hainanese chicken rice - proud to be a random recipe!

Hainanese chicken rice
I'm feeling a bit lucky right now. One of my favourite lucky numbers has always been 22. l like the symmetry of it but it is also the day of my birth. So when Dominic at Belleau Kitchen announced that this month's Random Recipes was to be based on the day of your birth. It is also the 22nd Random Recipe competition, so since that is my birthday it rather kicked me into action. (I wish I could say I was 22 years old, but that boat has sailed!)

Let me explain. Dom's Random Recipes is a little piece of food blogging genius - a truly lovely idea for those of us that love cooking and writing about it.

Dom's realisation that many of us have quite a few cook books and probably don't do them justice is a prescient one. His genius idea is that every month food bloggers can choose a book at random and a recipe to cook. It is a fabulous way of introducing other bloggers and readers to cook books that they might not have heard of. Of course, he sometimes throws a little extra into the mix and this month, you had to select the book on your bookshelf that represented the number of your birth date as your book to cook from.

As a long time reader of the Random Recipes, but first time entrant, I was a bit nervous. I am not nervous because there are prizes to be won, just that I am in very good company indeed! The Random Recipes have been an absolute treat to read and a real eye-opener into people's bookshelves and their cooking around the world.

The book I selected, number 22, is Terrific Pacific Cookbook by Russian-born American food writer Anya von Bremzen, and John Welchman. It is a fabulous book and I originally bought it in a second hand book shop - it's an American publication so wasn't something I would have normally got hold of. There are no photographs although it is charmingly illustrated, although the illustrations are there to give an atmosphere of the Pacific Rim rather than what the food looks like. But despite its lack of photographs, it's a gorgeous trip around the Pacific Rim and South East Asia, and includes an eclectic series of recipes and anecdotes from the authors' travels around Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Bali, New Zealand and Australia.

My copy is actually my second copy as my first was lent to a friend and held hostage. OK, not hostage, but the friend loved it so much I gave it to him and bought myself another online. But I do have a confession to make. I have rarely cooked anything from this book. I'm in it for the colour and the storytelling. I love reading the vibrant stories of the people that the authors meet and the kind of food they are cooking. The background to the regional nuances, descriptions of trips to markets or eating street food are compelling, I just hadn't quite got around to cooking many of the recipes . . . um . . . well . . . you know how it is . . . er . . . OK, no excuses.

So here I am having randomly opened the book, which has opened about a third of the way through on Hainanese Chicken Rice with condiments. Can I first say, that it is a great recipe and pretty authentic, but that, secondly, it has been written for an American audience, so I have to adapt where appropriate.

And thirdly, I grew up eating Hainanese Chicken Rice - it was one of my favourite childhood comfort foods. This was the food I loved to eat at hawker stalls in Kuala Lumpur. But I am going to add a few ingredients that I like and I am also going to use chicken pieces rather than an entire bird. This recipe calls you to poach a whole chicken, which is fine, except I have bought chicken pieces. This is a shame since the recipes requires you to poach the chicken in water or stock, which is then used later on in the dish. So I just ended up poaching my chicken in homemade chicken stock, which had bags of flavour.

Hainanese chicken rice was brought to Malaysia and Singapore by Chinese immigrants from the island province of Hainan and has become a very popular dish, whether sold at the hawker stalls or in cafes and restaurants.

Traditionally, you would poach the chicken in boiling water for a few minutes, then turn off the heat and steep for about 15 minutes. You would then remove the chicken. Bring the stock back to the boil, then steep the chicken for another 15 minutes. This would be repeated until the chicken had steeped for about an hour. The chicken is then plunged into iced water, which stops the cooking and tightens up the skin. I am doing it all in one go. It's much easier and frankly still tastes pretty damned good. (The sambal is to die for!)

And one more thing - yes, this is a little time consuming, but it is definitely worth it. I can also confirm that any leftovers are the sort of thing you want to take to work with you the next day just to feel the envy all around you!

