Hainanese Chicken Rice from Scratch

It is not exactly my favourite dish, but it is one that brings back a lot of memories. I remember when I was 6, I would get this almost daily for $0.50 a plate. Just rice, chicken, and heckova’ lot of sweet black sauce. Even now, when I don’t know what to eat for dinner, chicken rice is often a safe bet. You can’t really go wrong with it. Even if it’s bad, it’s not too bad. Definitely the sentiments more than anything else.

Since I moved to London, this dish has become a luxury I can hardly afford. Occasional trips to Old Town 97 and Cafe TPT in Chinatown cost me back about £8-10, an exorbitant amount compared to the usual $4 (about £2.20) on a plate back home. Maybe I can go down the street to Wong Kei and spend £5 instead but who actually comes out of Wong Kei feeling happy? Their service is horrendous. Another alternative which I have survived on by when living in student accommodations and cooking illegally is using packaged paste from brands like Asian Home Gourmet. Just throw rice, the paste, water, and some chicken pieces into a rice cooker et voila. But I needed more.

So I searched high and low on the World Wide Web for how to make one from scratch. It turns out to be quite simple, really. Here is my final iteration. Take the measurements with a pinch of salt, I never measure mine that accurately but I’ll try.

It’s a peasant dish. Are you sure you want to take up the challenge?

This recipe serves 4 hungry male adolescents or 6 normal adults.

Whole chicken (1) (1.5-1.7kg)
Spring onions (6 sticks) (separate the top and bottom)
Ginger (10-15 of 0.5cm slices)
Ginger, finely diced (5 tbsp)
Ginger, grated (2 tbsp)
Bird’ eye chillies (4)
Garlic (6 cloves)
Sesame oil (5 tbsp)
Kecap manis
Vegetable oil (3 tbsp)
Salt (Lots)
Jasmine Rice (4 cups) (I use the Golden Eagle brand)
Cucumber, sliced (5-30 slices depending on who’s eating)

Trim off any excess fat at the opening of the cavity. Heat these pieces of fat with 1tbsp of vegetable oil on very low heat to render the fats. Meanwhile, exfoliate the chicken well with salt. Massage that baby in all the crevasses. Get your hands straight in. Wash the salt off when done. In a large pot, throw in the sliced ginger and 4 sticks of the top part of the spring onion with the chicken and enough water to cover the chicken. Poach for 45-60 minutes. The liquid shouldn’t be boiling but you should see water vapour rapidly coming off.

Mince all the bottom halves of the spring onions. In a mortar and pestle, grind the finely minced ginger with the minced spring onions to a rough paste. Heat up the remaining vegetable oil just to smoking point and pour over the ginger and spring onion mix. Set aside.
In the mortar and pestle again, pound the chillies, grated ginger, and garlic into a very fine paste. Season with salt and sugar. Dilute with some of the liquid that the chicken is boiling in. Set aside.
Kecap manis. No explanation needed here. I use Bango. Set aside.

Once the poaching time has been reached, remove and cool the chicken in an ice bath for 15-20 minutes. Or if you’re like me and never has ice, use cold tap water and replace every few minutes.
Wash the rice very until the water is clear. Remove all the washing water, add the oil from the rendered chicken fat, 5 cups of the chicken poaching liquid and cook it in a rice cooker or pot. You may want to add a splash of sesame oil too here. Throwing in some lemongrass or garlic in at this point can be fun too.
When the chicken is cooled, coat with sesame oil and let rest.
Continue heating the poaching liquid. This will be served as soup.

When the rice is done, add a teeny bit more sesame oil, and add salt to taste. Mix well.
Cut up the chicken only when the rice is done. Serve the rice and chicken on a plate, with the soup and condiments in separate bowls. Chop the remaining spring onions and put it in the soup.

Now go ahead and impress your friends.

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