I don’t think there’s a better dish to celebrate the pure chicken-ness of a good chicken than Hainanese chicken rice.
If you’re not familiar with this dish, it’s extremely popular in Southeast Asia. In fact, even though it was created in Hainan — an island province in Southern China — it was adopted by other nearby Asian countries and became so popular in Singapore that it’s considered the national dish. (I found this BBC Travel story about the popularity of the Hainanese chicken rice dish especially interesting.)
Awhile back when I received a CSA box from the Napa Grass Farmer to develop recipes for its subscribers, it included a whole chicken. The farm’s livestock are raised better than organic, using an ecological approach that respects the animals and uses natural feed and farming methods, ensuring the livestock is happy before it gives its life.
To take advantage of the quality of the chicken in the box, I immediately decided to make Hainanese chicken because it’s a dish that not only uses the whole chicken but really takes advantage of all the byproducts, namely the broth created after cooking the chicken. The same broth is used to cook the rice and is also served as an accompanying soup with the meal.
The chicken, which is served like white chicken, highlights the simplicity and purity of the chicken flavor. Only salt and a few aromatics added to the water used to slowly boil the chicken imparts the flavor to the chicken meat. Because of this simplicity, you really enjoy the flavor of chicken, and with the quality of the Napa Grass Farmer chicken, my dish turned out amazing with the chicken meat tender and moist.
The only added flavor comes in the dipping sauces that you can create for a punch of flavor and fun. (I made three types of dipping sauces but you can make just one or your favorite; the traditional sauce is typically a sweet chili sauce.)
This is a good Sunday meal because it does take some time to go through all the steps. But they’re actually very simple, and when using an organic or free-range chicken, it makes it all worth it. Enjoy!
Hainanese Chicken Rice
Makes 4 servings
1 whole organic or free-range chicken (about 3 to 3.5 lbs.)
2 cups jasmine rice
1 English cucumber
2 to 4 stalks of green onion
fresh ginger root
4 cloves garlic
1 star anise (optional)
pinch of Sichuan peppercorns (optional)
1 T light soy sauce
3 t sesame oil
Remove any giblets inside the cavity of the chicken. If you see any fat in the back cavity or near the neck, remove with small knife and reserve for later. Then prep chicken by rubbing kosher salt on the skin to remove any loose feathers or dirty bits. Rinse and pat dry.
Season chicken with 1 tablespoon of salt rubbed all over the outside and inside cavity. Stuff two stalks of green onion, a few slices of ginger and two cloves of peeled garlic into the cavity of the chicken.
Place whole chicken breast down into a large stock pot and fill with water to just barely cover the entire chicken. Add star anise and a few whole Sichuan peppercorns, and a pinch more salt (as much as if you’re making chicken stock). Cover and bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Continue cooking until chicken is done, or about 40 to 45 minutes. To check, stick a chopstick or skewer in the thickest part of the thigh. It’s ready if it runs clear (not if blood comes out). Or use a meat thermometer for a reading of 170 degrees.
Get an ice bath ready. When chicken is done, slowly remove it from the pot, letting as much liquid drain out as possible (but do not pour away the liquid!), and then quickly place in ice bath for about 10 minutes. This will help tighten up the skin for a better presentation. Remove from ice bath and pat dry, then wrap with plastic and set aside until ready to carve.
Now that you have a big pot of chicken stock, drain any of the ingredients and use the stock to cook the rice, serve as an accompany soup (and if you have more left over) and freeze for later use. Before using the stock, season with salt to taste, if needed, and skim off the top layer of fat.
Rinse rice until water isn’t cloudy, and then let sit in water for about 10 minutes. Then drain and set aside.
In a medium pot or saucepan, cook the chicken fat you reserved early on over medium high heat with 2 cloves of garlic (smashed), a half-inch of garlic root (also smashed) and 1 tablespoon of finely diced shallot, for about 1 minute. Then add the rice and toast for about 30 seconds. Then add enough of the chicken stock (about 2.5 cups) to cover the rice leaving about 1/4 inch of broth above the rice level. Bring to boil and then immediately reduce to simmer, cooking for about 20 minutes until rice is fluffy and broth evaporates. (Be careful to watch your rice to ensure it doesn’t burn the bottom of the pot.) If you have a rice cooker, even better. Just saute the ingredients and rice in a pan and transfer everything to your rice cooker, adding enough of the chicken broth per the rice cooker instructions.
When ready to serve, use a butcher knife to chop the chicken (making sure you retain the skin) and then plate with rice and thinly sliced cucumbers. (I recommend a butcher’s knife because you may need to cut through bones in some parts.) Optional: In a small saucepan heat light soy sauce and sesame oil until bumbling and then drizzle over chicken pieces on the plate.
Serve with dipping sauces (see below) and bowls of chicken broth garnished with finely chopped green onion.
Make one or all three!
Finely mince 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger (skin removed) and finely dice 1 stalk of green onion. Blend with enough extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil to coat all the ginger/green onions.
Sweet chili sauce
In a blender, pulse together 2 teaspoon sugar, 2 teaspoon finely diced shallots, 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger, juice from one lime, and one diced serrano or jalapeno chili pepper (optional) with about 2 tablespoons of Sriracha sauce to cover everything (and per your taste).
Sweet soy sauce
In small pot over medium heat, add 1 part dark soy sauce with 1/2 part sugar and 1/2 part water. Then slowly cook until liquid condenses and thickens, about 25 to 30 minutes depending on how much you make. Stir occasionally. (You’ll know it’s almost ready when the liquid starts to bubble like the beginning of caramel.)
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