Comfort food, for me, is a big bowl of white rice and tender chicken. Luckily for me, Hainanese Chicken Rice or hoi nam gai fan as it’s known in Cantonese, is exactly that. I make this far too often for my own good – I could probably live off it quite happily. I’d be very fat… but very happy.
The beauty of this dish is that every single element comes together to complete the meal. The water you cook the chicken in becomes the stock and that same stock is used to cook the rice: it’s Asian frugality at its best. Plunging the chicken into ice cold water after cooking stops the cooking process as well as makes the flesh springy and the skin crunchy – just how I like my chicken. For authenticity, serve the rice and soup hot, the chicken cold and alongside cucumbers and garlicky chilli sauce (cucumbers are a ‘cooling’ element whilst chilli sauce is a ‘heating’ one).
This is a slight cheat’s version because I very rarely make this for more than two people (or even one, I always make extra for lunch the following day) and it’s not yo’ momma’s chicken rice… but it is my chicken rice and that’s good enough for me.
HAINANESE CHICKEN RICE
For the chicken:
2 free-range whole chicken legs
Bunch of spring onions or 1 large onion, peeled and halved (keep root intact)
3-4″ knob of ginger, peeled and sliced (cook’s trick: peel your ginger with a teaspoon to retain as much flesh as possible)
Water (see method)
Large bowl of ice water
For the rice:
1 cup rice per person (I usually make a little extra so that I can make fried rice), washed
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
2-3″ knob of ginger, peeled and finely minced
2-3 tbsps vegetable oil
1-2 tbsps Sesame oil
Half a cucumber, sliced
Garlic chilli sauce (optional)
Dark soy sauce (dark soy sauce has a slightly sweeter flavour and is also used in Chinese cooking for colour; light soy sauce has neither the same flavour nor appealing look)
1. Rub the chicken legs all over with the sea salt, then place into a large pot with the spring onions and ginger and add enough water to cover the chicken legs completely. As this is the only salt that will be in the stock, be liberal with it and feel free to add a little extra to the water (to taste).
2. Bring the pot to the boil over a medium-high heat, then turn it right down to a simmer and skim off the scum that floats to the top. Don’t allow the stock to boil again or it’ll turn cloudy. Simmer for around 20-25 mins, removing any more scum from the top. When your chicken is cooked, remove immediately and plunge into the bowl of ice water. Strain the stock and set aside.
3. Meanwhile, in another saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over a medium heat, then add the finely minced ginger and garlic and fry until fragrant – be careful not to let the garlic burn. Add the washed rice and stir, making sure the rice is well coated, the ginger and garlic distributed and the grains are beginning to stick to the bottom of the pan. Add about 1-2 tbsps sesame oil and stir well until evenly distributed.
4. If your chicken isn’t ready by this point, turn off the heat until you’re ready to steam the rice; if it is ready, using a ladle, add enough stock to the pan to cover to about 2cm above the level of the rice. As the rice will have stuck to the bottom of the pan, be sure to give the rice a quick stir to ensure the stock and rice grains are distributed evenly. When the liquid begins to come to a vigorous boil, turn the heat right down to low, place a lid on the pan and allow the rice to steam for about 20 mins.
5. To serve, plate the rice, cold chicken, sliced cucumber and garlic chilli sauce (if desired), then pour about 1 tbsp sesame oil on top of the chicken and top with about 1-2 tbsps dark soy sauce, and serve alongside the stock. If you want to be really Asian about it, separate the thigh and leg before serving, debone the thigh and slice into bite-sized pieces, then, using a large meat cleaver, chop the leg into bite-sized pieces and arrange prettily on the plate, before topping with the sesame oil and dark soy sauce. But hey, I won’t judge you if you can’t be bothered – sometimes it’s just too tasty to wait.
Until next time, peace and love,