Hainanese Chicken Rice has been touted as one of Singapore’s signature hawker dishes, but it’s also a dish served in many neighbouring countries (we’re just being possessive). It’s basically a delicately poached chicken dish served with fragrant rice. Read this hawker food post for more details on how it looks and tastes like at my family’s favourite kopitiam (coffee shop) in Singapore.
The flesh is succulent from light cooking, supplanted with a sesame oil-rich drizzling sauce. The fragrant rice is cooked using the stock that the chicken was poached in, and of course there’s an uplifting chilli sauce to seal the deal.
Coarse salt, light soy sauce, sesame oil
Spring onion, ginger, cucumber, garlic
This hawker dish actually doesn’t involve that many ingredients. However, there are many steps involved in making it. What I’ve tried to do here is simplify the steps to the point where you can make this dish somewhat quickly, and hopefully with ease.
The pictures that follow will give you a visual idea of what’s involved. And as usual, the recipe will be appended at the end of this post, with a commentary on the steps that can be skipped to save yourself time.
What I’d normally do first is to quickly wash and prepare the ingredients for the poaching stock. The ginger doesn’t need peeling here and you only need rough slices. The chicken is then washed and its fat trimmed off and saved for frying.
Do not stinge on the recommended amount of ginger. Having enough ginger in the poaching stock is important in ensuring the flavour comes through.
I’d then fry the chicken fat till the oil is released, then add ginger, garlic and spring onion to create the fragrant oil. The fragrant oil will be used to make the sprinkling sauce and rice. This step can actually be skipped and the fragrant oil substituted with sesame oil. However, I think the fragrant oil is what makes the rice taste nice.
Another thing I do is create the fragrant oil using the same stock pot that will eventually hold the chicken later. The oil is decanted out, but I leave the fried ingredients in the pot and then add water for poaching. This makes a more flavoursome poaching stock.
While waiting for the stock to boil, I’d clean the chicken by rubbing it all over with coarse salt. This step is important in order to get the smooth, polished chicken skin that makes this such a coveted dish. Any bits of feather and hairs should also be removed at this point. Rinse off the salt when finished.
Hint: the coarser the salt, the easier to clean
Add spring onion and ginger into the boiling pot of water, then lower the chicken in gently. Make sure the chicken is fully submerged. Poaching time begins when the stock starts to boil again, the heat should be brought down to a gentle simmer and the pot should remain uncovered. Turn the chicken over halfway through the poaching process.
It is important to use chicken that is at room temperature, fridge cold chicken will need a longer poaching time. If you’re not sure, it is better to just add a few minutes to the recommended poaching time just so that you don’t end up with an undercooked chicken.
Once poaching is complete, the cooking process is halted by plunging the poached chicken into a basin of iced cold water for 5 mins. This step also firms up the chicken skin.
On a side note, if you’re using a whole chicken, you can stuff its cavity with the spring onion and ginger. The advantage of cooking whole chicken is the breast portion ends up more succulent since its flesh isn’t exposed directly to the poaching water. When lowering into the pot, make sure the stock also enters its cavity fully. When cooked, the chicken can be lifted out of the pot using chopsticks.
The poaching stock is then used to cook the fragrant rice. I’d like to point out something about rice cups… they’re not the same as standard measuring cups. 1 rice cup holds 180ml of water (150g long grain rice) while a standard measuring cup holds 240ml. In this recipe, I’ve used grams and mls instead so that there’s no confusion
And that photo of the stopwatch screen was taken at the point when the rice cooking was complete, showing that you can actually make this dish within an hour!
And here’s how you do it: you have to multitask. While the chicken is being poached, or while the fragrant rice is cooking, start slicing up the cucumber (peeling is optional) and then line a serving dish with it. You should also start making the sprinkling sauce for the chicken.
Store-bought chicken rice chilli sauce | Sprinkling sauce
Another tedious step in this recipe is the making of the accompanying chilli sauce, ginger sauce and sweet black sauce from scratch. If you have time, you can make the sauces in advance (eg: the day before), here is the recipe. Otherwise, I’d say just get store-bought chicken rice chilli sauce to save time.
And with regards to the sprinkling sauce, the oil and liquid separates, so you have to stir it before sprinkling. Alternatively, put the sauce into a squeeze bottle and shake well before drizzling.
