I have failed you. Somehow it never dawned on me to share this recipe that is pure culinary synergy - a dish that is in my humble opinion, so much more than the sum of it's parts.
I'm talking about Hainan Chicken Rice! This dish originated in Hainan, a province in China, made famous in Singapore. It comprises of juicy poached chicken served over fluffy rice flavored with ginger and garlic and cooked in that tasty poaching liquid. The crowning jewels are the sauces served alongside which takes it way way beyond, for me anyway. These accompanying sauces vary a bit, but what I have generally seen is a combination (or all) of the following: a ginger (sometimes with scallion) sauce, a red chili-based sauce, and a sweet dark soy sauce. It is also customary to drink a bowl of that poaching broth alongside the meal. At home, I serve mine with the first two sauces because they make me happy. And my husband happy - this being one of his top 5 meals! I skip the bowl of broth to drink, but more on that later.
As with any famed national dish, people of the country have their prescribed methods and traditions. I'm neither Hainanese nor Singaporean so I am disclaiming 100% authenticity. My recipe is based on rigorous research (internet browsing), a control to compare against (I made it once the 'traditional' way), and multiple test cycles (making it numerous times for family and friends) that eventually evolved into a version that work well for me and hopefully you. Since the majority of my cooking is for weeknight dinners, my adaptations focus on weeknight shortcuts.
First, the easiest shortcut is to use chicken pieces rather than the traditional whole chicken. Not everyone has the time nor the tenacity to cook and dismantle a whole chicken on any given weeknight. Chicken pieces poach much faster, with the added bonus you can select breast and/or leg pieces based on individual preferences of the people you are feeding. Do try to use a quality (organic or naturally-raised) free-range chicken for this recipe since it is prepared so simply (poached), it makes all the difference in the taste of the final dish.
Since I make this recipe periodically, I have collected other shortcuts to lessen the time to get this meal on the table on subsequent occasions i.e. after making it the first time. And why wouldn't you make it again? Here are those shortcuts for you to consider:
1) Save and freeze leftover poaching liquid. Since there is enough poaching liquid to make twice the amount of rice needed for one meal (i.e. 6 cups of liquid to poach the chicken of which 3 cups is required to cook the rice), instead of drinking the leftover broth as part of the meal, SAVE IT! Instead of drinking the soup as I mentioned previously is the custom, reserve and freeze half the poaching liquid (that is, 3 cups of it). So next time you make this meal, you can poach the chicken and cook the rice simultaneously, versus the linear process of first poaching the chicken, then using that poaching broth to cook the rice. In other words, the minute you've dropped your chicken into the water to poach, you can immediately use your defrosted broth to cook rice. This shaves 20 minutes off the process which is major time-savings in weeknight terms! If evaporation has robbed you of the full 3 cups, worry not, top it up with water (or other chicken broth you might have on hand). If you're keeping track, you might be wondering, if you use the defrosted poaching broth #1 to cook rice #2, what do you do with all of the poaching broth #2 that second time around? Of course you must at minimum freeze 3 cups of it for next time to keep the cycle going! The remaining broth can be drunk with the meal which is actually the custom, or freeze two x 3 cups portions, and use the extra portion for something else. For example, I sometimes make this style of rice to serve with grilled chicken and steaks at summer BBQs and people love it!
2) Make two or three times the amount of sauces and freeze them. You probably know how well herby oils freeze (e.g. chimichurri, pesto) and same goes for this scallion-ginger sauce. The red chili sauce freezes perfectly too. I use small airtight glass containers labeled clearly with their contents. Defrost overnight in the fridge and bring to room temperature to serve.
3) Use store-bought chili sauce. Basically who doesn't have sriracha in the fridge these days? If you're in a pinch, skip making the chili sauce and use store-bought Sriracha or Sambal Oelek for that hit of red chili taste. If anyone gets judg-y on you for that, you tell 'em to buzz off because you've had a long day and don't want to be around people right now and all you want is to eat delicious chicken rice. :)
For the Poached Chicken:
8 chicken skin-on thigh and/or breast pieces (your choice), preferably de-boned and preferably organic or naturally-raised
4 scallions aka green onions, cut in half
6 cloves of garlic, crushed
2.5" (~75g) knob of ginger (unpeeled is fine), sliced
1 medium onion, rough chopped
6 C water
3 tsp salt
For the Rice:
3 C jasmine rice, or other long grain rice
2/3" (~20g) knob of ginger, peeled and minced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
3 C poaching liquid
1/2 tsp salt
For the Scallion Ginger Dipping Sauce:
1" (~30g) ginger, peeled and minced fine
2 garlic cloves, grated
4 scallions aka green onions, sliced thinly
2 tsp salt
2/3 C neutral-tasting oil, such as grapeseed or vegetable
For the Garlic Chilli Sauce: (recipe from Steamy Kitchen, prepared a bit differently)
1" (~30g) ginger, peeled and minced fine
4 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 tbsp lime juice, from 1 lime
2 tbsp poaching broth or hot water
2 tsp sugar
4 tbsp sriracha sauce
1/2 tsp salt
Sesame oil, for brushing on poached chicken
Cucumber and/or tomato slices, cilantro, shredded purple cabbage*
(*completely inauthentic but I love the fresh crunch and color of finely-cut purple cabbage on everything!)
