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
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.