Cook this: Hainanese chicken rice a Malaysian street-food classic

Cook this: Hainanese chicken rice a Malaysian street-food classic

Hainanese chicken rice is a street-food favourite in Malaysia. Poached chicken that is fall-off-the-bone-tender and seasoned rice are at the heart of the dish

 

The dish was adapted from early Chinese immigrants who hailed from the tropical, southernmost island province of Hainan.Penny De Los Santos

Laura Brehaut
Laura Brehaut

July 6, 2017, 9:56 AM EDT, Last Updated

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Cook this: Hainanese chicken rice a Malaysian street-food classic

Hainanese chicken rice is a street-food favourite in Malaysia. Poached chicken that is fall-off-the-bone-tender and seasoned rice are at the heart of the dish

July 6, 2017, 9:56 AM EDT, Last Updated

Our cookbook of the week is The Malaysian Kitchen: 150 Recipes for Simple Home Cooking by chef and Southeast Asian cooking expert Christina Arokiasamy. We’ll feature recipes from this collection and an interview with its author throughout the week.

To try another recipe from the book, check out Penang’s famous char kway teow and satay-style grilled marinated lamb chops. For more on Malaysian cuisine, read an interview with Arokiasamy.

Hainanese chicken rice is a street-food favourite in Malaysia, chef Christina Arokiasamy says. At the heart of the dish is fall-off-the-bone-tender poached chicken and seasoned rice, served with chili sauce and fresh garnishes.

The dish was adapted from early Chinese immigrants who hailed from the tropical, southernmost island province of Hainan. Today, it’s popular throughout Southeast Asia and is considered one of Singapore’s national dishes. It can take different forms, including roasted chicken options, and rice balls rather than a bowl of rice.

Arokiasamy offers the meal as an example of the culinary diversity in Malaysia. Ingredients and techniques are borrowed and shared between the many different groups that live there, including Chinese, Indian, Malay and Peranakan.

“The Chinese borrowed curry leaves from the Malaysian Indian neighbours to create dishes like coconut-butter prawns… The famous steamed Hainanese chicken rice was transformed by adding local aromatics. These flavourful dishes made the island of Penang a destination for the best street food in Asia,” she writes in The Malaysian Kitchen.

If you’re planning a Hainanese chicken rice pilgrimage, Arokiasamy recommends visiting Ipoh. The city is the third-largest in Malaysia and as “a centre for Hainanese immigration,” she says you’ll be able to experience some of the country’s best.

The Malaysian Kitchen by Christina Arokiasamy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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HAINANESE CHICKEN RICE
Serves: 6

For chicken:
1 small whole chicken (3½ lb/1.6 kg), cleaned
6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 piece (2 inches/5 cm) fresh ginger, peeled and smashed
6 green onions, folded in half
3 tbsp (45 mL) shaoxing rice wine (see note)
2 tbsp (30 mL) light soy sauce
2 tbsp (30 mL) rice vinegar
1 tsp (5 mL) fish sauce
8 cups (2 L) water

For rice:
3 tbsp (45 mL) reserved chicken fat, or peanut oil
3 cups (750 mL) jasmine rice
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 piece (1 inch/2.5 cm) fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 pandan leaf, fresh or frozen (optional; see note)

For seasoning sauce:
3 tbsp (45 mL) light soy sauce
1 tbsp (15 mL) sesame oil

For chili sauce:
3 tbsp (45 mL) sambal ulek (see note)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
⅓ cup (75 mL) rice vinegar
⅓ cup (75 mL) granulated sugar
½ tsp (2 mL) salt
Juice of 1 lime

For serving:
1 cucumber, sliced
2 green onions (white and green parts, sliced)

Step 1

Poach the chicken: Begin by trimming the fat surrounding the inner part of the chicken cavity and set it aside for the rice. Place the chicken into a stockpot that is tall enough to allow the chicken to be covered with water. Insert the garlic, ginger, and green onions into the cavity of the chicken. Next pour the rice wine, soy sauce, vinegar, and fish sauce into the cavity, then secure the opening with a short bamboo skewer.

Step 2

Add the water to cover the chicken and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the meat is tender, about 1 hour or so. The chicken thigh joint will easily pull away from the body when the meat is done. While the chicken cooks, skim any froth from the surface of the broth.

Step 3

Make the rice: Cook the reserved chicken fat in a 3-litre heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered and the solids have shrunk considerably. Discard the solids.

Step 4

While waiting for the fat to break down in the pan, wash the rice by gently rubbing it with your fingers in a bowl filled with water. When the water becomes cloudy, drain the water and repeat the process until the water is clear. Drain well.

Step 5

Add the garlic, ginger, and pandan leaf (if using) to the chicken fat and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the garlic is golden and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the rice and carefully mix until the grains are well coated with the fat.

Step 6

Add 4½ cups (1.125 L) of the broth from the chicken pot to the rice and bring to a boil (keep the remaining broth to serve with the chicken). Boil until the liquid on the surface is evaporated and small bubbles appear from holes in the rice, 3 to 4 minutes. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the rice is tender and the rest of the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered and undisturbed, for about 5 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork and cover. Alternatively, you can cook the rice and broth in a rice cooker.

Step 7

While the rice is cooking, make the seasoning sauce and chili sauce: Mix the soy sauce and sesame oil in a small bowl; set the seasoning sauce aside. Blend the chili sauce ingredients in a mini food processor until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl for serving and set aside.

Step 8

To serve: Once the chicken is cooked, carefully lift the chicken and allow the broth to drain from the cavity into the pot. Strain the broth into a clean pot and reserve to serve with the chicken. Allow the chicken to cool slightly on a plate before cutting. De-bone the chicken (the bones will easily come off since the chicken will be very tender) and slice into 3-inch pieces, then arrange on a serving platter. Place the cucumber on the platter.

Step 9

Drizzle the seasoning sauce over the sliced chicken and cucumber. Set the bowl of chili sauce on the table. Pour the broth into individual bowls and sprinkle with the green onions. Serve the rice on individual plates. Enjoy while still warm.

Notes: Find Shaoxing rice wine at Chinese markets (e.g. Pagoda Brand); if it’s unavailable, substitute dry sherry.
Aromatic and sweet, find pandan leaves at most Southeast Asian stores.
Sambal ulek (a.k.a sambal oelek) is a chili paste. Find it at Asian grocery stores, some spice and bulk shops, and increasingly at supermarkets.

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