What comes to your mind when there is a mere mention of Hainanese chicken rice? Is it the glistening rice or is it the poached chicken lightly bathed in soy sauce and sesame oil? What about the spicy and vinegary chili sauce and potent garlic-ginger sauce that truly makes the dish sing in harmony? There is nothing not to love about Hainanese chicken rice.
The famous Hainanese chicken rice has garnered many hardcore fans, be it locally or internationally. This Singaporean national dish is listed in 50 best food in the world by CNN. However, the popularity that this dish has does not guarantee a safe spot from modern variations.
Recently, the wife of John Torode attempted to create her no-fuss version of Hainanese chicken rice. While it is an easy recipe, is it truly deserving of the title Hainanese? So in order to avoid any confusion as to what Hainanese chicken rice actually is, here’s a list.
1. Oily Rice
Even though some people confuse the chicken as the star of the dish, it is important to note that the rice also has to shine (pun intended). Unlike other dishes, the rice in this classic Hainanese dish is prepared differently. It must be shiny and fragrant but to achieve the result is not typically easy. The rice must first be cooked with oil, garlic and for some extra flavor, some chicken fat that is taken from the back cavity of the chicken.
An unknown fact about the rice is that it must be flavorful enough to be eaten on its own. So if you think about it, the steamed chicken is actually just a side dish. The rice deserves all the credit.
2. Poached chicken
While there are so many variations to the chicken, there is no doubt that poached chicken is the best of the best. It is tender, fatty, the flavors that are locked in the meat are just out of this world. Served in a pool of sesame oil and light soy sauce, it is everything you could ever want and more.
However, the chicken hasn’t always been as plump and juicy as it is today. The recipe originally calls for a fowl or an older chicken. Therefore, the meat tends to be more lean and fibrous. This Hainan-originated dish was also served with green chilli. It wasn’t until the later generations of Singaporeans adapted the dish into the iconic product that it is today.
Aside from that, the water that the chicken is poached in must be used to cook the rice. The fat that is rendered out of the chicken during the poaching process gives the rice a beautiful sheen.
There’s a reason why this dish was praised by the late Anthony Bourdain. There is a tremendous amount of preparation involved but the result is well worth it. Another component of Hainanese chicken rice that people often overlook is the condiments. No matter how great the rice and chicken is, it ceases to be the national treasure that it is without the condiments.
The condiments referred to here is not one, not two but three — ginger and garlic sauce, sweet dark soy sauce, and chili sauce. The true testament to the greatness of Hainanese chicken rice also depends on the sauce.
The chili sauce, especially, must be garlicky, vinegary and gingery. Meanwhile, the texture must not be too liquidy as that could mean the sauce is not as “kaw” as it should be. The sauce must be bright orange-y red in color so you’ll know it packs a punch by just looking at it.
On the other hand, the dark soy sauce must always be thick — think of dark caramel with deep salty, soy flavor. You should never settle for less than that. Next, let’s talk about ginger-garlic sauce. This sauce is for the adventurous and I understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I totally respect that but you should know that only real Hainanese chicken rice serves this condiment. So the next time you’re having an authentic Hainanese chicken rice, look for the restaurants that have the ginger-garlic sauce.
Some restaurants serve it, some don’t. Though if you ask me, serving Hainanese chicken rice without beansprouts is the equivalent of committing a crime. The beansprouts play a huge role in texture when eating chicken rice. While the rice and chicken are soft and tender, the slightly blanched beansprouts adds a fantastic crunch to the bite. What possibly could be better than that?
Though beansprouts seem a tad bit irrelevant to the dish, this side dish has the potential to elevate the ranking of a chicken rice from good to great.
Like many great dishes, there must be that one component to balance things out. In this case, it is the soup. When the soy sauce, garlic, ginger and chili overwhelms your palate, put your fork and spoon down and take a sip of the warm, comforting chicken soup.
This is why it is important to keep the chicken broth. Not only can it be reused to create rice but also, for soup. I believe that is what truly makes a Hainanese chicken rice an exquisite dish. The thoughts and effort that goes on into the making will only make you appreciate it more.
Get It Right!
So, it is no surprise that the mistreatment of Hainanese chicken rice caused an uproar among Malaysians and Singaporeans alike. The dish is highly regarded by those who love it, so the best we can do is to show anyone who is not familiar with the dish the right way to make them. If anything, food should unite us together, not divide us.