a little chicken stock to further enhance the taste (optional).
Chopped fresh ginger if you would like.
Soup – with carrots and cabbage
- Add cabbage and carrots to the chicken stock.
- Simmer vegetables until they are soft.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
Alternate: Soup – with seaweed
- Add salt and pepper to chicken stock to taste.
- Cut seaweed into triangle and place in soup bowls.
- Add boiling chicken stock to seaweed.
- Garnish with spring onion.
Vegetable Side Dish
You will need:
- Bak Choy
- Sauce to pour over made of chicken stock, garlic, oyster sauce and sesame oil
- Blanch the bak choy lightly in boiling water.
- For the sauce, use 1/2 cup of chicken stock and bring to boil.
- Add in chopped garlic, a tablespoon of oyster sauce (or to taste) and 1/2 a teaspoon of sesame oil.
- Simmer for 2 minutes then pour over vegetables.