Singing for our supper: Hainanese chicken rice

We stayed in Singapore for three nights on our way to Australia last year, and firmly at the top of our agenda was food – as it always is on our travels. One highlight of the trip was definitely our Singapore Slings and afternoon tea (with legendary bread and butter pudding) at Raffles, but aside from that, our culinary explorations consisted of considerably more local food at the many hawker centres (food courts).

Raffles bread and butter pudding

Raffles Singapore Sling

We arrived in Singapore late in the afternoon after a 14 hour flight. Our first stop was the hotel pool (and poolside bar) for a swim and a mojito. After that, we set off into the humid Singaporean urban jungle to track down a hawker centre for some Hainanese chicken rice.

Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore

This was a dish we knew very little about, other than seeing teams making it in an effort to show off their Asian cookery skills on My Kitchen Rules. We have to admit, though, that even in its home nation of Singapore, we were a little underwhelmed by it. There was nothing wrong with it; it just wasn’t particularly exciting: poached chicken, fairly plain rice and some sort of broth with chilli and soy sauces on the side. The other problem was that we weren’t really sure how to eat it. Did we drink the broth, eat it like soup or dunk the chicken in it? Where were we meant to put the chilli, and what about the soy? For such a simple dish, eating it became unexpectedly complicated.

However, none of that stopped us from recreating it last night – it is Singapore’s national dish after all. We chose to follow the recipe from Steamy Kitchen because its writers were so passionate about the wonders of this traditional meal.

Hainanese Chicken Rice

For the chicken:
1.8kg whole chicken (get the best quality chicken you can)
4″ section of fresh ginger, cut into 1/4″ slices
2 spring onions, cut into 1″ sections (both green and white parts)

For the rice:
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1″ ginger, finely chopped
2 cups long grain rice
4 cups reserved chicken poaching broth
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp salt

For the chilli sauce:
1 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp reserved chicken poaching broth
2 tsp sugar
4 tbsp sriracha chilli sauce
4 cloves garlic
1″ ginger

For the table:
Dark soy sauce
Chopped spring onion for garnish
Cucumber, thinly sliced

1. Rub the chicken all over with salt, getting rid of any loose skin and dirt. Rinse well, inside and outside. Season generously with salt inside and outside.
2. Stuff the chicken with the ginger and spring onion. Place into a large pot and fill with cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately turn heat to low to keep to a simmer. Simmer for about 30 minutes or until cooked.
2. When cooked through, remove from the heat and transfer the chicken into a bath of ice water to cool and stop the cooking process.
3. For the rice, heat the oil in a saucepan and add the ginger and garlic. Fry until fragrant. Add the rice and stir to coat, and then cook for about 2 minutes. Add the sesame oil and mix well. Add the reserved poaching broth and salt and bring to the boil. Once boiling, immediately turn the heat down to low, cover the pot and cook for about 15 minutes (or until the liquid is absorbed). Remove from the heat and let it sit with the lid still on for 5-10 minutes.
4. While the rice is cooking, remove the chicken from the ice bath and rub with sesame oil before carving.
5. To make the chilli sauce, blend all of the ingredients in a blender/food processor until smooth and red.
6. Serve the chicken rice with chilli sauce, dark soy sauce, cucumber slices and a bowl of the hot reserved chicken broth garnished with spring onions.
Serves 4

Boiling chicken

Poached chicken

Chilli sauce

Hainanese chicken rice

Unfortunately, we have to say that we were, once again, underwhelmed. The chicken was nicely cooked (if lukewarm by the time it got to the plate), but didn’t have the same enjoyment factor that a roast chicken would have. In fact, Ash commented that cooking it in this way seemed like a waste of a chicken. The poaching liquid, which was supposed to be served as a ‘soup’, was little more than slightly flavoured fatty water. Tipping half a jar of salt in it may have given it a bit more oomph, but then it would have just been really salty fatty water, so we gave up on it altogether. The chilli sauce had so much sriracha in it that we would have achieved basically the same effect if we’d just used sriracha. And other than the few slices of cucumber, this meal was really lacking a vegetable component – it seemed unfinished. Admittedly, the rice, with its subtle flavours of ginger and garlic, was very tasty, and we did say we’d happily return to that part of the recipe in the future.

There’ve been times when we’ve made meals for this challenge when we’ve been really excited about making them again. This time, although it was perfectly palatable cooked in a pot of boiling water, we’re both more excited about the thought of crisping up the skin of the remaining chicken and serving it up next to some roasties later tonight…

With next week’s dish of Indonesian nasi goreng promising to be more memorable, we might just chalk this one up to experience and look ahead rather than backwards!

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