Hainanese Chicken Rice

I’m really proud to announce my new Asian food and culture column for The Wall Street Journal’s Scene Asia – Around the Table.

Here’s my first post, Chicken Rice for the Soul, about my favourite dish and how it shaped my first cookbook. And if that’s left you with a taste for Hainanese Chicken Rice. Here’s my grandma’s recipe for you as it appears in Two Asian Kitchens.

Photograph by Steve Brown

Hainanese Chicken Rice

Serves 4
Preparation: 1 hour
Cooking: 50 minutes plus 30 minutes resting

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken (about 1.5kg), at room temperature
  • 5 whole cloves garlic, plus 2 cloves, chopped
  • 7 thick slices ginger, unpeeled
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 675g jasmine rice
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt flakes
  •  1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • coriander, sliced cucumber and spring onion, to serve

Chilli Sauce

  • 6 red birds-eye chillies
  • 2 tbsp grated ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt flakes
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Spring onion and ginger oil

  • 4 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp grated ginger
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt flakes
  • 3 tbsp peanut oil

Dressing

  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce

Trim any visible fat from the chicken. Roughly chop the fat and put in a small saucepan. Cook over very low heat for about 1 hour until the liquid fat renders away. Pour off and keep the liquid fat as it pools. (You do not need the crispy pieces of fried fat for this dish, but they are excellent served over cooked noodles.)

Meanwhile, put the whole garlic cloves and 5 slices of ginger in the cavity of the chicken and place breast-side down in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to just below a simmer. The water should be steaming well, but not bubbling. Keep the heat at this stage for 20 minutes, then cover the pot and turn off the heat. Leave for 30 minutes, then lift out the chicken, keeping the poaching stock. Brush the chicken skin with sesame oil and wrap with plastic wrap. The chicken should be cooked very lightly, pink inside the bones and with a gelatinous skin.

Heat 1 tbsp of the chicken fat in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped garlic and remaining 2 slices of ginger and stir-fry until fragrant. Add the rice and toss until well coated and turning opaque. Add 1.25 litres of the reserved chicken stock, the salt and soy sauce. You can also add a few pandan leaves, tied in a knot (if you have them). Cook in a rice cooker or by your preferred method of cooking rice.

To make the chilli sauce, combine chillies, ginger, garlic, sugar and salt in a mortar and pound to a paste. Add the lemon juice and 1-2 tablespoons of hot chicken stock and pound again. Set aside.

To make the spring onion and ginger oil, add the spring onion, ginger and salt to a heatproof mortar and pound lightly with the pestle. Heat the oil in a small frying pan until smoking and pour onto the mixture. Once the sizzling stops, combine lightly with the pestle and leave to infuse for a few minutes.

To make the dressing, mix the sesame oil and soy sauce with 60ml of the chicken stock. If you have any remaining chicken stock after that, you can season it and add a few onion slices. This can be served as a light broth to accompany the meal.

Slice the chicken Chinese-style and pour the dressing over it. Scatter with a little coriander and serve with the rice, condiments, broth and garnishes.

 

37 thoughts on “Hainanese Chicken Rice

  1. This is so authentic Chicken Rice – much like the one in Ipoh, Malaysia! Good job in spreading the good taste!

  2. My wife loves chicken and rice, she used to visit me in Singapore, and when you’re in Singapore you eat our all the time. Now that we’re in Australia, I’ll have to create this dish for her, and surprise it to her on a roadside!

  3. My cousin and I really enjoyed this recipe though the flavour could probably have been slightly stronger (ie. i thought it was a tad mild). I followed the measurements pretty closely – is there some way to make the flavour of the chicken stock a little more intense? Would boiling it longer or letting some liquid boil off do the trick? Or perhaps adding more garlic/ginger? Thanks! :-)

    • Hi Sophia,

      There should be enough flavour in the recipe as it is, but generally if you find that the flavour of a dish needs a bit more punch just check to make sure you’ve seasoned it correctly – that it’s salty enough. Salt intensifies flavours so that may be your problem.

