Jan 11

Hainanese Chicken Rice


Chicken Rice1



Gai Fan‘ (pronounced Kaai-farn) in Cantonese, or simply put ‘chicken rice’, is the quintessential dish of all dishes in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. I could go into the details and history behind the name, but you all have Wikipedia for that, so I’m not going to bother.



I have been waiting a looooong time to make this recipe and I am so STOKED that it turned out as well as it did on my first try. I grew up eating this stuff, as I believe every Malaysian / Singaporean kid did. If you have never eaten chicken rice before, man, you are missing out! It is like the national dish of Singapore; even the President eats it ( … I think)! Singaporeans are all business when it comes to chicken rice; stiff competition amongst stall owners is a way of life. If you happen to have the best chicken rice in town, no advertising is necessary … word of mouth is all the advertisement you’ll need. Very soon crowds of people will be lining up at your stall before you are even open for lunch. It is so popular that it even warranted its own movie. In 2000, Raintree Pictures released a romantic-comedy film centering around the very subject, entitled Chicken Rice Wars (it’s all very Romeo & Juliette) where a boy and a girl from two warring chicken rice selling families fall in love … or something to that effect.



Chicken rice consists of three very important components, without which it cannot possibly live up to it’s high profile name. First comes the chicken, which is served either poached, steamed or roasted, drizzled with a touch of soy + sesame oil. The roasted version is probably the hardest to do since it requires precise heat control to obtain the classic crispy brown skin, yet still maintain a moist and tender flesh. The rice is stir-fried in its raw state in some oil along with lots of fresh ginger, garlic and some salt. Poaching liquid from the chicken it then added to the rice to finish off the cooking process. Then comes the all important chilli accompaniment ~ chillies are ground together with more garlic and more fresh ginger to form a paste. Then sugar, salt and rice wine vinegar is added to round everything out. Personally, I think the chilli needs to sit and mingle its flavour overnight before being eaten the next day.



Growing up in Malaysia I remember a time when a humble serve of chicken rice would cost all of RM 1. This was way back in the 80’s. This is no longer true in the new millenium. After I left home for Singapore less than two decades later I was delighted to discover that prices in Singapore wasn’t too bad. I could still find hawker stalls selling great chicken rice for S$ 2.20. If you’d like extras, say, a side of steamed ‘kai lan’ with oyster sauce, or stir fried bean sprouts, that’s about a buck fifty extra each.



Chicken rice comes in pretty much the same way wherever you eat it. The only choice you’ll have to make when ordering your first plate is whether or not you want your chicken poached or roasted with a crispy skin. Along with the rice and chicken, some cucumber slices, a bowl of clear soup and chilli-garlic sauce completes this classic meal. Since its existence is so prevalent everywhere (and I mean EVERYWHERE) … no one (local) has any need to make this dish for themselves at home. Singaporeans are far to busy with work commitments to bother slaving away just to make this at home … and anyway, the general consensus is that no one makes it better than the masters themselves, meaning the chicken rice sellers at the food courts. But I live in the Netherlands now and I have no hope of finding chicken rice here. One must now resort to self sufficiency ~ MAKE IT MYSELF!



First and foremost, prep the chicken. Use a whole chicken for best results; skin on; entrails removed. Start by giving it a bit of a spa treatment ~ rub a handful of coarse salt all over the chicken and Scrub. Scrub. Scrub. This not only removes impurities from the skin but flavours it as well.



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Now rinse the chicken thoroughly under running water. Pat dry and now rub over with finer salt and about a tablespoon of sesame oil. Stuff the cavity with sliced ginger, spring onion stalks, pepper corns and coriander stalks. Tie up the legs to keep them in place during the poaching process.



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Fill a large pot with water. Add salt, ginger and spring onions to flavour the broth. Ideally I would like to have poached the chicken in chicken broth rather than just plain water … but water was all I had on hand. If you have chicken broth, use it, seriously. If the broth you use comes already salted then don’t add anymore of your own.



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The chicken should be immersed in cold water before you place it on the fire. Add enough water to just cover the entire chicken. Whack the heat up to high until the soup comes to a boil. Skim off any scum/ foam that forms on the top. Once the soup boils turn it down immediately to a low simmer and leave it there for about 40 mins. When done I simply turned off the fire, whacked on a lid and left the chicken in the broth to cool down on its own. As it cools the meat will soak up more flavour from the broth. Alternatively, transfer the chicken to a large bowl and cover with a plate.



Now you can turn your attention to making the rice. Finely mince ginger and garlic with some salt in a food processor. Now add this to some vegetable oil in a non-stick pot. Sautèe gently until nice and fragrant. Pour in 1.5 cups of long grain rice and stir to coat. Lightly sautèe  again for 1 minute then add in 2 cups of the chicken stock, stir to combine and bring up to the boil. When the rice starts to boil, reduce the heat to low and whack on the lid. Leave for 15 mins, checking periodically and just wait for the rice to absorb all the fluid. The rest of the chicken broth you can use to serve as a side dish later, garnished with freshly chopped spring onion.



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No chicken rice recipe is complete without the accompanying chilli-garlic sauce. Different people do it differently, but the general rule of thumb is chili sambal (not Thai sweet chilli sauce) with pounded ginger and garlic. Yes, ginger and garlic is a recurring theme in this dish. Pinch of salt, sugar and a splash of rice wine vinegar and you are done. I added some coriander leaves to my sauce, but do what takes your fancy.Chicken Rice9




The verdict as a whole? It was fabulous … except that I ran out of soy sauce to dress the chicken with. The chicken is always served with a drizzle of soy sauce and sesame oil, cucumber slices and sprigs of coriander. But the rice came out perfect! And anyone who is worth their weight in local cuisine will tell you it is all about the rice. If you don’t get the rice flavour right it’s just not the real deal. Fortunately the ingredient list for the rice is a short one.




Ingredients (serves 4)

Poached Chicken:

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 4 tbsp coarse salt (for scrubbing)
  • 2 tsp fine salt for flavouring
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 5 thick slices fresh ginger
  • 2 sprigs spring onion
  • 10 peppercorns
  • bunch of coriander stalks
  • pot of salted water.




  • 1½ cups long grain rice
  • 2½ cups chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp minced ginger
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tsp fine salt.



Chilli Sauce:

  • ½ cup chilli sambal
  • ½ cup rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • bunch of coriander leaves



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So there you have it, the recipe for chicken rice. My partner had this for the first time last night and he asked for seconds … I was flattered. 🙂 It may not be “lowfat” per se but it is jam-packed with natural flavours and goodness from all the ginger and garlic. You’ll be warding of the flu for months to come, believe me. And if you poach or steam your chicken it is definitely a healthier option and it would off-set the fact that you just cooked your rice in salt and oil. Hey, there are worse food out there.



With this, I bid you all goodluck in the kitchen and hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do. Happy cooking!!



~ Enjoy! ~






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