I had a collaboration with New Moon to use their Thai Hom Mali rice to make a Singapore national dish to celebrate Singapore National Day on 9 August 2022. The first thing that came to my mind is the classic Hainanese chicken rice 海南鸡饭. It’s a simple plate of poached chicken with tender chicken meat and gelatinous skin, served with flavoured rice, with condiments included the garlicky chilli sauce, black soy sauce, ginger garlic pesto or scallion pesto, and garnished with cucumber and / or tomato slices. If you visit any food courts or hawker centres in Singapore, there is definitely at least one stall selling the iconic chicken rice.
In this recipe, I’m using the Thai Hom Mali Rice, which is a premium type of Thai Jasmine Rice. This rice has a long grain, and features a moist and soft texture after cooking. The Thai Hom Mali Rice is grown annually and can only be harvested once annually during the October to November period. The rice came out soft in texture and brings out the fragrance of the added aromatics really well, now this is really great quality rice!
The Hainanese chicken rice, as the name implies, hailed from Hainan in Southern China. However in Hainai, it is commonly called the Wenchang chicken, cooked with chicken only from the Wenchang city. Since the Hainanese chicken rice is a dish adapted from early Chinese immigrants from Hainan province, you might hear of different versions of this poached chicken rice dish in different countries in Southeast Asia that has a history of Chinese immigrants.
In Malaysia, the chicken rice goes by the Malay name nasi ayam (literally “chicken rice” in Bahasa Melayu) and the chicken can be poached, fried, roasted or barbecued. The rice may also come in the form of plain white rice. In Malacca, southern West Malaysia, a typical local famous chicken rice is shaped in balls the size of a golf ball and served with poached chicken. In Vietnam, the chicken rice dish is called Cơm Gà Hải Nam in Vietnamese and more commonly found in southern Vietnam. In Thailand, the Hainanese chicken rice is called khao man kai ข้าวมันไก่, which means “chicken oily rice” literally. Khao man kai is sometimes served with chicken blood tofu and fresh coriander.
It comes as no surprise that as Singaporeans claim the Hainanese chicken rice as our national dish, there was quite some debate going on between Singapore and Malaysia over the claim of this dish that is so commonly found in Southeast Asia.
Tips on cooking Hainanese Chicken Rice
I have cooked this dish a couple of times and here are some tips that served also as a reminder to myself the next time I make Hainanese Chicken rice:
- Many food centres make the dish with bigger chicken that are about 2kg. In most supermarkets and wet markets in Singapore, the chickens are rather small and usually come headless and intestines cleaned. I used a 1.2kg chicken to make this recipe and there is not enough fat to trim. Luckily I saved the chicken fat when I bought chicken thighs a couple of months ago (about 4 months) which I stored in the freezer.
- The chicken fat makes a difference to produce that oily flavourful rice. The rice is actually the most important component of the chicken rice, to me it either makes or breaks the chicken rice. Rendering the fat requires very low heat, do take note not to use high heat in order not to get it burnt.
- Right after cooking the chicken, transfer it into a big bowl of ice water, enough to cover the whole bird for about 15-20 minutes. This will help stop the cooking further and maintain the jelly-like skin.
- The liquid used to poach the chicken is great stuff. Use it to cook the rice, to make the chilli sauce, to make the dressing for the chicken, serve it as an accompanying soup for the chicken rice by adding cabbage and carrots to it. After all these, there is still a lot left which I freeze to use later.
- The garlicky chilli sauce is another important component of the chicken rice. You can adjust the amount of ginger, garlic and chilli that goes into it. If you prefer more spiciness, you can use bird-eye chilli or small chilli. In this recipe, I used the big chilli and my family commented it’s not hot enough. LOL.
- I’ll always eat chicken rice with the chilli sauce and the dark soy sauce. You can buy the dark soy sauce from the supermarket or any Asian grocery store.
- In many food courts and hawker centres in Singapore, you can find the ginger garlic pesto as a condiment to the chicken rice. In this recipe, I opted to make a ginger scallion pesto instead. In fact I made too much of it and kept it in the fridge to cook noodles and spread it on fish and bake sometimes.
- Garnish the dish with cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley or coriander as you wish. It makes the dish look pretty.