It is actually quite easy to chop the chicken up. The key item would be to own a sharp butchers cleaver – the heavier the better. I’d first divide the chicken into quarters, then I’d gently cut into the flesh until the knife edge meets bone. Then with the palm of my hand, I’d smack firmly against the back of the cleaver. You may want to place a folded wet cloth over the back of the cleaver to give some padding.
With this method, even the big long bones can be easily chopped through. You may notice red-tinged juices running out whilst you’re chopping. Don’t panic, it isn’t blood and your chicken isn’t undercooked. The redness is coming from the marrow in the chopped bones.
And here you go!
Drizzle the sprinkling sauce over the chicken and garnish with coriander. Serve with fragrant rice, hot chicken soup and chilli sauce.
Hainanese Chicken Rice Recipe (海南鸡饭)
Prep & Cook time: 60mins (if you’re organised)
Cleaning up time: forever
Half a chicken
(abt 850g, rinsed clean, room temp)
70g spring onion (for poaching stock)
50g sliced ginger (for poaching stock)
5-10g chopped spring onion (for frying and garnishing)
15g ginger chunks (skin off, for fragrant rice)
4 cloves of garlic, smashed
250-300g cucumber, sliced thinly
300g jasmine rice, rinsed and drained
Light soy sauce
Dark soy sauce
Coriander, for garnishing
Chicken rice chilli sauce
Trim the fat off the chicken, chop the fat into small pieces
In a stockpot, fry the fat over high heat until most of the oil is rendered out
Lower the heat, add and fry till fragrant:
A few pieces of the poaching stock’s sliced ginger
2 cloves of garlic
Half of the chopped spring onion
Pour out and leave aside the resultant fragrant oil
Poaching The Chicken
Without discarding the fried ingredients, add and bring to a vigorous boil:
2½ litres of water
1½ tsp salt
While the pot of water is being heated:
Inspect the chicken and pluck off any bits of feather and hair
Clean the chicken all over by rubbing with coarse salt (about 3-4 tbsp),
The chicken skin should become smooth, with a polished, shiny quality
When sufficiently cleaned, rinse the salt off the chicken
Lower into the bubbling pot and (on medium heat) bring back to a boil without covering:
Rest of the sliced ginger
The cleaned chicken
Additional hot water, if necessary, to fully submerge the chicken
Once the poaching stock has reached a soft boil:
Lower flame to a gentle bubble
Poach the chicken for 20mins, do not cover, turn the chicken over halfway through cooking
While the chicken is poaching:
Prepare a basin of iced cold water
Rinse the jasmine rice and start preparing the sprinkling sauce (see below)
When poaching is complete:
Turn off heat, Plunge chicken into the basin of iced water, leave for 5 min
Remove, drain, then brush chicken with 1tbsp sesame oil
With a heavy cleaver, chop the poached chicken into small pieces
Stir in, then cook in a rice cooker:
300g jasmine rice (2 rice cups)
400ml poaching stock
2 cloves of garlic
15g ginger chunks
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp fragrant oil
For those who prefer a less oily rice, omit the fragrant oil
1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
1/4 tsp salt
Pinch of sugar
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp fragrant oil
50ml poaching stock
Warm up and season the poaching stock to taste with:
Garnish with finely chopped spring onion
When rice is cooked, remove ginger and garlic pieces, fluff rice up with chopsticks
Line a serving dish with sliced cucumber, layer the chopped chicken on top
Drizzle sprinkling sauce over the chicken, garnish with coriander
Serve chicken with:
Chicken rice chilli sauce (recipe here), ginger sauce (optional), dark soya sauce
- if the chicken was from the fridge and not at room temperature, increase poaching time (by 10-15 mins)
- if using a whole chicken, just double recipe proportions, stuff the cavity with the ginger and spring onion, and increase poaching time to 25 mins
- to save time (and make this dish within an hour), omit making the fragrant oil (substitute that with sesame oil), and use store bought chicken rice chilli sauce
- there’s also a gentler way of poaching: heat up the chicken and water from room temperature. When it starts to bubble, cover, turn off the heat, and poach for 15mins (20mins if using whole chicken)