Hainanese Chicken Rice Recipe

This is a dish brought over by the Hainanese immigrants and looks deceptively plain: poached chicken, served with rice cooked in the chicken broth and fat.

But done right, it’s a masterful lesson in drawing flavours out of basic ingredients and carrying them through all the elements on a plate. The Singaporean twist to the original Hainan dish is the addition of pandan leaves or lemongrass for extra fragrance, as well as a punchy chilli sauce.

This used to be a dish I would reserve for weekends, as the traditional method of poaching a whole chicken requires a fair bit more time – and more friends to feed!

Using chicken thighs means I can do this in half the time, with all the flavour for a midweek treat.

Get the best chicken you can afford – corn-fed/free-range/organic – as it’s such a simple dish, you want your few key ingredients to really shine.

This recipe is extracted from Agak Agak, by Shu Han Lee (Hardie Grant Books £26). Photography by Ola O. Smit. 

Try Shu Han Lee's recipe for Tea Leaf Eggs or Clay Pot Rice with Shiitake and Chinese Sausage.

Ingredients for Hainanese Chicken Rice

  • 4 chicken thighs (about 600 g/1 lb 5 oz), skin on and bone in coarse sea salt, for rubbing
  • About 750 ml (1 ¼ pints/ 3 cups) water
  • 1 garlic bulb, smashed
  • 2 thumb-sized pieces
  • (30 g/1 oz) of fresh ginger, peeled and smashed
  • 2 pandan leaves, knotted, or 2 lemongrass stalks, lightly bashed
  • 2 spring onions (scallions), chopped
  • 150 g (5 1⁄2 oz/3⁄4 cup) jasmine rice, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce ¼ tsp fine sea salt, or to taste
  • 2 tsp sesame oil

For the ginger-garlic sauce

  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 1 tbsp grated garlic ½ tsp light brown sugar ¼ tsp fine sea salt, or to taste
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp chicken stock from poaching chicken

To serve

How to make Hainanese Chicken Rice

  1. Prepare the chicken by trimming any visible fat – set it aside for later. Rub the chicken all over with generous pinches of coarse sea salt. Place the chicken in a large pot, wide enough to fit the thighs in a single layer. Pour in just enough of the water to submerge the chicken, but you might need a bit more or less depending on the size of your pot. Add half the garlic, ginger, pandan or lemongrass and spring onions to the pot and bring to a rolling boil then turn the heat down to a bare simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, skimming off any scum. Turn the heat off and let the chicken sit in the hot water, covered, for another 15 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, render the chicken fat by cooking over moderate heat in a pan. Discard the solids. Once the chicken is cooked, remove and place straight into a large bowl of iced water. This will give it a nice springy texture. You also now have a pot of flavourful stock from poaching the chicken!
  3. Combine the rice with 250 ml (8 fl oz/1 cup) of chicken stock, the rendered chicken fat, sesame oil, the remaining ginger, garlic, pandan and spring onion. Season with the fine sea salt. Cook in the rice cooker or on the stovetop following the instructions on page 30, before fluffing and serving.
  4. While the rice is cooking, get all the other bits ready to serve. Make the ginger-garlic sauce by combining the ginger, garlic, sugar and salt in a small heatproof bowl. Heat the oils in a small pan and pour over the mixture, then stir in the chicken stock. De-bone and slice the chicken, then drizzle with the remaining teaspoon of sesame oil and soy sauce. Get your other dipping sauces ready in little saucers. Warm up the chicken broth and season with salt and white pepper, to taste.
  5. To serve, arrange the cut chicken and cucumbers over the warm rice, alongside your various sauces and little bowls of chicken broth. Garnish with the fresh coriander.
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