      If you want a stronger flavoured stock (again, it should be fine just as it is if it’s correctly seasoned), I’d suggest adding more chicken to deepen the flavour. My grandma sometimes makes a “double boiled” stock, which is to say that she will cook one chicken in water to produce the first stock, then remove the first chicken and cook another one in the same stock. Of course, with this you end up with twice as much chicken too.

      A lot of the strong flavour of Hainanese chicken rice comes from the condiments – the sesame/soy dressing, the chilli sauce and the ginger spring onion sauce. The chicken and rice should be very fragrant and tasty, but not overpoweringly strong with flavour themselves.

      Hope this helps!

      Adam

      • Hi Adam,
        I have the same issue as well with the stock being very weak tasting. Not at all what i am used to getting from the local Malaysian hawker.
        Can i suggest that the perhaps the recipe needs to give the exact amount of water needed to cook the chicken in to make the stock.
        Every kitchen will have different sized pots, so the amount of water needed to cover a chicken would vary substantially which therefore would affect the intensity of the stock. Luke Nguyen for all of his stocks for Pho and any of the other noodle soups gives exact measurements for all ingredients used including the amount of water added to make up the stock. His recipes are fool-proof.
        The other components of this recipe work out wonderfully. I would love and appreciate it if you could test this recipe again to ensure that it works out for all kitchens.
        Thanks, Van. xx

        • Hi Van,

          Thanks for the feedback and really sorry it didn’t work out for you!

          Most of the Malaysian hawker places will use quite a bit of MSG in their stock (ajinomoto, vetsin or chicken powder) to strengthen the flavour. You can add a teaspoon of that to the stock while cooking if you like, but I prefer not to. There’s nothing wrong with it, but that’s just my personal preference in terms of flavour.

          The recipe has been tested literally hundreds of times and is fine for almost any amount of water in any domestic pot, although obviously the stock will be stronger the less you use. I use about 2L of water in a 5L pot generally and most domestic pots will be around the same size. The recipe would even be fine in a 10L pot (although a little weak in the stock) which is really about the limit for domestic pots.

          If you’re finding the stock weak for your taste, my suggestions would be (in order of preference):

          1. Make sure the stock is seasoned correctly. (I’m almost certain this is your problem.)
          2. Use an older chicken, which will give more flavour to the stock.
          3. Double boil. (i.e. cook 2 chickens one after the other.)
          4. Add MSG.

          Let me know how you go!

          Adam

          • I have yet to try your recipe but I have made chicken rice (with roasted chicken) numerous times.

            With the stock, my trick is to get a chicken carcass from my local butcher (only cost 50 cents or sometimes nothing at all) and slowly simmer it for at least an hour. A dash of white pepper will also give the stock a lovely boost.

            A good amount of salt for both the stock and chicken is definitely paramount!

  4. Thanks for the tips Adam! You’re right – it’s probably salt I’m after. I tried the rest of it today and it was awesome. Maybe my taste buds were mucked up last night.

  5. hi Adam…
    gee, thanks for the amazing recipes….I’ve been cooking Hainan chicken rice for quite sometimes, and usually *following my mum’s* we only fry the soy sauce as dressing for the chicken, and wow it’s way too salty…now I got the correct dressing taste from you..thank you very much, as I love chicken rice so much, I always ask for extra dressing and ginger oil, now I can make those my own… :D tho my hubby doesn’t really dig into ginger, but I still can serve the dressing than just plain chicken..Thank you again… :D

  6. A friend gave me your recipe book two nights ago and I was inspired to cook this recipe last night… SO YUMMY… And my 7 year old son loved it too!

  7. Want a more intense tasting soup? Try adding a little “Tianjin Preserved Radish” (these come in a brown stoneware crock) and shredded wombok. I especially recommend the wombok as this balances an otherwise rather meat-and-rice heavy meal.

