Hainan Chicken Rice 海南雞飯


The response was immediate: “Chicken Rice!”, when I asked her indoors what she wanted to eat for Valentine’s Day. Simple poached chicken and chicken flavoured rice. Yet as every good cook knows it’s the care in preparing these simple dishes that really sets them apart from other cooks.

So what sets my Chicken Rice apart? Well, only using the best chicken I can find is a good start and years of refinement also helps. If you make chicken rice with a hormone-fed-2-for-£5-special from T*sco then you’re going to get an insipidly bad result. When poaching a chicken it’s important to start with a good one because you’re not adding any roasting Maillard flavours or marinating it with herbs or spices. I’m a fan of the French Label Rouge chicken, they taste fantastic and have a firm toothsome texture. The French know how to breed chicken for flavour above all else. I would love to make Chicken Rice with a Poulet de Bresse one day – the ultimate French chicken. The other thing about the Label Rouge chicken is that they have a big plug of fat in the cavity. Trust the French to know that this is an essential ingredient, it’s a shame I’ve never found this is any chicken processed in the UK. You see, if you’ve ever tried cooking Chicken Rice at home and was disappointed with the rice, the reason is your stock was weak. It’s only one lightly poached chicken after all, unlike in a specialist shop where they are poaching dozens of chicken and producing deeply flavoured stocks. So it’s the chicken fat that helps the home cook to really bring back the flavour of chicken to the rice. The chicken itself should be moist, the meat just cooked through, the thigh bones still rosy pink. In Hong Kong, they poach their chickens so that the leg bones are still bloody inside. So when they chop the legs you can see the bloody bone-marrow spraying over the pearly white flesh.

Here’s my recipe for Chicken Rice, which a Malaysian friend once proclaimed “Luxury Chicken Rice” because of the way I’ve pimped it!

Serves 3-4

For the Chicken
1 Chicken – medium sized about 1.5kg
Ginger – peeled thumb sized lightly bashed
Spring Onion – 3 stalks

In a pan that is just larger than the chicken, boil enough water to submerge it. Add the ginger, spring onion and salt. Taste the water for saltiness as this will eventually be used to cook the rice. Lower the chicken gently into the boiling water, dipping it several times breast side down so the skin tightens and won’t split during cooking. Lay the chicken breast side up in the pan and bring the water back up to a simmer. Simmer gently for 10 mins covered, turn the heat off and let it finish cooking in the residual heat of the stockpot for another 50 mins. To stop the cooking plunge the bird into iced water for 10 mins, hang the bird upside down for at least an hour, preferably more, at room temperature for the flavour to fully develop.

For the rice
40g Chicken Fat
150g Shallot, finely sliced
1 Garlic Clove Large, finely minced
450g Jasmine Rice, rinsed
4 Dried Scallops (conpoy) soaked till soft
2 Pandan Leaves, shredded and tied into a knot
1/2 Sheet Kombu

Whilst the bird is hanging, render the chicken fat and slowly fry the shallots for 15 mins till they are brown, add the garlic and cook briefly before adding the washed rice. Toast the rice in the aromatics before adding the chicken stock and the water used to soak the scallops. Shred the scallops into the rice, add the pandan and kombu and cook the rice in your usual way (I transfer the whole lot to a rice cooker).

Once the rice is cooked serve the chicken neatly chopped up in the Chinese way and devour with the non-optional ginger-scallion oil and the optional sweet chilli sauce as accompaniments.

Ginger-Scallion Oil
70g Ginger, finely grated
35g Spring Onion (Scallions), equal amount of white and green parts finely chopped
15g Coriander, mostly stalks finely minced
1 tsp Salt
75ml Groundnut or Vegetable Oil
Soy Sauce

Combine the ginger, spring onion, coriander and salt in a heat proof bowl. Heat the oil in a small pan till it is smoking. Make little wells with a chopstick in your ginger mixture and pour the smoking oil all over it. It will sizzle, lots, the little wells will ensure the hot oil reaches all the nooks. The mixture should be a runny oily paste consistency. If it isn’t sizzle some more oil into it. Finish with a merest dash of soy sauce to round the flavour off.

Sweet Chilli Sauce
8 Large Red Chillis – medium hot
3 Cloves garlic
30g Sugar
Fish Sauce
Squeeze of Lime

Blitz the chillis and garlic with enough water to make a loose mixture. Pour it into a small pan, add the sugar and simmer gently for 20 mins. Add more water if getting too thick, add more sugar to taste. Take off the heat and add fish sauce and lime to taste. Let it cool, this tastes better the next day.

11 thoughts on “Hainan Chicken Rice 海南雞飯”

  1. Love this dish and your version is sublime. When cooking the rice, would you reduce the chicken stock to get exactly the volume needed and boost the flavour? Or do you serve the remaining stock as a soup?

  2. I think Darragh O’Shea (Knightsbridge, rather than the one in Selfridges) sell poulet de Bresse … s’gotta be done!

  3. Yes you could reduce it down but it’s still only the juices from one lightly poached chicken. If you can’t get enough chicken fat then boost the stock by adding some chicken wings or a boiling hen after you’ve pulled the chicken out to rest.

    When I get my hands on a poulet de bresse, you will definiely be inviited Nick!

  4. I like your idea of chicken fat in the rice (I’ll probably use goose fat as they sell that in waitrose). As for the stock soup in this dish, I usually boost it at the table with some of the chilli sauce, soy, and toasted sesame oil.and sometimes fish sauce.

    1. The flavour of goose fat is just too different to chicken fat, it’ll still be delicious but you will completely lose the essence of chicken rice. I wouldn’t substitute it. If you can’t find chicken fat then just save some fatty chicken skin in the freezer, the stuff around the neck and around the cavity is good to trim off if you’re preparing whole chicken for roasting. When you’ve saved enough up then you can render it down and have chicken skin scatchings as well as delicious chicken rice.

  5. You’re right about French birds – I’ve had great results with Poulet des Landes (from SW France). I cook my chicken like you, but salt it lightly all over with Maldon flakes after cooking, letting it cool down for at least an hour. Also, I add a splash of vinegar and aromatics to the broth. Thanks for the chicken fat tip!

  6. How much for you to make this and delivery in Birmingham? Been craving this since my travels to Singapore 2 years ago!

  7. The Hainanese chickens I ate in Singapore are with very appetisingly thin slurpy chicken skin. Unfortunately I can’t find any thin skin chickens in the market to replicate this. Is there any special chicken breeds that I should look for ?

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