Why It Works
- Poaching the chicken until each piece registers the ideal temperature on an instant-read thermometer keeps the meat moist.
- Using the poaching liquid—including any rendered chicken fat—to cook the rice and bok choy infuses the whole meal with rich chicken flavor.
- Letting the broth stand for several minutes allows the chicken fat to rise to the top, making it easier to collect and add to the rice.
Almost no matter where you are on the globe, you'll find some sort of chicken and rice dish. Singaporeans perform their version with delicious justice, standing out as one of the simplest and purest versions I've ever seen. This Singaporean staple is hands down one of my favorites, which says a lot given the multitude of over-the-top, tasty dishes that surround me. Chicken rice is simple and soothing—exactly what you should order when you want to take a break from the usual fiery dishes. I eat it just about every week.
And not just because it's good value for your money, although it doesn't hurt. A plate of it can cost as little as $2 US dollars! For that, you get a plate of perfectly tender and expertly sliced chicken (roasted or steamed) mildly flavored with sesame oil, a bowl of rich broth, and a mound of fragrant rice cooked in stock and chicken oil, all garnished with cucumber slices and fresh cilantro. I like to think of it as a deconstructed chicken soup. Shell out a little more change to get a "set," which comes with steamed greens topped with a sprinkle of crispy fried shallots. For those who crave more flavor or heat, you can drizzle on dark, thick soy sauce (kecap manis) and spoon on some fresh and tangy chile sauce. Though I like the flavor of the skin on the roasted option, I like the moist meat texture of the steamed chicken.
Chicken rice, specifically known as Hainanese chicken rice, is from Hainan, along the southern coast of China. Immigrants brought the dish to Singapore and now you can find it everywhere—and I mean everywhere. My local hawker center, Maxwell Food Centre, has no less than five stalls dedicated to the dish (Maxwell, Heng Heng, Ah Tai, Tong Fong Fatt...). Just look for the rows of plump poached and roasted chickens hanging on display in the shop windows.
But all of the shops look the same, so how do you choose? Singaporeans certainly have their favorites. There's always a ridiculously long queue at the well-known Tien Tien Chicken Rice (Tien Tien's chicken rice beat Gordon Ramsay's at Hawker Heroes Challenge in 2013). I'm pretty loyal to Maxwell Hainanese Chicken Rice: The folks are super friendly, the chicken is juicy, and if I'm super hungry I can ask them to pop a hard-boiled tea egg onto my plate.
Since Hainanese chicken rice is cheap, easy to procure, and delicious, I will admit I haven't had much of a need to cook it at home. Now it's time. While there are many parts to this recipe (I decided to go full out and cook the "set,") all in all it's simple to make. The trickiest part is getting the chicken just right. If you overcook the chicken it will be tough and dry. I had a hard time achieving this the first time—I'm so used to simmering the chicken until it's falling off the bone, but that's not what you want here. Gently poach the bird just until done. In Singapore it's even common to get a plate of chicken with a few bloody bits near the bone, though I wouldn't suggest you do that at home.
The broth (fortified with rendered chicken fat) that you've created is chicken rice gold. It ties the whole meal together. You'll ladle some up in bowls to serve as the soup, braise the greens in it, and use it as your cooking liquid for the rice. The schmaltz from the flavorful stock makes the rice some of the best you'll ever have.
For the Chicken:
3 pounds whole chicken, cut into 4 pieces
2 tablespoons rice wine
3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
3-inch knob ginger, peeled and sliced
3 scallions, roughly chopped
2 pandan leaves, tied into knots, (optional, see notes)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
For the Rice:
2 cups long grain rice, rinsed
For the Bok Choy:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 medium shallots, peeled, sliced into thin rings (about 1 cup)
1 pound baby bok choy, washed, trimmed, halved vertically
Chile sauce to serve on the side
Kecap manis to serve on the side (see notes)
1 cucumber, sliced
1 bunch cilantro, stems and leaves chopped, to serve on the side
For the Chicken: Place chicken in a large stockpot and add rice wine, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons salt, white pepper, ginger, scallions, and pandan leaves (if using). Cover chicken with water (10 to 12 cups).
Heat over medium-high heat to simmer. Reduce heat to a bare simmer and poach the chicken until the breast pieces register 155°F (68°C) and the legs pieces register 165°F (74°C) with an instant-read thermometer, about 35 to 50 minutes. To keep the white meat from overcooking, be ready to remove the breast quarters from the pot as soon as they come up to temperature. Transfer chicken to plate. Stir sesame oil and remaining tablespoon soy sauce in a small bowl. When chicken is cool enough to handle, rub sesame sauce onto chicken.
Strain broth and continue to simmer over medium-low heat until reduced to approximately 9 cups (do not skim fat). Season to taste and let cool 15 minutes to allow the fat to rise to the surface.
For the Rice: Place 2 cups rice and 3 1/2 cups broth (use as much of the fat as possible from the broth) into rice cooker and cook rice.
For the Bok Choy: Heat oil and shallots in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring, until deep golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer shallots to a small bowl.
Heat 3/4 cup broth to simmer over medium-high heat in a 10-inch straight-sided skillet with lid. Add bok choy and cover. Cook until just tender but still green, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to serving dish and sprinkle with shallots.
Reheat remaining broth and ladle into bowls. Slice chicken meat into bite-size portions and arrange on a plate, spooning a small amount of broth over the top. Serve with rice, bok choy, sliced cucumber, cilantro, chile sauce, and kecap manis.
Pandan leaf is used in Southeast Asian cooking. It may be found in your local Asian market. Pandan adds subtle flavor but is not integral. Do not substitute pandan flavoring.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 50g||64%|
|Saturated Fat 12g||60%|
|Total Carbohydrate 43g||16%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||16%|
|Total Sugars 10g|
|Vitamin C 41mg||206%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|