Singapore Hainan Chicken

Singapore's Hainan Chicken rice, also called Hainanese chicken rice is a beloved dish that encapsulates the essence of Singapore's culinary heritage.

This iconic dish is known for its tender poached chicken served with fragrant rice, aromatic sauces, and condiments.

In this guide, we will look at the origins, ingredients, cooking techniques, and cultural significance of Singapore Hainan Chicken, providing a thorough exploration of this tantalising dish for enthusiasts and food lovers alike.

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Introduction to Singapore Hainan Chicken

The Origin Story

The Singapore Hainan Chicken dish, while deeply rooted in Singapore's food culture, traces its origins back to the Hainan province in Southern China.

Hainanese chicken rice was brought to Singapore by early Chinese immigrants, who adapted the recipe to suit local tastes.

The original Hainanese version, known as 'Wenchang chicken', used a different breed of fowl and preparation method.

Over time, the adaptation of Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore led to the creation of a unique version that features poaching the chicken at sub-boiling temperatures to ensure a moist and tender texture.

Hainanese chicken rice not only reflects the ingenuity of Singapore's culinary scene but also represents the fusion of cultures and the sharing of culinary traditions that Singapore is known for.

Why it's a Singaporean Favourite

Singapore Hainan Chicken has cemented its status as a national favourite due to its perfect balance of flavours and textures.

The chicken is poached to silky perfection, with its succulent, juicy meat effortlessly complementing the aromatic rice, which is cooked in chicken stock to infuse it with rich flavour.

Hainanese chicken rice is often served with chilli sauce and ginger paste, adding a spicy and tangy kick that elevates the overall taste.

It's a versatile meal, suitable for any occasion, from everyday dining to festive celebrations.

Moreover, its simplicity and the comforting, home-cooked feel resonate with many Singaporeans, making Hainanese chicken rice both a culinary delight and a source of national pride.

The Secret Ingredients of Singapore Hainan Chicken

The Role of Hainanese Chicken

At the heart of the Singapore Hainan Chicken lies the Hainanese chicken itself, which is central to the dish's identity.

The quality of the chicken is paramount; the preferred choice is usually a plump, free-range bird with firm flesh.

This ensures the meat remains tender and juicy after being gently poached.

The poaching liquid, often enhanced with ginger, pandan leaves, and garlic, imparts a subtle yet distinct flavour to the meat.

The chicken also contributes to the other components of Hainanese chicken rice, as its stock is the base for cooking the rice and can be used to make a flavourful soup to accompany the meal.

The careful preparation of the chicken showcases the Hainanese influence and the meticulous attention to detail that characterises Singaporean cuisine.

The Magic of Rice and Soup

The rice in Singapore Hainan Chicken is not just a side; it's an integral part that carries its own weight in Hainanese chicken rice.

After being sautéed in chicken fat, the rice grains are cooked in the flavourful chicken broth, making them incredibly aromatic and savoury.

Each grain absorbs the essence of the chicken, pandan, and garlic, creating a harmonious blend with the poached chicken.

The accompanying soup, usually a light broth, is also made from the chicken stock.

How to Season Hainan Chicken

Hainanese chicken rice is seasoned sparingly, allowing the natural flavours of the ingredients to shine through.

This soup serves as a refreshing palate cleanser between bites of chicken and rice, rounding out the meal with its simplicity and warmth.

It's this magical combination of rice and soup, along with the chicken, that completes the traditional gastronomic experience of Hainanese chicken rice.

The Art of Cooking Singapore Hainan Chicken

hainan chicken

Preparing the Chicken

Preparing the chicken in the Singapore Hainan Chicken recipe requires patience and precision.

The process begins with meticulously cleaning the chicken, ensuring it's free from any remnants that might affect the dish's purity of flavour.

A pot of water is then brought to a near boil, seasoned with ginger, spring onions, and sometimes a few pandan leaves to impart a fragrant note.

