STEP-BY-STEP INSTRUCTIONS WITH PICTURES
I am using a whole chicken for this dish which is how it should be done traditionally. I have seen other recipes that use chicken breast or chicken legs only. You can definitely do that but make sure to adjust the cooking time and temperature base on your own judgment. You want to get a whole chicken that is not too big and will fit in your pot, anywhere between 3-4 lbs. is good.
There usually will be a couple of pieces of fat at the end of the cavity. Trim that off. Then finely dice it. Save it for making the rice later.
Rub the chicken with 1.5 tbsps. of sea salt. This is a dish that is dedicated to the natural taste of the chicken so any impurities and unpleasant smell will ruin the result. That’s why we are rubbing it with salt. Make sure to clean up the cavity as well. Then rinse under running water thoroughly. Tie the legs with kitchen twine. Leave a little string at the end, this will make blanching a lot easier.
Fill a pot here with 5 liters of water and bring to a simmer. The pot needs to be big enough for you to move the chicken around to ensure even blanching.
Drop the chicken in. Move it around for just 15 seconds. Take it out and wait for 30 seconds. Drop it in again and repeat what you just did 3 times. This is the key step to firm up the skin and getting a gelatin texture. You can see before the skin was loose and now it is very stretchy.
After the third time of blanching, let the chicken rest on the side because we are going to change the pot. I have seen so many Hainanese chicken recipes that will just leave the chicken in the big pot and poach it until done. But because the pot is so big, you have to use a lot of water to cover the whole chicken, in my case, it is 5 liters, which means the broth is going to come out very light in taste.
I switched to a smaller clay pot that only needs 2.5 liters of water to cover the chicken. That means the soup is going to be concentrated and full of chicken flavor when we are done poaching. By doing this extra step to switch the pot, you are bringing this dish to another level. Because the broth is very important in making the rice, soup, and chili sauce later.
Now we will add the aromatics: 3 scallions and 2 inches of ginger, sliced thinly. Some people will add pandan leaves and lemongrass. Let me explain why I am not using those. The prototype of Hainanese chicken is actually a dish called Weng Chang Ji (文昌鸡) in Hainan provenience in China. Wen Chang Ji is a special breed of chicken, which is organically raised and freshly slaughtered right before cooking. The chicken itself is already flavorful and delicious. Therefore, locals don’t use pandan leaves or lemongrass. But, when this dish spread to Singapore. They had to change the recipe by adding more herbs to cover up the disadvantage of using frozen chicken. Therefore, depending on the quality of your chicken, you can choose to add pandan leaves and lemongrass or not. My chicken is range free and I got it fresh from a local farm, so scallions and ginger will do just perfect.
put on the lid and we will poach this chicken for 50-60 minutes. When I say poach, I mean you don’t want the water to have that bubbling activity. It should be nice and calm, a little bit steamy. The temperature is around 85C (185F). Make sure you come back every 15 minutes to monitor the heat. Because everybody’s stove is different. You don’t want the chicken to be boiling when you are not looking.
Ok, the chicken should be done. Use a meat thermometer to check the inner temperature. Just poke the thickest part of the chicken. It should be above 165 F, which is the bottom line where the chicken is safe to eat. Mine is 169 F - perfect.
Now, we are going to shock this chicken by putting it in an ice bath. Just for 15 minutes to stop the cooking process. When it is done, it should be slightly warm.
Then we will brush the chicken with some sesame oil. I actually mixed the sesame oil with a tiny bit of turmeric powder. I know it sounds strange, let me explain why: Weng Chang Ji is a special breed of chicken. The skin is bright yellow when cooked and it has a rich buttery taste - so delicious. There is no other chicken comparable, in my opinion, LOL! The chicken in the USA, the skin is off-white when it is cooked, and it is less fatty. I can’t recreate the real Hainanese chicken 100% but at least I can fake the color with turmeric! Don’t judge me LOL!
All right, set the chicken aside and I will show you how to make the rice. I am using jasmine rice, rinse it under running water and rub it to remove the excess starch. Then drain completely.
This is the chicken fat that we reserved. Render it over medium heat until it is nice and golden. You should be able to get 1.5 - 2 tbsp of oil. If not, you can add a little bit og vegetable oil to make up for the shortage. Toss in 3 tbsps. of finely diced shallots, 1 tbsp of minced garlic, 1.5 tsps. of minced ginger. Stir for a few minutes or until the aromatics are golden.
Add the rice and mix well. At this point, you can transfer everything into a rice cooker but I like to cook mine on the stove so I will continue to use this pot. Add 2.5 cups of the chicken broth from the pot that we cooked the chicken in. There is no salt in the broth so I will add 1/2 tsp of salt here. Bring this to a simmer. Put on the lid. Turn the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes.
The smell is amazing. Let’s fluff the rice. I think this is the best-tasting rice because it is cooked with chicken broth and lots of aromatics. Just looking at it, I am drooling.
Ok, set the rice aside, we will talk about the 4 components of this dish. When you order this dish in singarpore, it usually comes with chili sauce, scallion sauce, sweet soy sauce and a chicken soup. I know it sounds very complicated, don’t worry, you don’t have to make all 4 of them but it is nice to show you how they are made.
For the chili sauce, you will need 10 cloves of garlic, 1/2 inch of ginger, 1 big red chili, which is mild in taste, so I added 3 Thai bird eye chili to spice it up. Roughly dice everything. Some people say it tastes better if you pound them in a mortar and pestle. But my arthritis is not allowing me to do that anymore so I have to grind the ingredients in a small blender.
If you are using a mortar and pestle, you will season the chili sauce after you pound everything nice and fine. But the blender needs a little bit of liquid to do the job, so I am adding the seasonings now:4 tbsps. of fish sauce, 3 tbsps. of lime juice, 1 tbsps. of sugar, and 1.5 tbsps. of the chicken broth. Yes, more chicken flavor. Blend it until smooth. Set the chili sauce aside.
To make the scallion ginger sauce, simply add 1/3 cup of diced scallions, 2.5 tbsps. of grated ginger, 3/4 tsp of salt to a heat-proof bowl. Heat up some vegetable oil until it is smoking hot. Then pour it over the aromatics and mix well.
To make the sweet soy sauce, simply combine 3 tbsps. of soy sauce, 2 tbsps. of dark soy sauce, and 2 tbsp of palm sugar into a saucepot. Stir over low heat until the sugar melts. Drizzle in some sesame oil and mix well. Pour it into a sauce bowl and set it aside. Tips - shave the palm sugar finely before adding it to the saucepot so it dissolves faster. If you don’t have palm sugar, you can use brown sugar.
The last component is chicken soup, which is already halfway made. There should be around 2 liters of chicken broth left in the clay pot. Turn the heat to high and bring it back to a boil. Add some carrot slices, cabbage, and some salt to taste. Cook for just a minute and we are ready to serve.
As Chinese, I am so used to serving my chicken with bones, but my husband hates that. So, I am going to show you how I cut the chicken in a way that everybody is happy. Remove the strings. Detach the legs first. You can slice them right off. Chop it into big chunks. That’s for me because I love dark meat. Oh, almost forget to mention that I cut some cucumber slices, and place them at the bottom of the plate. It adds some freshness and crunchiness to the dish. Next, cut off the wings and separate the flat and drumstick.
For the breast meat, I will make a deep cut a little bit off the center to avoid the middle bone. Then you should be able to peel the breast off little by little. This is boneless now. You just cut it into thick slices. That will be for my husband because he prefers white meat. See everybody is happy.
Garnish it with some cilantro.