Hainanese Chicken Rice Set Recipe

Poaching a chicken and cooking rice and bok choy with the broth give you rich flavors.

Overhead view of a place setting of the Hainanese chicken rice set.
No run-of-the-mill chicken and rice.

Serious Eats / Yvonne Ruperti

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.

Singapore's Maxwell Food Centre, an open-air market bustling with diners. Small food stalls line the walls.
Maxwell Hainanese Chicken Rice is only a few stalls down from Heng Heng Hainanese Chicken Rice (both have blue signs).

Serious Eats /Yvonne Ruperti

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.

The storefront of Heng Heng Hainanese Chicken Rice. Cooked whole chickens hang behind the plexiglass and platters of add-ons are on display beneath.

Serious Eats /Yvonne Ruperti

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.

A Hainanese chicken and rice plate with broth, sauces, and a side of simmered bok choy topped with browned shallots.
The chicken rice set with egg at Maxwell Hainanese Chicken Rice, Maxwell Road Hawker Centre.

Serious Eats /Yvonne Ruperti

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.

August 2013

Recipe Facts

Active: 45 mins
Total: 2 hrs 30 mins
Serves: 4 servings

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Ingredients

For the Chicken:

  • 3 pounds whole chicken, cut into 4 pieces

  • 2 tablespoons rice wine

  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided

  • Kosher salt

  • 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

Directions

  1. 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).

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

Special Equipment

Rice cooker, instant-read thermometer

Notes

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.

Kecap manis is a thick, sweet soy sauce. Dark soy sauce, which is not as sweet, can be substituted.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
874 Calories
50g Fat
43g Carbs
67g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 874
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 50g 64%
Saturated Fat 12g 60%
Cholesterol 327mg 109%
Sodium 2052mg 89%
Total Carbohydrate 43g 16%
Dietary Fiber 4g 16%
Total Sugars 10g
Protein 67g
Vitamin C 41mg 206%
Calcium 191mg 15%
Iron 5mg 30%
Potassium 1547mg 33%
*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.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)