The first time I tried Hainanese Chicken Rice was from the famous Tian Tian stall at Maxwell Food Centre in Singapore. Though Hainanese Chicken Rice is named after Hainan in China, it became famous when this dish was brought to Singapore. The chicken is blanched in boiling water until fully cooked, then soaked in cold water to ensure the meat remains moist. It is served with the an incredibly fragrant rice which is cooked in stock with ginger and other aromatics. As much as I enjoy eating this dish out, I assumed it would be far too complicated and time consuming to replicate at home.
Thankfully the clever Poh Ling Yeow, host of ‘Poh & Co’ on SBS and runner up of Masterchef season 1 and SunRice ambassador developed this easy to make version at home. It features all the classic elements and flavours of Hainanese Chicken Rice without the fuss. Not only is this the perfect mid-week meal to whip up when you’re cold and hungry, it’s healthy too. I used chicken breasts in my version which stay incredibly moist thanks to the cooking process, and serve it with brown rice and greens.
Whilst the traditional Chicken Rice recipe calls for a whole chicken which needs to be deboned and pandan leaves, this recipe keeps it simple with common ingredients from the supermarket including chicken breasts (or thighs, if you prefer) and flavourings including spring onion, garlic, ginger and chilli along with the brown rice which I love for its nutty flavour and firmer texture.
The brown rice is cooked in a chicken broth with garlic and ginger with produces the most flavoursome rice I could eat on it’s own. I seriously need to start cooking all of my rice this way!
The chicken is dressed in a topping of finely sliced spring onions, oil, ginger and salt and then bubbles away in the oven for 15-20 minutes. I didn’t have an ovenproof dish with lid, so by all means cover your dish with foil instead. This traps the steam inside and lets the chicken steam slowly in its juices.
The bok choy is blanched briefly and after a final scattering of chilli (optional, but I love spicy food!) and we’re ready to sit down for a feast. I served mine with dark soy sauce and a paste of chilli and garlic which amps up the flavour even more. This is honestly such a comforting meal to eat during Winter, especially if you’re feeling a little under the weather – all that garlic and ginger will sort you out!
I also had a chance to question Poh on any tips and tricks she had when dealing with the eternal dinnertime dilemma.
What is your go-to dinner when you’re short on time or energy?
Chopped onion and garlic caramelised in some olive oil and butter with cumin seeds, ground coriander and dried chilli. When everything is fragrant, add rice and toss to warm through, then remove from the heat and add a tin of drained tuna, freshly chopped tomatoes and tons of roughly chopped herbs of any kind. It’s so fresh and delicious and despite the quick cook has a surprising depth of flavour because of the herbs and spices.
What are some of your favourite pantry staples to keep on hand so you can whip up a healthy and tasty meal? And what do you think is the most versatile ingredient for simple, everyday recipes?
Rice, olive oil, herbs, eggs, capers, broccoli, cauliflower, wombok, lemons, chicken stock, butter, tinned tomatoes and tuna, garlic, dried chilli, anchovies, dried shiitake, and mushrooms. As for versatile ingredients, for me it will always be the carbs – rice, pasta, and noodles, in that order.
What’s your ultimate comfort food to make when you’re feeling down?
My favourite comfort dish is really like a cheats nasi lemak- it’s also a great winter warmer. Jasmine rice tossed with a good spoonful of Mum’s Sambal Belachan (Malaysian sweet, salty, sour chilly relish), 2 fried eggs, fish sauce and lots of freshly sliced cucumber. I’m salivating just thinking about it. Another one I’ve been cooking a lot is Avgolemono, a Greek style chicken and rice soup, which has a delicate egg and lemon mixture whisked through at the end. It’s a dish that hugs you and you can find my version on the SunRice website!
Cheat's Chicken Rice - Make an easy version of Hainanese Chicken Rice at home!
- 1 Tbs rice bran oil or vegetable oil
- 2 cloves garlic peeled, chopped finely
- 2 slices ginger 5mm thick, bashed
- 2 cups brown rice
- 3 cups chicken stock
- salt to taste
- 8 stalks spring onions finely sliced
- 6-7 cm ginger peeled, finely grated
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup rice bran or vegetable oil
- 8 chicken thigh fillets or 4 breasts scored at 2cm
- 8 heads of Bok choy blanched with boiling hot water for 1 - 2 minutes, drained
- To make the rice, combine the oil, garlic and ginger in a non-stick saucepan. Saute until golden and fragrant.
- Add the rice and toast until the rice is coated with oil.
- Add the stock. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and allow to sit for a further 5 minutes before fluffing up with a spoon.
- Preheat oven at 180ºC
- To prepare the chicken, combine the spring onion, ginger and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
- Heat the oil in a small saucepan until smoking, then carefully pour this over the spring onion, ginger and salt. This will spit aggressively so stand back.
- Place all the chicken in an oven proof dish preferably with a lid, (otherwise cover tightly with foil) then spread all the green sauce over the meat.
- Cover and bake for 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through (the thigh fillets will take longer than the breasts).
- Divide the rice and chicken into 4 portions and garnish with the bok choy. Serve immediately.
Do you have any kitchen hacks to save time or add extra flavour when cooking dinner?
- Always have herbs on standby because they add so much life to simple dishes.
- Freeze stocks because in desperate times you can always make a lovely soupy dinner by adding a few meagre ingredients.
- If you need to speed cook but want flavour, chop your ingredients a bit smaller in a food processor – this way you are maximising surface area of the ingredients, so more flavour is drawn out in a shorter amount of time.
- Use mince so you don’t have to cut up meat but just make sure you brown the meat well – boiled mince is the worst!
- Use dried chilli instead of fresh because it’s less volatile and more consistent.
- Have a good stash of simple things that punch with flavour and don’t perish quickly in the pantry, things like tinned tomatoes and fish, some cured meat, anchovies, olives, parmesan cheese, capers; so if all fails you can use very little and still make a very flavoursome dinner.
This hearty meal is the perfect way to get your Singaporean food fix without booking a ticket overseas. Plus, it tastes just as good the next day as leftovers for lunch!