(My) Hainanese Chicken Rice

As a Singaporean living abroad, life has its downsides. One of which is that I don’t get to go to the nearest food center to grab a good plate of Hainanese Chicken Rice. Big problem, so I resolved to make it myself. I started with my mom’s recipe and decidedly arrived at something I like after quite a few tries.

Without further ado…

Base Ingredients:

  1. Organic Chicken (Whole), with skin and fat. An extra emphasis on the fat.
  2. Extra Chicken skin or fat*
  3. Lemongrass (1 stalk)
  4. Garlic (1 head)
  5. Shallots (1 bulb)
  6. Pandan leaves (small bundle, about 3-4 leaves, cut up in large pieces)
  7. Jasmine Rice (3 cups). I prefer a mix of 2 cups brown to 1 cup polished white.

*Supermarket chicken typically removes the head, neck and parts of the flap at the back where most of the fat is. All the fat from one whole chicken should be enough for 3 cups of rice unless the chicken is specially raised on a pasture and is extra lean. However since most of it has been removed before being sold, extra fat will be needed. Extra chicken fat can be purchased or gotten for free from local supermarkets or can be rendered from chicken skin if required.(See my post on Chicken Skin/Fat)

“Pandan leaves” or “香兰” may be purchased from a Chinese supermarket like Ranch 99 here in the Bay Area. It is typically found in the freezer section.

Optional Ingredients for Soup/Sides:

  1. Cucumber
  2. Bok Choy
  3. Oyster Sauce
  4. Sesame Oil
  5. Nori (Japanese roasted Seaweed)
  6. Fishballs (Squid/Cuttlefish works too). Only available from Chinese markets. Fish equivalent of meatballs.
  7. Tofu (Firm+)

Additional Sauces for dips:

  1. Dark soy sauce. This is the sweet, caramelized version of soy sauce. Only available from Chinese markets.
  2. Sambal Chili.


Remove extra fat from chicken and set aside for Part 2.

Brine chicken for a few hours or overnight. This makes the meat juicier and tastier.

Can be skipped if desired.

Part 1 Chicken:

Reuse the brine to boil the chicken in.  Cut up a stalk of lemongrass and slice some ginger to add to the water. This gives the soup some extra flavor. Bring to a boil and stop when inside of chicken is cooked. (~30-45 min)

Theoretically it should be steamed in high pressure but I don’t have a pot big enough to do it. Excess cooking will disintegrate the chicken and make it really mushy…yuck.

Take out the chicken. Dunk the chicken in ice to freeze the fat on the skin if a smooth glossy skin is desired.

Cooling the chicken in ice is done commercially. At home…too lazy to do it. I also find that it makes the skin less tasty because the “saltiness” is washed off. In Singapore, this loss of taste is sometimes compensated by a mix of soy sauce in oil, or simply with the dips that comes along with it.

Leave aside to cool for cutting.

Part 2 Rice:

Wash rice as per normal preparation for steamed rice.

Blend ginger, shallot and garlic in roughly 1:1:1 ratio. I use about 1 head of garlic (5-8 cloves) for 3 cups of rice.

Typical chicken rice usually serves the ginger as a dip and the garlic is added whole to the top of the rice while cooking. I prefer to blend it because this means I consider ginger and garlic to be healthy and should be consumed instead of discarded. However if the rice is under cooked, it will then taste bitter because of the garlic.

Melt chicken fat in a pan/wok and place drained rice to fry. Add blended ginger/shallot/garlic and fry until rice grains are fairly dry and evenly coated in the fat and blend. It should smell fairly fragrant at the end of it.

The rice should not look like it is soaking in chicken fat. If so, considering adding more rice.

Move rice into rice cooker. Use the chicken stock from “Part 1” to cook the rice. Do not use water. Place pandan leaves on top of rice before cooking.

Salt can be added to make the rice taste better. What is in the chicken stock is usually enough. I love to eat mine with sambal chili which is salty on its own, so having the rice a little bland balances it out.

I find that Western made rice cookers, for some reason, don’t make good steamed rice. Consider getting a Japanese one if so.

Part 3 Soup:

Now we have a pot of chicken stock. Feel free to add whatever you like to it to convert it into a tasty pot of soup.

Personally, I just like to add Nori (Japanese roasted seaweed) and Fishballs to it, with a bit of firm Tofu. I find this to go well with rest. Western vegetables like celery in the soup tend to disrupt the “Asian” taste.

Part 4 Putting it all together:

Cut up the chicken. De-bone it if desired.

Deboning the chicken will not make it look pretty…but it makes it easier to eat. My kids love to gnaw on the bones while I am cutting up the chicken too. Great activity there!

Serve rice with chicken and bowl of soup.

I will ensure the chicken is slightly warm before serving. In Singapore, the weather is hot so little extra work is needed to keep it warm. In food centers, they are warmed using incandescent light-bulbs. For that matter, I have no idea why most “chicken rice” in US restaurants are always served cold…ack.

Part 5 Optional Sides:

1. Sliced cucumber, serve with rice as garnish.
2. Blanched Bok Choy with Oyster Sauce and Sesame Oil.

At home, I skip these sides because the soup will have plenty of vegetables in it.

Speeding up the process

While waiting for the chicken to cook in the pot, I usually start processing the rice. By the time the rice part is done, the chicken should be almost ready to take out for cooling.

Then while the rice is cooking, start preparing the ingredients for the soup.

When the soup is cooking, prepare the chicken for serving.

This makes the whole process take only about 1.5 hours. Not too bad in my book.

Final Word:

As can be inferred from the above, this is a complete meal, very much more than just a chicken-on-rice thing. It utilizes most of the edible parts of a chicken so on top of being healthy (yes, I regard chicken fat as healthy), it is also low on food waste.

However, don’t eat this too often! All good things become bad for you if taken excessively.


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