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The first time we tried Hainanese Chicken Rice was from the famous Tian Tian stall at the Maxwell Food Center in Singapore.
Although Hainanese chicken rice is named after Hainan in China, it became famous when this dish was brought to Singapore.
The chicken is blanched in boiling water until cooked through, then dipped in cold water to ensure the meat stays moist.
It is served with incredibly fragrant rice that is cooked in broth with ginger and other aromatics. We enjoyed eating it so much, that we decided to replicate it at home!
Hainanese Chicken Rice recipe is so beloved in Singapore that it is practically the national dish.
Consisting of nothing but steamed chicken, rice cooked in chicken broth, and a soup made with the same broth, it is served with chilli sauce and is a dish fit for the gods.
During the Chinese New Year and other special occasions, it occupies a place of honour on the altar table.
What is Hainanese Chicken Rice?
When the Hainanese left their native villages on the tropical island of Hainan off the southern coast of China, they did not know they would leave an indelible mark on Southeast Asia.
They are credited with bringing two culinary traditions to Singapore and Malaysia: coffee and Hainanese Chicken Rice or rice with Hainanese chicken.
The reputation of Hainanese Chicken Rice depends on two factors. First, it is based on a dish made with spoiled chickens raised in Wenchang County in northeast Hainan.
These birds are fed a diet of fresh coconut and rice. When ready for the dish, these magnificent birds are moved to a stable for more cuddles.
Apparently, when they were introduced to a Qing emperor, he proclaimed them the best chicken he had ever tasted and the Wenchang chicken legend was born.
Their skin is creamy yellow, the flesh is tender and they are really tasty and juicy.
Second, when the Hainanese emigrated to Singapore and Malaysia in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, they were economically deprived. They ended up working in the service sector or as cooks and housekeepers for the colonial British.
During the Depression, these enterprising Hainanese began opening coffee shops and, not content with selling the cream pies and soft-boiled eggs they learned from the British, introduced other comfort foods, including Hainanese Chicken Rice.
It was during this time, according to legend, that Singapore’s Swee Kee Restaurant adapted traditional Hainan chicken rice to the version we know today, adding flavours such as garlic and pandan leaves to the rice for fragrance and depth.
How to make Hainanese Chicken Rice
Since chicken is the star, we insist on organic free-range chickens. Some even use fresh capons. The task of cleaning these precious birds invariably falls on Giulio. I was left to prepare a mountain of garlic, ginger and chillies for the dipping sauce.
There are hundreds of recipes and thousands of interpretations for this classic dish. Some people insist on two separate sauces, one ginger and one chili, rather than the two in one.
Some cooks offer thickened soy sauce as another topping. As for the soup, some like bean sprouts, while my family prefers watercress.
Everyone agrees on one point, though: Hainanese Chicken Rice can’t be served without the chilli sauce, and it’s this inspired addition that made it an absolutely magical family dish.
Marinate the chicken – Rub the chicken inside out with 2 teaspoons of sea salt and set aside to bring it to room temperature (30-40 minutes).
Prepare the soup – The soup with which we will cook the chicken is topped with ginger and spring onions.
Cooking Chicken – There is a special method of cooking chicken. Check out our tips for more information. After cooking, set the chicken aside to reach room temperature.
Make the chilli sauce
Chopping the Chicken – Chop the Chinese-style chicken and place it on a plate. See our tips for instructions.
Serve – Chicken is served with chilli sauce, soy sauce, cucumber and coriander, individual rice bowls and soup.
What’s in the chilli sauce?
The chilli sauce is made with red chillies, ginger, garlic cloves, and lime juice to taste. It shouldn’t be too spicy and is traditionally prepared in a pestle and mortar. The dough needs to be crushed to combine the flavours, not chopped.
Tips for making the perfect Hainanese Chicken Rice
Remove excess fat from chicken – There are a few tricks for making authentic Hainanese Chicken Rice. You need good chicken, of course. You also need the chicken fat for the rice, which should be found attached to the bird’s cavity. If there is not or there is not enough, do not panic, use vegetable oil.
Soak the Chicken – To cook the chicken, use a pot that fits the bird perfectly. You need to soak the chicken in and out of the boiling water three times, bringing it back to a boil between each soaking. When the bird is boiled right away, the muscles tighten; this method slowly reheats the meat, allowing it to soften and relax rather than shock it. After this, it is cooked over low heat.
Soak the Chicken in Ice Water – The chicken is then immersed in an ice water bath; this prevents the juices from escaping and inserts into a thin gelatinous layer between the meat and the skin.
Using Chicken Fat to Flavor Rice – For the rice, we melt the oiled chicken fat in a wok, then remove the crunchy solids and fry the shallots and garlic until golden and fragrant before adding. rice. The trick is to have enough heat to pop the rice or jump in the wok. Thus it takes on the smoky flavor of the wok.
Chinese Style Chicken Cut – Use a cleaver to split the bird in the centre across the shell and spine, then remove the legs and halve them at the joint. Remove and halve the wings in the same way. Halve the breast lengthwise and cut it into smaller pieces.
Hainanese Chicken Rice Recipe
- 1 kg chicken
- 15 g ginger
- 2 piece spring onions, cut into sticks
For the hot sauce
- 8 piece long red chillies, coarsely chopped
- 20 gram of ginger
- 4 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
- 1 g lime juice
For the rice
- 50 g reserved fat from the chicken or 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- 5 p shallots, thinly sliced
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 600 g of jasmine rice
- 875 ml of chicken broth
For the soy sauce
- 2 tbsp of soy sauce
- 1/2 tbsp of sesame oil
- 100 ml of reserved chicken broth
- Remove excess fat from the cavity and set it aside for rice. Rub the chicken inside out with 2 teaspoons of salt and set aside at room temperature (30-40 minutes).
- Put the ginger, spring onions, 4 liters of water and 1 teaspoon of salt in a large pot and bring to a boil.
- With the help of two forks or tongs, lower the chicken into the boiling broth and soak for 1 minute. Lift the chicken and allow the broth to drain from the cavity, then repeat two more times, bringing the broth back to a boil between each dipping. Submerge the chicken again, bring the broth back to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Cover with a lid, turn off the heat and leave the chicken to soak in the broth for 40-45 minutes.
- Remove the chicken without breaking the skin. Drain the broth from the cavity, then immerse the chicken in an ice water bath and set aside until well cooled (20-25 minutes). Drain, dry and set aside to reach room temperature.
- For the hot sauce, pound the ingredients except the lime juice into a coarse paste with a mortar and pestle. Add the lime juice, mix well and season to taste with salt and extra lime juice.
- Chop the reserved chicken fat and place in a wok over medium heat until melted (3-5 minutes). Discard the solids.
- Add the shallot and stir occasionally until golden (6-10 minutes). Add the garlic and fry until fragrant (about 1 minute).
- Add the rice and fry until the rice starts to pop (2-3 minutes), then transfer it to a saucepan.
- Add enough hot broth to cover the rice. Increase the heat to bring it to a boil, add the rice, then reduce the heat to a low setting, cover with a lid and cook until the liquid is absorbed (11-12 minutes). Remove from the heat, remove the lid, cover with a tea towel and let it steam dry (4-5 minutes).
- Meanwhile, season the leftover broth to taste. Slice the Chinese-style chicken and place it on a plate. Combine the ingredients for the soy sauce in a bowl and serve with the chicken, cucumber and coriander, rice, broth and chili sauce.
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