Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hainanese Chicken Rice

Growing up in Malaysia, specifically the island state of Penang which is renowned for it hawker or street food, this dish is truly comfort food for me. As anyone can attest to, their Mom makes the best comfort food, and this dish tastes best when prepared by my own mother.

Originating from Hainan province in China, this dish was brought to the Straits Settlements by Chinese immigrants back in the 19th to early 20th century. The Straits Settlements comprised of South-East Asian port cities like Penang, Malacca and Singapore, which are located along the Straits of Malacca, a narrow strait dividing the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the Malay peninsula (Malaysia).

The secret to this dish is the oil extracted from the chicken when boiled. Start with a whole bird and boil it in a pot together with a mirepoix (French cooking technique of adding celery, onions and carrots to make stock). Before that, cut the piece of fat that is usually hanging off the cavity end of the chicken. It will be used to flavor the rice. To get the best result, slow boil the chicken for approximately 2 - 3 hours to extract the most flavor out of the chicken and vegetables. Remove the whole chicken and continue boiling the stock and reduce it by a third so as to concentrate the flavors.

Next, prepare the rice by soaking in water for a hour or so. Drain it and oil a pan with the chicken fat that was obtained earlier together with some sesame oil and chopped garlic. Now toast the rice in the pan for a few minutes and transfer it to a rice cooker. In replacement of water, use the chicken stock to cook the rice.

For the sauce, start with the chicken stock, add soy sauce and sesame oil and heat it up until it simmers. Now, cut up the whole chicken into manageable pieces and place it on a plate. Pour the sauce you've just prepared over it and sprinkle the top with sliced scallions and ginger. As a condiment, puree some red chili peppers and ginger, then add lime juice and sugar. Scoop the rice and you have yourself an authentic Malaysian/Singaporean favorite, the Hainanese Chicken Rice.

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