Hainanese chicken rice


  • Serves 4 - 6 people

In a time-honoured tradition, this recipe has been handed down from my mother and her mother before her. My family and many Hainanese families offer balls of pressed rice to their children as part of the ritual. The restaurant Chung Wah in old Malacca still observes this tradition.

  • 1.8 kg chicken, preferably organic and free-range
  • 15 gm ginger, bashed with the side of your knife to bruise
  • 2 spring onions, cut into 6cm batons
  • To serve: sliced Lebanese cucumber and coriander sprigs
  • 3 cups (loosely packed; about 1 bunch) watercress sprigs
  • Chilli sauce
  • 6-8 long red chillies, coarsely chopped
  • 20 gm ginger, thickly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • Juice of 2 limes, or to taste
  • Chicken fat from stock (optional), to taste
  • Chicken rice
  • 50 gm chicken fat reserved from chicken, or 2 tbsp vegetable oil (see note)
  • 5 golden shallots, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 600 gm (3 cups) Thai jasmine rice, washed and drained well
  • 2 pandan leaves tied into a knot (see note)
  • 875 ml (3½ cups) chicken stock
  • Soy dressing
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • ½ tsp sesame oil
  • 100 ml reserved chicken stock
01   Remove excess chicken fat from the cavity and set aside for rice. Rub chicken inside and out with 2 tsp sea salt and set aside to come to room temperature (30-40 minutes).
02   Place ginger, spring onions, 4 litres water and 1 tsp salt in a large saucepan and bring to the boil.
03   Loop string around and under chicken wings and across the breast, lower chicken into boiling stock and submerge for 1 minute. Lift chicken and allow stock to drain from cavity, then repeat twice more, bringing stock back to the boil between each dunking. Submerge bird again, bring stock back to the boil, reduce heat to low-medium and simmer for 20 minutes. Cover with a lid, turn off heat and steep bird until cooked through (40-45 minutes).
04   Remove chicken without breaking skin. Drain stock from cavity (reserve stock), then plunge bird into a bath of iced water and set aside until well chilled (20-25 minutes). Drain, pat dry and set aside to come to room temperature.
05   For chilli sauce, pound ingredients except lime juice to a coarse paste with a mortar and pestle. Add lime juice and fat, stir well and season to taste with salt and extra lime juice. Set aside.
06   Chop reserved chicken fat and stir in a wok over medium heat until fat renders (3-5 minutes). Discard (or eat) solids.
07   Add shallots and stir occasionally until golden (6-10 minutes). Add garlic and fry until fragrant (about 1 minute).
08   Add rice and stir-fry until rice begins to pop (2-3 minutes), then transfer to a saucepan.
09   Add pandan leaves and about 875ml reserved hot stock, or enough to cover rice by 1cm. Increase heat to high, bring to the simmer, stir rice, then reduce heat to low, cover with a tightly fitting lid or foil and cook until liquid is absorbed (11-12 minutes). Remove from heat, remove lid, cover with a tea towel and stand to steam dry (4-5 minutes).
10   Meanwhile, add watercress to remaining stock and season to taste.
11   Cut chicken Chinese-style and place on a plate.
12   Combine ingredients for soy dressing in a bowl, spoon over chicken, add sliced cucumber and coriander leaves and serve with individual bowls of rice, watercress broth and chilli sauce.

Note If the chicken fat doesn't render to 2 tbsp rendered fat, make up the quantity with oil. Pandan leaves are available from Asian grocers.

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