January 23, 2008

Hainanese (Singapore) chicken rice

When we first got married, Lav and I didn't watch too much television. She liked watching ER, and I pretty much only watched ESPN and the occasional cooking show here and there. Then, somehow, she got addicted (in a very serious way) to Lost and we both started watching the Office and 30 Rock. These days, I'm also still pretty hooked on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, which really caught my attention after the episode in Beiruit.

The first episode of this season had Tony romping around Singapore, tasting all sorts of awesome food. The first dish he tried from a hawker stand was Chicken Rice, a national dish of sorts. It's a simple dish, but the component flavors are such principal colors of the palate that it's easy to see why good Chicken Rice is so esteemed.

After reading through a few suggested recipies online and comparing those with what I saw in this episode, I decided to wing it. The basic process is simple: boil a whole chicken until it is done, then immediately shock it in an ice water bath to congeal the remaining fat (for texture) and separate the skin from the meat. Everything else, from seasonings to dipping sauces, is completely open to personal creativity and preference.

My version of Hainanese Chicken Rice

1 4-5 lb. whole fryer, preferably free-range/organic
2-inch segment of ginger, peeled
5 cloves garlic, smashed
1 carrot, sliced
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 cup white rice
sesame oil
salt and pepper, to taste
dipping sauces (see later comments)

Slice off the flap of chicken fat/skin from the neck cavity of the chicken and set aside.

Fill a large stockpot with enough cold water to submerge the entire chicken by at least 1 inch. Be sure to leave enough space for water displacement from the chicken. Add smashed garlic cloves, ginger, and the neckbone of the chicken (if included) to the water and bring to a rolling boil. Drop chicken into the boiling water and cover. Bring the liquid back to a boil as quickly as possible and boil vigorously until cooked through, approximately 25 minutes. Be sure to cook chicken thoroughly, but do not overboil. The best way to check for doneness is with a meat thermometer; the meat should be at 165 degrees F). Once chicken is cooked, remove from the pot and immediately place in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Keep the pot of water at a boil to reduce by at least 25%.

In the meantime, slice the reserved flap of chicken fat into small pieces and render the fat in a skillet over medium heat to obtain 2 tablespoons of fat. Reserve. Once the chicken is done boiling, stir in rice grains and lightly toast them in the fat over medium heat until the edges of the grains are translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the rice to a rice cooker and use the cooking liquid from the stock pot to cook the rice.

While rice is cooking, add carrot and green onions to the pot containing the boiling chicken broth. Season broth with salt and pepper to taste, remembering that the broth should be mild in flavor (not salty!), with only a delicately fragrant hint of chicken and ginger. Once the carrot is cooked, serve the broth as a simple soup.

Once the chicken has cooled completely, remove the meat from the bone, trying to keep the skin intact. Slice thinly and dress with a light drizzle of sesame oil. The meat should be accompanied by kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper on the side, in addition to your own choice of dipping sauces. Serve with the steamed white rice, which should have a wafting fragrance of chicken imbued into each tender grain.

We made a slew of simple dipping sauces to accompany the chicken, among them: sweetened light soy sauce with chopped jalepeno, chili oil, soy sauce and sesame oil, meyer lemon juice, black bean sause, seaweed paste, toasted nori flakes, and ume paste. Let your imagination dictate the variety of flavor accents to use.

I can't think of a simpler dish that utilizes the chicken so efficiently, with little to no waste whatsoever... a perfect meal for "frugal" January.


  1. Anonymous2:49 PM

    This is a great step by step recipe. I too enjoy Anthony Bourdain's show. After seeing the Singapore episode again today I went out to gather the ingredients to give this Chicken Rice dish a try. It seems so simple yet must be a true taste treat to be the "National Dish" of a country with so many food choices. I just have to try it myself.

    Thanks You!

  2. Anonymous7:24 AM

    I was looking for a Chicken Rice recipe specifically because of the Singapore episode of Bourdain's show. Thank you! I can't wait to try it.

  3. Anonymous8:17 PM

    I enjoy seeing Anthony Bourdain's show too. For this dish, the rice plays a very important role in it. My Singapore friends tried to make it themselves but turns out it's not as authentic as they have back home.

  4. Anonymous2:44 PM

    Thank you, thank you. I was searching for the chix and rice seen on the Singapore No Reservations never expecting to find it.

  5. Found your recipe when looking for a Singaporean restaurant in Seattle -- sadly, nonesuch. If you are still experimenting with this recipe, I'd advise, just before cooking the rice, to brown a bit of smashed ginger and some roughly chopped garlic together with sesame oil, and then to stir in the rice, saute for a bit and lastly add the stock. It's basically paella technique. The degree to which you chop/smash the garlic and ginger will affect the flavor of the rice. Both flavors are important in this dish. True Singaporean chicken rice is has an addictive, clean aroma that is pleasantly at odds with the bland beigeness of the plate. It's been years since I was an exchange student in Singapore, but still I pine for this dish.

    Other recipes I've seen call for pandan leaves, which are hard to come by here, and I've never tried it, but I bet it's key. Anyhow, I like the idea of using green onions, and will try it next time.

  6. I am having trouble printing out your recipe and I HAVE to have it!!!!!!

    My printer only prints out up to salt and pepper and nothing else!!!!!!!!


  7. Hi,

    I am interested to take training to cook chicken rice, refer me to someone you know from whom i can learn the authentic way of preparing chicken rice.

    Pls email me at phoenixnepal@gmail.com

    thank you!

  8. Anonymous1:57 PM

    Actually, this chicken should be STEEPED chicken, not boiled. This is a common cooking method in East Asia, you can buy Bac Jam Gauy (White Cut Chicken) at most any Chinese BBQ. Place a defrosted chicken (remove giblets) in a large pot with ginger, green oinion and salt, cover in cold water, bring to a boil, cover, turn off flame and let stand for at least 45 minutes. Ideally the chicken should be still be pink at the bone. Cantonese serve this chicken with a sauce of grated ginger, finely minced green onions, salt and oil instead of Soy Sauce.


  9. Anonymous11:25 AM

    Great writeup!

    Yes, as said above, poaching the chicken is the authentic way, not a hard boil. Use one gallon of water for a standard size fryer. Bring water (and aromatics) to boil, dunk chicken for a minute, pull it out (seals skin), let the water come back to a boil, then submerge the chicken again. Cover, turn off heat and leave on the hot burner for one hour. The result is a perfect super juicy poached chicken, for this or any other use (chicken salad, etc.).

    Traditionally, the stock is chicken & pork based and used again and again, with water added to keep volume up. This is one of the reasons that the Singapore versions are more flavorful, aromatic and more intensely umami laden. As most cannot do this, the above poaching method is very good. Save the juices that pour from the poached chicken when cutting it up!

    As said, you can garnish with anything, including lime wedges, sweet dark soy, oyster sauce, chili garlic paste, cucumbers, scallions, minced garlic, & ginger etc. Awesome summer dish! My wife is addicted to this dish now. Another thing: It is best served at room temperature, not hot.