For about the three years I was living in Singapore, I remember ordering food daily from the hot and humid hawker center near my apartment. Along with customers sitting around the old-fashioned metal tables, occasionally there were cats passing under the tables shopping for their own meals. A variety of food stands were at the complex and one of my favorites was the Hainanese chicken and rice place.
Hainanese chicken and rice originated from the Hainan Province in China. The early Chinese immigrants from Hainan brought the dish to places in Southeast Asia like Singapore and Malaysia. Nowadays, Hainanese chicken and rice is more popular in Singapore and Malaysia than in Hainan Province itself.
Since moving to New York City, I have missed the taste of Hainanese chicken from time to time. Recently chef Steven Ng invited me to Malaysian Kitchen USA in Battery Park and I tried out his Hainanese chicken rice. Ng is in his early 40s and has been cooking Malaysian food for 14 years. He seemed shy when we first met but I discovered he has a great sense of humor, especially when he spoke Chinese.
I found his Hainanese chicken recipe quiet easy to follow in comparison to many others I saw on the Internet. He said one of the most important parts in cooking it right is to place the chicken in an ice cold water bath after it’s fully cooked. He said, “You just can’t compromise that part.”
The chicken was served at room temperature. I drizzled soy sauce and sesame oil over it, then dipped it in the chili sauce, and took a bite. The skin immediately separated from the meat. “Wow, it’s perfectly refreshing!” I said. I know, as Americans, we rarely describe chicken as being refreshing, but this one definitely was. The rice is the best part. It has an explosion of flavors –savory, garlicky, and with just a hint of sweetness. It was flawless! It was the taste that I’d been missing.
Hainanese Chicken and Rice
Preparation: 20 minutes
Cooking: 90 minutes
Makes 4 servings
1 whole chicken, about 3 pounds
10 cups cold water
1 cucumber, peeled, halved, and sliced diagonally
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups jasmine rice, washed and drained
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup butter
1/2 onion, minced
1 small thumb ginger, minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
6 pandan leaves
Red Chili Sauce (mix everything well)
1/2 small thumb ginger, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper
1 teaspoon lime juice
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sweet and sour chili sauce
Dark Sauce (mix everything well)
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon chicken stock
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
Instruction for the chicken
Rinse the chicken and remove all the chicken fat and set aside for the chicken rice. In a large stockpot, add water, then bring to a boiled. Submerge the whole chicken and cook over medium high heat for 45 minutes until it’s well done. Remove chicken and let it cool in iced water for about 30 minutes. Drain the chicken and chop into small serving-size pieces. Keep the chicken broth for the rice.
Instruction for the rice
In medium saucepan, add vegetable oil,and butter, and cook until everything is blended and mildly softened. Then add onion, ginger, garlic, pandan leaves, and stir until the aroma comes out. Put in rice, salt, and sugar, and stir for 5 minutes. Add chicken stock, cover and cook for 30 minutes over medium high heat until well done.
Place the chicken on a plate. Pour the dark sauce on the chicken. Garnish with cucumber slices. Serve with rice and chili sauce.
(Adapted from the original recipe)