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Recipes: Tender, juicy Hainanese chicken and rice

The taste of Southeast Asian comes through in this traditional dish from Singapore.

Hainanese chicken rice.
photo by Anthony Tieuli; food styling by sheila jarnes/ennis inc.
Hainanese chicken rice.

I first encountered Hainanese chicken rice — the staple Singaporean street food of poached chicken with rice and soup — not in Singapore, unfortunately, but at a Portland, Oregon, food truck.

The simple, savory chicken is typically served with the skin and bones, but, hewing to American tastes, I use the meat alone. The poaching broth serves triple duty: in the rice, in the dipping sauce, and served as part of the meal. Accompany the chicken with cucumbers and dipping sauces, homemade like the one here or store-bought, such as sambal oelek (spicy chili paste), sweet chili sauce, and kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce).

Hainanese Chicken Rice

Serves 4 to 6

Keeping the chicken meat authentically juicy and silky depends entirely on not overcooking it (especially the white meat); an instant-read thermometer to check the chicken’s internal temperature is important here. Dark meat takes longer to cook than white, so I remove the leg pieces to prepare separately, helping the light and dark to cook at a similar pace. Note that you’ll need a pot with at least an 8-quart capacity.

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Also note that this recipe calls for white pepper, not the usual black. Pandan leaves are a common flavoring that I’ve omitted because they can be hard to find. The rest of the ingredients are supermarket staples.

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Peeling about half of the cucumber skin, alternating strips, gives the slices some pretty green color — a nice touch in an otherwise monochromatic dish.

FOR THE CHICKEN AND BROTH

1thick, 4-inch-long piece fresh ginger, cut into slices and smashed
6medium garlic cloves, smashed
6large scallions, trimmed, quartered crosswise, and white parts smashed
1tablespoon soy sauce
Kosher salt and ground white pepper
1whole chicken, about 4½ pounds, rinsed, giblets removed and fat deposits trimmed and reserved

FOR THE RICE

2tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
Reserved chicken fat
½cup minced shallot (about 2 medium)
1tablespoon minced or grated ginger
1tablespoon pressed or grated garlic (about 4 to 5 medium cloves)
cups jasmine rice, rinsed under running water until the water runs clear, and drained well
2 2/3cups chicken cooking liquid

Salt
2/3cup thinly sliced greens from about 5 large scallions

TO ASSEMBLE AND SERVE

1tablespoon soy sauce
1tablespoon chicken broth
2teaspoons Asian toasted sesame oil
½cup small cilantro sprigs and leaves
½English cucumber, scrubbed, peeled (fully or partially), and sliced on the bias
Dipping sauce of choice

POACH THE CHICKEN

In a large Dutch oven or soup pot (at least 8 quarts) over high heat, bring the ginger, garlic, scallions, and soy sauce to a boil in 4½ quarts water.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 1 teaspoon ground white pepper. Remove the leg pieces (thigh and drumstick) from the chicken. Rub the chicken pieces with the salt and pepper mixture all over, including the cavity. Carefully add the leg pieces and then the rest of the chicken, breast side up, and 2 teaspoons salt to the pot. If necessary, add extra water to cover the bird. Weight it down with a small plate to keep it submerged if necessary (see Tip), cover the pot, and return to the boil. Adjust the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. Set the pot aside off heat to rest, undisturbed, until chicken is just done, 160 degrees for the breasts and 175 degrees for the leg pieces on an instant-read thermometer, about 20 to 25 minutes longer. If leg pieces need further cooking, leave them in the pot, remove the breasts, and return the broth to a simmer over medium-high heat, cooking until the legs reach 175 degrees.

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Fill a large bowl with ice water and add the chicken pieces. After a few minutes, remove the chicken from the ice water, dry it well with paper towels, and set aside while preparing the rice.

Strain the chicken broth into a large container and set it aside to rest while the fat rises to the surface, at least 15 minutes. Wipe out the pot. Ladle out 2 cups of the broth, including as much fat from the surface as possible, and reserve it to cook the rice. Return the remaining broth to the pot, taking care to leave sediment behind. Set the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer, skimming foam from the surface. Adjust heat to medium-low and simmer gently until serving time to concentrate the flavor.

COOK THE RICE

In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the oil and reserved solid chicken fat until the fat is mostly rendered, about 5 to 12 minutes, depending on the quantity of fat; with a slotted spoon, remove any remaining solid fat. Adjust the heat to medium, add the shallots, ginger, and garlic and cook, stirring, until the mixture turns golden and begins sticking to the pan, about 4 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the reserved 2 cup chicken broth and ¾ teaspoon salt, adjust heat to medium-high, and bring to a strong simmer, scraping to loosen and dissolve the fond, about 2 minutes. Adjust heat to low, line the pan lid with a clean kitchen towel, cover the pan, and simmer until rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 minutes. Rest the pan off heat to finish cooking the rice, about 15 minutes longer. Fluff the rice (you should have about 5 cups) and adjust the seasoning with additional salt, if necessary, and ground black or white pepper.

ASSEMBLE AND SERVE

While the rice cooks, whisk the soy sauce, chicken broth, and sesame oil in a small bowl to blend, and set aside. Carefully remove the chicken breast halves intact, and the thigh and drumstick meat in large pieces, from the bones; remove the skin if desired. Slice the breasts crosswise on the bias. Mound the rice on one side of a large serving platter and sprinkle a portion of the scallion greens over it. Fan out the chicken alongside the rice and drizzle with the soy-sesame oil mixture. Sprinkle the cilantro over the rice and chicken, and arrange the cucumber slices attractively on the platter. For each diner, place about ¼ cup dipping sauce into a small bowl and ladle some hot broth into a separate bowl. Sprinkle each bowl of broth with some of the remaining scallions and serve at once along with the chicken, rice, and sauce.

TIP: WEIGHTING DOWN THE CHICKEN

Chances are the chicken will bob up in the liquid, so I weight it down with a small plate — small enough so the pot lid will still fit.
Anthony Tieuli
Chances are the chicken will bob up in the liquid, so I weight it down with a small plate — small enough so the pot lid will still fit.

Spicy Ginger Dipping Sauce

Makes about 1 cup

¼cup minced shallot (about 1 medium)
1tablespoon minced or grated ginger
1tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
2teaspoons pressed or grated garlic (about 3 to 4 medium cloves)
tablespoons brown sugar
1tablespoon vegetable or peanut oil
1teaspoon fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)
¼cup fresh lime juice
1/3cup chicken broth
Salt

In a blender, mix all the ingredients and ¾ teaspoon salt until smooth. Adjust seasoning with additional salt if necessary. Pour into a container and refrigerate until ready to use. Whisk to reblend before serving.

Adam Ried appears regularly on “America’s Test Kitchen.” Send comments to cooking@globe.com. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.