Serves 4-6
Skill level: Medium

chicken pieces or a whole bird - I used a leg per person plus a few thighs on the bone
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and very finely chopped or grated
5 x garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 x spring onions
1.5 litres good quality chicken stock
2 tsp sesame oil
225g uncooked rice (jasmine or basmati)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 x red chillies, de-seeded and chopped
6 x garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbsp + 1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp sesame or vegetable oil
1 tsp fish sauce (nam pla)
1-2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1-2 tsp sugar
half tsp salt
ginger and spring onion sauce6 x spring onions, finely chopped (white part only)
1-2 tsp fresh ginger, very finely chopped
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
a pinch of sugar
200g tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 x cucumber, sliced in half, de-seeded, then sliced into half moons
spring onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
fresh coriander, chopped, to serve
dark soy sauce, to serve (I use Kikkoman)

  1. Combine the light soy sauce with the Chinese rice wine. Add the ginger, garlic and spring onions, then pour over the chicken pieces and set aside for 1 hour. (If you are using a whole chicken, then stuff the chicken cavity with the ginger, garlic and onions).
  2. Bring the chicken stock to the boil, then add the chicken pieces. Reduce the stock to a simmer and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover with a tight fitting lid and leave to continue poaching in the ambient heat.
  3. While the chicken is poaching, prepare the sambal by grinding all the ingredients together, either with a pestle and mortar or in an electric grinder.
  4. When the chicken has cooked, remove the chicken pieces and set aside, covered in foil.
  5. Bring the stock back to the boil and skim off any fat. Check the seasoning, then set aside.
  6. Put the rice in large saucepan and add 1 and half amounts of the chicken stock. Bring the stock to the boil. Stir once. Cover with the saucepan lid and reduce the heat as low as possible and allow to simmer for 12 minutes. Turn off the heat, stir again and recover. Allow to continue to steam for another 10 minutes.
  7. Prepare the ginger and spring onion salad by combining all the ingredients.
  8. Prepare the fresh salad by combining all the ingredients.
  9. To serve, take the chicken off the bone and cut into large bite-sized pieces. Drizzle over a little sesame oil and a little chopped coriander.
  10. Bring the stock back to the boil and ladle into small bowls. Sprinkle over chopped spring onions.
  11. Serve the chicken stock with the chicken and small bowls of rice, together with individual portions of sambal, ginger and spring onion sauce, cucumber salad and dark soy sauce.

  • It is nice to put the rice in a small bowl or teacup and invert it so that you get a small, but perfectly formed mound of rice, to serve.
  • Serve individual bowls of pungent sambal, so your guests can make their chicken rice as spicy as they like.
 This is proud to be a
Random Recipe!


Unknown said...

'Terrific Pacific' - by a Russian American, with a recipe for Hainanese Chicken Rice? Oh, the Pacific Island dweller in me finds that very hard to swallow. But I love this recipe. Bill Granger (another bona fide Pacific dweller) has a great recipe in his Easy Asian book too.

Unknown said...

Firstly, loving the new look blog. Very chic. Secondly. Wow! What a great way to start random recipes. Your lucky number was worth the wait! I love this chicken dish. The sauce is so rich and it does feel nice and authentic. A lovely pick. A great post all round. Thanks so much for entering, it's genuinely an honour and pleasure to have you on board xxx

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Lucy - I know it sounds a bit weird! But it is a good ready - a very personal trip around the region. Though I suspect the book's title was chosen more because it rhymes with "terrific"! And it is slightly oldfashioned but it was written in 1995 . . . still worth a peek though. I have to confess that while I love Bill Granger's style, I haven't read his Easy Asian - must check it out. BTW, did you know that he writes for the Independent newspaper over here?

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

A very good read even!

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Dom - don't make me blush :) But I am really excited to take part in your Random Recipes and I can't wait for the next one!

Karen S Booth said...

FABULOUS new look Rachel as Dom said, VERY chic indeed and also very YOU - if I may be allowed to say that...and what an interesting book and recipe too.....I am fascinated by the book and may have to seek that out! Karen

little macaroon. said...

I love that you made Chicken rice! We've been back home in the uk since March, and every member of our family is pining for our frequent doses of chicken rice in our last home, Singapore. I'm nervous about making my own, only because its so time consuming and I'm worried that after all the effort it won't taste right and be a huge disappointment! Yatam Ottolenghi did a thorough recipe for chicken rice in the Guardian magazine a couple of months ago, which I've yet to try (http://m.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/aug/17/hainanese-chicken-rice-recipe-ottolenghi)
Loved reading your RR entry :-)

Janice said...

Woo hoo! Great to see you joining Random Recipes, it's one of the most challenging challenges and often tests us to the edge of sanity! Dom fell over the edge long ago ;-)

Ruth Ellis said...

This sounds delicious - I love a recipe with a super long ingredients list - then making it feels like a proper achievement! Yum!

Stacy said...

You made me nostalgic all over for Kuala Lumpur! We lived there for more than a decade and just left in January of this year. Even when we were there, I often made Hainanese chicken rice at home because it was one of my younger daughter's favorite things and if I just used pieces, as you did, it was quicker than driving out to eat. Yours looks wonderful!