Every culture has its own chicken and rice dish, comfort food at its comfiest. Here in Miami, the favored version is Cuban Arroz con Pollo, which is so ubiquitous you can literally find it at gas stations and any festive gathering. But Hainanese chicken, a southern Chinese take on the classic pairing of chicken and rice, is so rarely offered at restaurants that the only way to satisfy my craving is to make it myself. Hainanese chicken has a clean vibrant flavor which is a perfect antidote to all the rich foods we eat this time of year. The chicken is gently simmered, creating a flavorful and nutrient rich broth to cook the rice. And the two dipping sauces really take it over the top! The frizzled scallion ginger sauce adds a blast of freshness, while the spicy bean sauce is rich and smoky.
Hainanese Chicken may look like a lot of steps, but don’t be scared. The sauces can be made ahead of time, and the cooking is mostly hands off. And then you are rewarded with silken chicken and a savory rice dish. This meal celebrates the rich flavor in the chicken itself, in an unvarnished and natural way, that is incredibly satisfying. Plus, this is a great recipe to learn some butchering skills. I will walk you through breaking down a chicken so you can attractively present it on a serving platter. Prepare for very impressed guests!
Let’s Get Cooking!
I like to start with the sauces as they can be made ahead and stored in the fridge. Both are really easy and quick to make. For the ginger scallion sauce, I begin by mincing the ginger and scallions. You want a really fine mince here, so that each bite of the dipping sauce contains both ginger and scallion. Then, you heat both sesame oil and neutral oil to near smoking hot, and very carefully pour it over the ginger, scallions, and salt and pepper.
The hot oils will tame the sharpness of the ginger, almost melt the scallions, and the toasty sesame flavor perfumes the entire sauce. When it’s done, store it in the fridge. Take it out when you are ready to start the chicken, so it comes to room temperature.
This sauce is salty, pungent, fresh, and finger-licking good. You can use any leftovers on top of simple grilled meats, salmon, or any steamed veggies.
The spicy bean sauce is made from pantry ingredients like soy bean sauce, sambal olek, and rice wine vinegar. Stir them together and that’s done too! Like the ginger scallion sauce, it can be kept in the fridge until you’re ready to make the chicken.
A Nice Warm Bath
The key to Hainanese chicken is a slow simmer in a fragrant mix of traditional Chinese flavors like ginger, garlic, and Shaoxing wine. The long slow bath lets the chicken release its flavors into liquid, creating a rich stock for cooking the rice. I like to use a cast iron enamel dutch oven for this. It distributes heat better and can be kept at a low simmer for long time, without having to constantly adjust the heat.
The chicken will gently simmer for about 40 minutes, and then you will flip it over so the breast side is down. The key to making sure you have moist delicious breast meat, is to let it cook off heat, where the lingering heat in the steamy bath makes sure it’s just cooked through. Then you remove the chicken and set it aside in a covered bowl to keep warm.
Making the Rice
Cooking the rice for Hainanese chicken is pretty straightforward. The real difference being that plain water is replaced with the deeply flavored stock that the chicken cooked in, infusing every grain of rice with the rich savory flavors of chicken. For a refresher course on cooking rice, check out perfect rice. I use jasmine rice in this, and rinse it before cooking.
While the rice is cooking, you can prepare the traditional Hainanese Chicken cucumber garnish. For a pretty presentation, I like to peel a few strips off the cucumber, leaving peel in between. Then I thinly slice it on the diagonal.
Breaking Down a Chicken
Knowing how to butcher a chicken is a great kitchen skill to have. It makes for a beautiful presentation and also comes in handy when you need to carve a turkey. Same principal, bigger bird. First, push down on the thighs and cut through the soft cartilage at the joint. Sometimes you can even pop the joint out and then just tease your knife to slice through the skin. Either way, your knife should cut through without too much resistance.
Then you’ll cut through the joint between the thigh and drumstick. For more manageable servings, I cut larger thighs in half; but that might be difficult without a heavy knife or cleaver. DO NOT attempt to cut through bone with a regular kitchen knife. You’ll severely damage your knife and probably your hand.
Next I remove the backbone. You can use either a sharp, heavy knife for this, or poultry shears. Then I remove the breasts, and slice into easily served pieces. And then I assemble all the pieces on a platter.
Finally, it’s time to eat! Put out the platter of chicken, the cucumber garnish, the rice and the dipping sauces. Let everyone plate their own; it’s the least they can do after all your hard work.
Hainanese Chicken is the perfect late winter, post holidays meal. Deeply flavorful and comforting, I know you are going to love it. Let us know if you try it-leave a comment or tag us in your pictures @funkyasiankitchen, show us the goods!