1. Prep the aromatics: There is quite a lot of ginger, garlic and scallion used in this recipe! The fastest way to go about it is to prep those items in parallel. So begin by setting out the following:
- a large pot for the poaching the chicken,
- a small prep bowl for the aromatics that will flavor the rice,
- a medium heatproof bowl for scallion-ginger sauce, and
- a second small prep bowl for the garlic-chili sauce
Prep the respective amounts of ginger for each of the 4 vessels, per instructions in the ingredient section. Similarly, continue with the garlic and scallions in parallel as well. Set everything aside.
2. Wash, soak, drain the rice: clean the rice grains by rinsing under cool tap water while gently rubbing handfuls of grains in your palm as you go. Drain and repeat 2 more times until the water is less opaque (but does not need to run clear). Soak for 10 minutes. Drain in fine-mesh colander while you continue the following steps, or drain up to 30 minutes if you have the time.
3. Make the scallion ginger sauce: In a small pot over medium stove, heat the oil until hot and you see that the surface is shimmering - it may even just begin to pop. Watch it closely as you don't want to burn the oil. Standing back and being careful not to spash yourself, pour the hot oil all over your prepped minced ginger / garlic / scallion mixture. I love that sizzle! Mix it well and set aside.
4. Make the garlic chilli sauce: Add the remaining ingredients to your bowl containing the prepped ginger and garlic. Whisk well and set aside. This one can definitely be made in advance for the flavors to marry.
5. Prep the veggie sides: Wash and thinly slice cucumber (using a mandolin slicer if you have one), wash and slice tomato if using, wash and pick cilantro leaves, wash and finely slice purple cabbage. Set aside.
6. Poach the chicken: Into your poaching pot holding the prepped aromatics, add the remaining poaching ingredients except the chicken. Bring it all to a boil. Meanwhile, rub the chicken pieces with some salt as if you're giving it an exfoliation to smooth the skin. Once the water comes to a boil, add chicken pieces (along with reserved bones if you are using deboned) and ensure there is enough water to cover about 1". Cover with lid and return to a vigorous boil. Skim the scum. Cover and quickly bring back to a vigorous boil, lower the heat to a low simmer (small bubbles) and cook for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, remove from the heat completely without removing the lid. Allow it to stand covered, for 25-30 minutes depending on the size of the chicken. Ok does it freak you out that the chicken is being cooked completely off-heat? It did me when I first learned this technique but it gets me perfectly poached chicken each and every time so I stopped questioning it. Trust the madness. Once the chicken is cooked through (you can test this by sticking a skewer tip into the thickest part to see that the juices run clear), remove it from the pot either directly to a cutting board OR if you don't mind the extra step, put it in an ice bath to tighten the skin first. People like my parents insist this is a crucial step and I'll probably get stoned for admitting that I skip this step if I'm just cooking for my family (and we don't eat much of the skin anyway I feel like it's served it purpose). Skim any remaining scum from the broth.
7. Cook the rice: Heat a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add a drizzle of oil and saute the minced ginger and garlic for 10 seconds, stirring the whole time to prevent burning. Stir in the drained rice grains, folding it gently over and over to cover all the grains with the flavorful oil. Be gentle so as not to break the rice grains too much. Add 3C of the poaching liquid, and salt, into the pot. Bring liquid to a boil, immediately lower the heat to a low simmer and cook covered for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow it to rest for another 5 minutes, without lifting the lid! Alternatively you can cook this in a rice cooker if you have one; transfer oil-flavor rice to rice cooker then add the poaching liquid and salt and cook as usual. When the rice is done, fluff the rice with a spoon and keep it warm with the lid on until ready to serve. So much flavor hiding behind that plain appearance. SO good.
8. Reserve poaching liquid: as elaborated in the headnotes, you can either drink the remaining broth (not used for the rice) along with the meal which is customary to do, OR save it for next time you make this meal so you can poach the chicken and cook the rice in parallel, rather than sequentially as is required the first time around. I highly recommend doing this to save time for the next time you want to make this again!
9. Serve: Cut the chicken into 1/2" pieces (if serving boneless) or leave them whole to serve, brush them with sesame oil and place on individual serving plates or a single large serving platter along with the side veggies you are using. Spoon out the two dipping sauces into individual dipping bowls so everyone can have their own. Serve the chicken platter along with the sauces and bowls of that delicious aromatic rice.