  8. I have tried many chicken rice recipes and your recipe (grandmas) is by far the best I have ever made. When my parents visit me in WA they bug me to make it for them, my parents rarely go for seconds but when I make this dish they eat till there is nothing left. Haha. Thank god for Adam!

  9. I made this yesterday – amazing!!!!
    I made some chicken stock beforehand and used that to poach the chicken, condiments were so good & the rice was fantastic. Thanks for the recipe.

  10. Thank you, Adam for your recipe. My family loves Hainanese chicken rice and I have tried various recipes from different websites and also had different tips from friends and family. However, the timing and the way you poach the chicken is spot on in your recipe! I tried plastic wrapping the chicken after poaching but that didn’t work too well for me as it ended up “cooking” the chicken further as it was still hot. I combined another popular tip of leaving the chicken in iced water for about 10 minutes. It was near perfect! The skin ended up firm and gelatinous.. the breast meat was so tender! I never had so much compliments from my family! It’s definitely a 10/10 from us!

  11. I made this for some girlfriends for lunch today. They all said it was delicious. I think I overlooked it slightly but it was still lovely. The ginger and spring onion oil made it I thought.

  12. I love your recipe Adam! It’s so simple but so satisfying. Just wondering would there be a difference in flavour if I cooked a corn fed chicken?

    Thanks Adam :D

    • Hi Nessy,

      Yes their would be a difference in flavour with a corn-fed chicken, but actually I wouldn’t recommend it for this dish.

      Corn-fed hens usually have very yellow fat and because the fat is used in this dish it will leave the skin and also the rice with a yellowish tinge. It won’t taste bad, but it might just look a bit funny.

      Cheers,
      Adam

  13. Finally made this after having your cookbook for almost two years! It’s fantastic, as are the other recipes I’ve tried.
    I’m just wondering if you could give me a quick rundown of how to slice the chicken Chinese style. I had a look around the web and found conflicting methods.

    • Hi Luke,

      Thanks for your comment and sorry for the late reply.

      It’s always hard to explain in print, but this is a great video showing it being done. The secret is a sharp and heavy cleaver, as you need to get through bone cleanly with almost every cut.

      Watch the video and try and read along. One day I might film a video of my own explaining it.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFwb26y5o74

      All using a heavy cleaver.
      1. Place bird breast up and halve along the cartilage and spine.
      2. Removing wing and trim and discard any neck.
      3. Remove Maryland (drumstick and thigh) from crown (breast on bone) at the joint.
      4. Split crown to remove breast meat and cartilage from spine.
      5. Chop spine portion into even pieces.
      6. Remove tenderloin from breast and chop tenderloin into even pieces.
      7. Chop breast into even pieces.
      8. Chop wings into even pieces (or segment at the joints).
      9. Chop thigh and leg into even pieces.

      You don’t need to be too fussy about whether or not you’re doing it right. In fact, after a few times you’ll probably develop your own style that leads to the types of pieces you like to eat.

      I remember the first time I asked my grandma how to cut a cooked chicken she just looked at me and said, “You just cut it! What’s the big deal?!” :-)

      Cheers,
      Adam

  14. Adam. This. Dish. Is. Superb. I made it last night. And, although I skipped the fat rendering part, I managed to produce some pretty killer flavours. The condiments are a must. Can’t believe how simple but effective the spring onion and ginger oil component is?! Your grandma certainly knows her stuff.
    I second your call on the double-boiled stock option. I used some leftover homemade chicken stock to cook the chicken in this time around and the flavour was primo. And I love the resting method. It makes for some very succulent meat.
    A further tip: for those who might think making chicken stock at home is too much fuss to bother with, I recommend the following cost-effective method. We rarely buy chicken in parts these days. Mostly we buy a whole free range chicken and then butcher it ourselves. It’s just the two of us at home, so we’ll often use the Marylands and wings for mini roasts or dishes like this one, then we freeze the breasts for cooking another night (or vice versa). The carcass is boiled up while cooking the first chicken dish, then cooled and frozen for a later date. I’m constantly finding containers of stock in the freezer! On nights when we’re short on time, my husband will often poach the breasts in a bit of gingered water and soy, with some fresh spring onion and beans, silken tofu and rice with our favourite chilli oil served on the side. Super fast and delicious. Then you STILL have another night to use the original stock in whatever dish you fancy! Three meals and counting. Not bad for a $10 chook! (Probably learned that from MY grandmother!)