The chicken is gently lowered into the pot and poached until just cooked, avoiding overcooking to maintain its tenderness.

Once done, the chicken is often plunged into ice water to stop the cooking process, which also helps to tighten the skin, giving it a pleasing texture.

The poaching liquid is preserved, as it becomes the stock for both the rice and the soup, tying Hainanese chicken rice elements together with its rich, chicken essence.

Cooking the Rice and Soup

The rice in the Singapore Hainan Chicken dish is not merely an accompaniment but a star in its own right.

It starts with rinsing the rice until the water runs clear, which removes excess starch and ensures the grains remain distinct when cooked.

Then, in a separate pan, the rice is toasted lightly in a mixture of garlic and ginger-infused chicken fat until aromatic.

This process unlocks the rice's nutty flavour and primes it to absorb the chicken stock fully.

The rice is then simmered in the seasoned stock derived from the poaching of the chicken, soaking up all the flavours and fats, resulting in a moist and fragrant final product.

The soup, usually a clear broth, is likewise derived from the chicken stock, sometimes with added vegetables or tofu.

It's served alongside the chicken and rice, providing a light, soothing complement to the rich flavours of Hainanese chicken rice.

Popular Variations of Singapore Hainan Chicken

Local Singaporean Twists

In Singapore, the Hainan Chicken rice is not only a classic but also a canvas for culinary innovation.

Local chefs and hawkers have introduced twists to Hainanese chicken rice, catering to the diverse palates of Singaporeans.

Some variations of Hainanese chicken rice include roasting the chicken instead of poaching, giving it a crispy skin and a smokier flavour.

Others have experimented with the rice, using jasmine or basmati to alter the texture and aroma.

The condiments see local adaptations as well, with some adding calamansi juice to the chilli sauce for a citrusy zing or using a soy sauce blend that's sweeter or thicker than traditional versions.

These modifications showcase the evolving nature of Singaporean cuisine and the willingness of its people to experiment while respecting the traditional essence of the beloved Hainan Chicken rice.

International Takes on the Classic

The Singapore Hainan Chicken has crossed borders, inspiring international chefs to create their own interpretations of this classic dish.

In some countries, chefs incorporate local herbs and spices into the rice to give it a regional character.

While others might introduce a fusion element, such as using quinoa instead of rice for a healthier alternative.

In places with cooler climates, the soup is often richer and more robust, incorporating ingredients like ginseng or goji berries for added warmth and nutritional benefits.

The chicken itself in Hainanese chicken rice might be marinated with different spice blends before poaching, infusing it with flavours untraditional to the classic Singaporean recipe.

These international takes on the Singapore Hainan Chicken reflect the global appreciation for Hainanese chicken rice and showcase the versatility of its core components—chicken, rice, and broth.

Where to Savour the Best Singapore Hainan Chicken

Top Restaurants in Singapore

Singapore boasts a plethora of restaurants where one can enjoy authentic Hainan Chicken rice. The most renowned establishments are often the simplest.

Street stalls and small eateries where Hainanese chicken rice is prepared with generations-old recipes.

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice at Maxwell Food Centre is frequently cited by locals and tourists alike for its succulent chicken and flavourful rice.

Another notable spot is Boon Tong Kee, a restaurant chain known for its silky-smooth chicken skin and consistent quality.

For those seeking a more upscale dining experience, Chatterbox at Mandarin Orchard offers a gourmet version of Hainanese chicken rice with premium ingredients and a modern twist.

These top restaurants not only serve the best Singapore Hainan Chicken but also contribute to the nation's culinary identity, each telling a story through their unique flavours and cooking styles.

Enjoying Hainan Chicken Abroad

While Singapore is the heartland of Hainan Chicken rice, the dish has found a home in many cities around the world.

In regions with significant Southeast Asian populations, such as certain cities in Australia, the UK, and the US, you can find authentic renditions of Hainanese chicken rice that remain true to the Singaporean style.

