Hainan Chicken Rice, and a Bonus Recipe

I’m a big fan of Anthony Bourdain in general, and of his show No Reservations in particular. The Singapore show, which aired last year, begins with this scene in a food court:


After watching this, I remembered there was a Hainanese chicken rice recipe in Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World. Just as I was thinking about making the dish, Bittman wrote “From a Chinese Island, a Chicken for Every Pot” for his Minimalist column last September (here’s the actual recipe, in case you missed the very small link in the article). There’s also a video of Bittman making the chicken.

I noticed that the chef in Singapore used different methods than Bittman did in his video, which deviates from the printed recipe. I decided to come up with a recipe utilizing the best steps from each source.

I added sliced ginger and chopped garlic to the cavity of a salt-rubbed chicken and immersed it in a pot of boiling water that just covered it. (How did I know how much water to use? I made like Archimedes and dropped the still-wrapped chicken into the pot, filled it with water to cover by an inch, then removed the chicken. The extra water accounted for what would fill the cavity once the wrapper was removed. Science!) The covered pot simmered for 10 minutes, then the heat was turned off and the chicken left to poach for 2 hours.

The chicken was removed from the pot – now full of tasty chicken broth – and dunked in a bowl of ice water to cool. While the chicken cooled, I let the broth simmer to reduce and concentrate the flavor.

I heated some chicken fat (you do have chicken fat in the fridge, don’t you?) in a large pan, added chopped shallots and garlic, and sauteed until the shallots just browned, then added the rice and stirred for a few minutes:

Rice, before

I added a quart of the broth to the rice and tossed in the tops of the scallions I chopped for garnish – that’s what the Singapore chef did. (Extra flavor, no part of the scallion wasted, FTW!) After 20 minutes covered on low heat, the rice was done:

Rice, after

While the rice cooked, I turned my attention to the chicken. In only five minues I was able to shred this:

Chicken, before

into this:

Chicken, after

I tossed the shredded chicken with a few tablespoons of sesame oil.

In his video, Bittman makes a sauce out of oil, shallots, and garlic. In his book, he recommends a chile-ginger sauce. I’ve made the chile-ginger sauce before, but I didn’t have any fresh chiles, so I improvised a close approximation by adding grated fresh ginger and lime juice to bottled sriracha sauce (you do have sriracha sauce in your pantry, don’t you?).

The chicken was served on top of the rice, garnished with chopped scallions, with the chile-ginger sauce and dark soy sauce passed on the side. Here’s my plate (note the use of the macro lens):

Final plate

I love the way this tastes, it’s all contrasts: cold chicken against warm rice, salty soy against pungent chile and ginger, crunchy scallions against soft chicken. Di and I could eat this every week, but I think Miles would object. But there’s an extra benefit from this recipe apart from leftovers. Bittman notes in his article:

While this is the most basic version, the best one is the provenance of devotees, who save the stock they don’t need for the rice, freeze it, and use it as a starting point for the next time they cook chicken this way. If you do this repeatedly, the stock will become stronger and stronger, as will the flavors of both chicken and rice.

As long as you remember not to salt the chicken if you’re using reserved stock, this technique is the way to go.

But wait, there’s more!

Bonus recipe: Dumpling noodle soup

I read about this on Serious Eats. Instead of making awful ramen noodle soup according to the package directions, substitute chicken stock for water, add some ginger and garlic, and simmer for 15 minutes. Then add the ramen noodles and a few frozen dumplings (you do have… oh, never mind), simmer for five more minutes, and you get a hearty soup.

I skip the ramen pack altogether. I use leftover Hainan chicken stock, ramen noodles from the Asian grocery, and gyoza from Trader Joe’s. The whole dish comes together in 20 minutes:

Dumpling noodle soup

I had some leftover roast pork, which I julienned and tossed in with the noodles and dumplings.

I have a friend who used to live on ramen soup. She described to me how she would try to introduce variations by adding different spices, but was most proud of the “bachelor soup” variation, which called for adding a cut-up hot dog to the soup as it simmered. Because she’s not dead from sodium poisoning, I plan to serve – and teach – her this new recipe.

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2 Responses to Hainan Chicken Rice, and a Bonus Recipe

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