    • Thanks for your comment, Jo.

      I never buy chicken pieces either. You get more variety and quality from breaking down a whole bird and it’s much cheaper to boot.

      I also debone the legs into leg/thigh fillets (in a lot of Chinese cooking the drumstick meat and thigh fillet is kept together as one cut off the bone) and throw the thigh and leg bones into the stock.

      I think you and I are on the same page! ;-)

  15. I made this dish tonight and it was a hit with the hubby. My only query was in regards to the way the chicken was cooked. When i cooked it as suggested by you, when i pierced the skin after removing from the water for 30 mins, it still seemed fairly under cooked. I’m under the impression that you shouldn’t eat poultry unless it is fully cooked…what is your thought on this? I cooked the chicken for a little longer with a meat thermometer but found the breast too tough.

    • Hi Alice,

      The key to cooking the chicken is to cook it gently. If it’s overcooked or cooked too quickly it is likely to be tough, so you really need to allow it to rest well. As the chicken rests, first in the hot stock and also when it’s wrapped in cling film later, it will continue to cook so you need to give it time for that to happen.

      I don’t mind my chicken slightly pink in the flesh, but I understand a lot of people for cultural reasons want the chicken to be completely cooked through, so that’s what I’ve tried to provide in this recipe.

      With proper boiling, waiting and resting the ideal result for this chicken is that it is cooked but pink inside the bones, and perhaps with the very slightest, almost imperceptible blush of pink at the thickest part of the breast.

      With differences in birds, pots and stoves there will always be some slight variations in cooking times, but that just-barely-cooked chicken is definitely what you should be looking for with this dish.

      Thanks,
      Adam

  16. Dear Adam,

    Thank you very much for this classic recipe. Made it tonight and it was excellent! My Hainanese (Malaysian) husband was a happy man.

    Sorry if this is a stupid question, do you wash the rice before frying it up and cooking it?

    (BTW we are so glad about your success. My parents are friends with Aunty Tee Lee and I clerked at Kelly & Co when you were there. Please open your Sydney restaurant soon so we can all come and visit it!)

    Cheryl

  17. Hi Adam, what a great recipe. I’ve cooked the SBS version for a couple of years now but this kicks it out of the park.

    Just reading through some of the comments I thought I’d add my two cents – for those who find the flavour kick not strong enough I’d recommend using fresh free range chicken and I season the water with salt when poaching the chicken. My mum also taught me to rinse the chicken with cold water once you take it out of the water or to put it straight into the freezer. It tightens the skin and makes it easier to cut up.

    Thanks again for my new favourite recipe!

  18. I’ve attempted hainanese chicken rice quite a few times but none has turned out as nice as this recipe. Recipe is also very easy to follow.

  19. I’ve attempted hainanese chicken rice quite a few times but none has turned out as nice as this recipe. Recipe is also very easy to follow.

  20. Dear Adam,

    I just wanted to say “thank you, thank you and thank you to you and your gramda for this great recipe”. Hainanese chicken has always been a favourite of mine – which, up to the time I bought your book, I had to resort to the bought kind. While good enough to get me hooked – it always contained MSG – not good for me. Now, armed with your book, I always make Hainanese chicken when we go to our holiday house – you are responsible for a new tradition. Today I happen to have forgotten the book, so searched the internet hoping to find your recipe to confirm a couple of details. Having found it, and seen all these comments, I felt compelled to say thank you. We follow your career with great interest and we loved your show too. Congratulations on your success, you deserve it and more, Anita

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