Green Onion Ginger Dipping Sauce:
- 6 scallions, finely sliced
- 3 tablespoons finely minced ginger
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- ½ cup neutral oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon Ground white pepper
Spicy Bean Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons bean sauce
- 1 tablespoon sambal olek
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
For the chicken:
- One 3– 3 ½ pound chicken, rinsed and patted dry
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 12 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
- 1 bunch of scallions, cut in thirds to easily fit the pot
- 1 cup shaoxing wine
- 2 inch piece of ginger
- 8 cups water
- 2 cups jasmine rice
- ½ european cucumber
- Handful of cilantro
Make the dipping sauces:
- Put the scallions, ginger, sesame oil, salt, and white pepper in a heat resistant bowl. Mix to combine.
- Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil and heat for 2-3 mins until you start to see some fumes start to come off the oil-it needs to be very hot. Take the pan off of the heat.
- Add the oil slowly and carefully to the bowl with the scallion mixture. The oil will sizzle as the oil hits the wet ingredients so use extreme care when adding the hot oil.
- Stir to combine and then set aside until ready to use or refrigerate.
- Mix the sambal olek, bean sauce, light brown sugar, and rice wine vinegar together. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to serve chicken.
For the Chicken:
- Rinse chicken and place in a large pot, breast side up.
- With a mallet or flat blade of a kitchen knife, smash the ginger and garlic lightly and place it in the pot along with the scallions and the wine. Add the salt plus enough water to the pot to come up about 3/4 up the chicken, about 8 cups. (It’s ok if the chicken is not fully submerged in water)
- Put the pot on the stove and bring the chicken to a simmer over high heat. Cover the pot with a lid and lower the heat to medium-low. The chicken should be cooking at a gentle simmer.
- Simmer the chicken for 45 mins. and then flip the chicken so the breast side is down in the water.
- Put the lid back on, turn off the heat, and let the chicken continue cooking for another 10-12 mins off heat. (The residual heat in the pot will gently finish cooking the breast meat. A meat thermometer should read 165-170).
- Remove the chicken from the pot, reserving the stock. Put the chicken into a bowl and cover to keep warm and moist while you cook the rice.
Cook the Rice:
- Measure out 2 1/4 cups of chicken broth from the pot into a saucepan that has a tight fitting lid. You do not need to strain out the solids, just push them out of the way. A little chicken fat is a nice addition to the rice but if you have a thick layer of fat floating on the surface of the broth, then skim it off first before measuring out the broth.
- Rinse the rice under running water and then drain. Add the broth and the rice into the saucepan. Turn the heat to medium and bring the pot to a simmer, stirring the rice once or twice with a fork (sometimes hot liquid tends to congeal the rice at the bottom of the pan where it can start to stick).
- Lower the heat to medium low as soon as it starts to simmer and cover with a lid.
- Cook for 8-10 minutes until you start to see small holes on the surface of the rice and it starts to puff up. Lower the heat to low, stir the rice once more with a fork, and cover the pot.
- Cook for an additional 10-12 minutes until the rice is shiny and soft. If the rice is still a little firm, add a couple more tablespoons of broth and cook for 5 additional minutes.
- When the rice is done, remove from heat and let sit an additional 5 mins to let the rice finish absorbing any remaining moisture. Let it sit in the pot until ready to serve.
- Prepare the cucumber garnish. Peel a couple of strips off of the cucumber and then cut it into thin slices on a slight angle. Arrange the cucumber on a large platter with the cilantro.
- When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the thighs and drumsticks, and cut them into manageable pieces.
- Remove the back by cutting down the sides of the bird. Then, cut the breast in half through the bone, by cutting on either side of the breast bone.
- Remove the breasts in one piece and flip them over to remove any cartilage or bone fragments. Then cut the breast into thick slices.
- Arrange all of the chicken on the platter next to the cucumber. Scoop the rice onto a separate platter or into individual bowls.
- Serve the sauces on the side and let guests help themselves.
*The chicken is served warm, room temperature, or cold with the hot rice. You can make all of the elements ahead of time. Reheat the chicken gently in the microwave or in a pan with a little reserved cooking stock.
*If you make the sauces ahead of time store them in the fridge until ready to serve. They keep for several days.
*The chicken can be made ahead of time too. It too keeps for serval days in the fridge. You can either keep it whole and gently re-warm in reserved stock in a pot, and then cut into pieces. Or you can cut it into pieces before refrigerating, pour some stock on top, cover with plastic film, and heat in the microwave.
Keywords: hainanese chicken, rice, comfort food