Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Hainanese Chicken Rice.

(hainanese pronunciation in italics: Hai Nam Ko'ei Pu'wee.)

to my Ah Mah (though it should be Ah Por) back in Singapore, and my Ah Kong's carefree spirit in Tien Swee.

this particular dish comes with a certain history that is extremely close to my heart. for the uninitiated, i come from a pure hainanese family in which my grandparents (both paternal and maternal) were immigrants from the sunny island of Hainan--they moved from one tropical island to another mid-20th century. while i'd like to claim to know the perfect recipe for the chicken rice attributed to my heritage, it might come as a surprise that the popular variety that everyone's familiar with is not exactly the way it's prepared in hainan. this was observed in a trip i made with my father and grandma to Hainan, in order to return my grandfather's ashes to his home village.

the recipe is famed to have originated from the city of Wenchang (Boon Sio Kwai), which happens to be the city closest to my father's home village, (literally translated) New Village (Tien Swee), just about half-an-hour drive away. the funny thing is that over there, this dish--at its most esteemed and only on very special occasions--is often prepared with a young rooster instead of a hen. the meat is supposedly tastier but chewy. hainanese families in singapore who sell the dish are often from either similar neighbouring villages or Wenchang itself. in fact, many of such immigrant families ended up settling in Purvis and its neighbouring streets, where they started eatery businesses; that's the reason you have so many chicken rice stalls on a single street. other than chicken rice, hainanese families were also involved in other food businesses like coffeeshops and western food stalls.

when i was young, i remember my grandparents being very particular about the proprietors of chicken rice stalls. till this day, my grandma makes it a point to know if the vendors behind these "Hainese Chicken Rice" stalls in the neighbourhood were indeed hainanese, although my favourite stall happens to be run by a hokkien family. having been a boat-chef in his earlier days, my grandfather retired to become the house-chef in my family. chicken rice was more or less a staple for sundays. as a big fan of the dish, i would help my grandfather set up the chopping board and stool, in eager anticipation for him to chop the meat up. as he hammered away with the chopper, i would be squatting by him like a hungry vulture, feeding on the bits and pieces that slipped off his blade.

like many other dishes (e.g. Peking Roast Duck) that move beyond their place of origin, the popular version of hainanese chicken rice is largely a local update of the original recipe. what i'm sharing today is, therefore, a hybrid of what my family has shared with me, and what i've learnt about the popular version you get from eateries.

(the chicken)
1 whole chicken (Small)
6 clove, garlic
2 inch, ginger
1 carrot
4 bunch, spring onion/ scallion (which i'm missing)
1-2 tbsp, salt
1 tbsp, chicken stock
4 tbsp, sesame oil

Hainanese Chicken Rice: Main Ingredients.

(the rice)
3 cup, rice (i like thai jasmine)
1 onion
4 clove, garlic
broth from the chicken

Hainanese Chicken Rice: Rice Ingredients.

(chilli sauce)
5 red chilli (i like to add 3-4 chilli padis)
2 clove, garlic
3 bunch, coriander
1 tbsp, sesame oil
4 tbsp, fresh lime juice
broth from the chicken

(optional vegetable)
2-4 bunch, choy sum or bak choy.


Step 1: Prepare the chicken, base and rice.
chop the carrots and the ginger, bruise the garlics and tie the scallions into a knot. throw all those into a sizeable pot filled with enough water to drown the chicken. add the chicken stock and bring to boil.

meanwhile, rub salt all over the chicken.

chop the onion and garlic for the rice. wash the rice, and let it set in water for about half an hour, then drain the water away.

Step 2: Cooking the chicken.
when the base comes to a boil, lower the chicken in, breast-down. put a lid on your pot, lower the flame and let it cook for about 15-20 minutes, and then flip it over for another 15-20 minutes.

Hainanese Chicken Rice: Chicken cooking in broth.

immediately after, bring the chicken out and drown in a ice-cold water for a few seconds. this arrests the cooking so that your meat doesn't overcook. quickly take that out, and spread sesame oil all over the chicken before the skin turns a shade of dark.

chop the chicken up into appropriate sizes.

(p/s: in this attempt, i've chopped the chicken up so that i can fit it into the biggest available crockery.)

Step 3: Cooking the rice.
scoop the layer of oil from the broth and pour it into a wok over a medium flame. when the wok is hot, throw the garlic and onions in and stir till it starts to brown a little. pour the rice in and fry the rice until it too turns a shade of translucent brown. transfer all that into your ricecooker, and pour as much broth as it normally takes for you to steam rice with water. set to cook.

Step 4: Chilli sauce!
mince the chilli, garlic and coriander up. pour the sesame, 2 tbsp of broth and the lime juice into the mixture.

Step 5: Vegetable soup.
chop the vegetables up, throw them into the soup and bring the soup to a boil.

Final Serve.
traditionally, one of the dips is a garlic one made up mainly of minced garlic mixed with some broth. the hainanese still use that dip more than they do chilli, but i've gotten used to eating my dips extra hot.

i love broth from cooking this dish. you can always depend on it to provide a fabulous base for your green vegetables.

Hainanese Chicken Rice.

also traditionally, my grandma would roll the rice into hand-sized balls. i believe this came from making it easier to hold the rice for lunch out in the plantation fields. i didn't roll them this time, but below's an example of what i did some time ago.

Hainanese Chicken Rice.


ryce said...

the broth and rice killed me instantly i put the rice in my mouth and fluffy pink happiness clouds part the beautiful blue skies and all the insects/animals from my garden rest on my shoulders, but otherwise thanks truckloads for making it and showing me how easily it can b prepared.

p.s.i don't think i can make it if i were to follow my bf's version

L. said...

I made a really bad version of this the other day ... because i had no idea how!

now i know!!!! :)))

sio said...

why u never make at home!

Isuru said...

emily chee was here

Mutuelle sante said...

Thanks a lot it is a great support, now to make stupid food look and taste good! is definitely easy utilizing your tips. Thank you