Watch how to cook Hainanese Chicken Rice on YouTube
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More Asian recipes
If you are into Asian food, be sure to check out these other local recipes:
Hainanese Chicken Rice 海南鸡饭
- 1 whole fresh chicken about 1.2 to 2 kg, at room temperature
- 100 g fresh ginger washed, peeled, cut into chunks
- ½ – 2 tbsp salt season to taste
- 1-2 tbsp sesame oil
- 4 litres water enough to cover the chicken
- 5 sprigs scallions washed and root removed, cut into 3 parts
- 3 cups Premium Thai jasmine rice
- 5 cloves garlic peeled and crushed
- 100 g fresh ginger washed, peeled, cut into chunks
- 5-6 pandan leaves washed
- 3-4 tbsp chicken fat oil using fats from the chicken
- Salt optional, season to taste
- 3 ¾ cups chicken stock from poaching the chicken
Ginger scallion pesto
- 80 g fresh ginger washed, peeled, cut into small pieces
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 sprig scallion washed and cut into small pieces
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil heated in pan
Dressing for chicken
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 3 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 cup chicken stock from poaching chicken
- 5-6 red chillies or birds-eye chillies washed and cut into smaller pieces
- 100 g fresh ginger washed, peel, sliced
- 5-6 cloves garlic peeled
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ cup chicken stock from poaching chicken
- Juice freshly squeezed from 1-2 limes season to taste
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil smoking hot
Others – garnish and condiments
- 1-2 sprigs Parsley or coriander washed
- 1-2 cucumbers washed and sliced thinly
- Dark soy sauce served as a condiment
Poach the chicken
- Wash the chicken clean. Remove the fat deposits from inside the cavity of the chicken, near the tail.1 whole fresh chicken
- Rub the chicken with salt all over and leave it aside for 15 minutes before washing the salt off.1/2 – 2 tbsp salt
- Wash and remove roots of 5 scallions, optional to cut into shorter pieces. Wash, peel and cut 100g fresh ginger into chunks.100 g fresh ginger, 5 sprigs scallions
- Add scallions and ginger to a pot of 4 litres of water. Add 1/2 to 2 tbsp salt, season to taste.Bring to boil over high heat. Then reduce to very low simmering heat. Add the chicken breast side down, dipping the chicken in and out of the water a few times in the beginning. Water should cover chicken thoroughly. Let it boil for about 5 minutes.1/2 – 2 tbsp salt, 4 litres water
- Once boiled, reduce the heat to the lowest so that the water is just steaming and not boiling. Cover and let it cook for about 45 minutes until internal temperature reaches at least 74C / 165F (thickest part of the meat). During the cooking, lift the chicken in and out a few times to change the liquid in the chicken’s cavity. Set the chicken stock aside.
- Once cooked, transfer the chicken into a large bowl of ice water for at least 15 – 20 minutes, enough to cover the whole chicken. This will stop the chicken from cooking further and also give the skin a nice jelly-like texture. Then remove from the ice water and set aside.
- Rub the skin all over with 1-2 tbsp of sesame oil and set aside to chop and serve later.1-2 tbsp sesame oil
Cook the rice
- Wash 3 cups of rice under running water a couple of times until the water turns as clear as possible. It should take about 5-6 times.3 cups Premium Thai jasmine rice
- Wash and peel and cut 100g fresh ginger into big chunks. Peel and crush 5 garlic cloves.5 cloves garlic, 100 g fresh ginger
- Fry the chicken fat in a frying pot (I used a stainless steel pot) over very low heat to render until it turns crispy and the oil is separated. Note: if there is not enough chicken fat, you can add a neutral-flavoured oil and fry the chicken fat with the oil.3-4 tbsp chicken fat oil
- Turn heat up to medium. Add garlic and ginger and sauté until aromatic.
- Add the rice and stir fry for about 2 minutes, making sure the rice is evenly coated with the oil.
- Add 3 3/4 cups of chicken stock (1 cup rice: 1.25 cups stock), and 5-6 knotted pandan leaves, cover and bring to boil. Optional to add salt to season.Once boiled, reduce the heat to simmering, leaving it covered. Once you can no longer see any water bubbling, turn off the heat and leave the pot covered for at least 15-20 minutes.5-6 pandan leaves, 3 3/4 cups chicken stock, Salt
- Remove the pandan leaves and fluff the rice with a fork. Leave it covered until ready to serve.
Make the chilli sauce
- Wash and peel 100g fresh ginger and cut into small pieces. Wash and cut off stem of 5-6 chillies, cut chillies into small pieces. Peel 5-6 garlic cloves.5-6 red chillies or birds-eye chillies, 5-6 cloves garlic, 100 g fresh ginger
- Blend the chilli, ginger, garlic and 1/2 tsp salt until it's a smooth paste. Add 1/2 cup of chicken stock. Squeeze fresh juice from 1-2 limes, season to taste according to your preference.1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 cup chicken stock, Juice freshly squeezed from 1-2 limes
- Heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil in a small saucepan until smoking hot, then pour the oil over the chilli mixture.2 tbsp vegetable oil
- Stir and set aside until ready to serve.
Make the ginger scallion sauce
- Wash and peel 80g fresh ginger and cut into small pieces.Wash and remove roots of 1 sprig scallion and cut into small pieces80 g fresh ginger, 1 sprig scallion
- Blend the ginger, scallion and 1/2 tsp salt into a rough pesto paste.1/2 tsp salt
- Heat 4 tbsp vegetable oil in a small saucepan until smoking hot, then pour the oil over the ginger mixture.4 tbsp vegetable oil
- Stir and set aside until ready to serve.
Make the dressing for the chicken
- Combine 1 tbsp sesame oil, 3 tbsp light soy sauce, 1 cup chicken stock and stir well.1 tbsp sesame oil, 3 tbsp light soy sauce, 1 cup chicken stock
- Drizzle the sauce over chicken to serve.
Serve the chicken rice
- Use parsley or coriander, and sliced cucumber to garnish the chicken. Serve warm with rice and the condiment sauces – chilli sauce, ginger scallion pesto, black soy sauce.Serve the chicken stock as soup. Serve the soup as is, add coriander or parsley as garnish. Or add chopped cabbage and carrots, bring to a boil until vegetable softened.1-2 sprigs Parsley or coriander, 1-2 cucumbers, Dark soy sauce