Restaurants in these areas often have chefs who have trained in Singapore or are from Singaporean descent, ensuring that the traditional flavours are preserved.

Additionally, foodies and chefs outside of Southeast Asia have embraced Hainanese chicken rice, sometimes adding their local touch while respecting the core elements of poached chicken, fragrant rice, and tasty condiments.

For those looking to taste Singapore Hainan Chicken abroad, a bit of research can often lead to finding a slice of Singaporean culinary culture, no matter where you are.

hainanese chicken

Recipe for Hainan Chicken rice

Ingredients for making Singapore Hainan Chicken:

For the Chicken:

  • 1 whole chicken (about 1.5-2 kilograms)

  • 5cm ginger, sliced

  • 6 cloves garlic, smashed

  • 3 spring onions, cut into 5-centimeter pieces

  • Salt

For the Rice:

  • 400g jasmine rice

  • 700ml chicken broth (reserved from poaching the chicken)

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 tablespoons ginger, minced

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil

  • Salt

For the Sauce:

For Garnish:

  • Fresh coriander, chopped

  • Sliced cucumber

Method for Hainanese Chicken Rice:

  1. Rinse the chicken inside and out, then pat dry with paper towels. Season the cavity with salt.

  2. Stuff the ginger slices, smashed garlic cloves, and spring onions into the cavity of the chicken.

  3. In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Carefully lower the chicken into the pot, breast side down. Add more water if needed to cover the chicken. Bring the water back to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.

  4. Cover and simmer for about 30-40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken from the pot and plunge it into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Let it cool completely, then remove from the water and pat dry with paper towels.

  5. Reserve the chicken broth for cooking the rice and making the sauce.

  6. Rinse the jasmine rice under cold water until the water runs clear. Drain well.

  7. In a medium saucepan, heat the sesame oil over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and ginger and sauté until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Add the drained rice and stir to coat with the oil, garlic, and ginger.

  8. Cook for another minute, then pour in the reserved chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until the rice is cooked Remove from heat and let it sit, covered, for another 5 minutes.

  9. While the rice is cooking, prepare the sauce. In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, sesame oil, oyster sauce, reserved chicken broth, minced garlic, minced ginger, and chili sauce (if using). Adjust seasoning to taste.

  10. To serve, carve the chicken into serving pieces. Serve the chicken with the cooked rice, sauce, and sliced cucumber. Garnish with chopped coriander. Enjoy your delicious Hainanese Chicken Rice!

What's so good about Hainanese Chicken Rice?

In summary, Hainanese chicken rice is celebrated for its simplicity. It delivers a harmonious blend of flavours and textures that delight the palate. Here are some reasons why it's so beloved:

  • Tender, silky chicken

  • Fragrant rice

  • Trio of condiments

  • Versatility

  • Comforting and nourishing

Tender and Silky Chicken:

The chicken is poached gently in a fragrant broth until it's perfectly cooked, resulting in meat that is incredibly tender, moist, and silky in texture.

Fragrant Rice:

The rice is cooked in the same poaching broth, absorbing all the delicious flavours and aromas of the chicken, garlic, ginger, and spring onions. It's fragrant, fluffy, and infused with umami.

Trio of Condiments:

Hainanese chicken rice is traditionally served with a trio of condiments - soy sauce, chili sauce, and ginger sauce. These condiments add layers of flavour and complement the chicken and rice beautifully.


Hainanese chicken rice can be enjoyed as a simple meal on its own or dressed up with other dishes like stir-fried vegetables or a tangy salad. It's versatile and can be adapted to suit different tastes and preferences.

Comforting and Nourishing:

With its comforting flavours and nourishing ingredients, Hainanese chicken rice is a comforting meal that's perfect for any occasion, whether it's a casual lunch or a celebratory feast.

Overall, Hainanese chicken rice is a dish that captures the essence of comfort food - simple, satisfying, and bursting with flavour.


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