Chicken was a luxury in the 1960s. At a time when a bowl of mee pok tah was all of just 20 cents, the 70-cent cost of a plate of chicken rice was princely. And no surprise then, that chicken drumstick was a special treat reserved for birthdays. Therefore choosing the right chicken rice stall on which to ‘splurge’ one’s hard-earned cash truly mattered!
My gold standard, back then, for chicken rice was a stall parked inside Great Wall Kopitiam along Keong Saik Street, where the popular porridge stall, Tiong Shian Porridge Centre, now stands. Run by two young guys, their Cantonese-style chicken and rice were the best: the meat succulent and cooked just right, leaving the marrow still pinkish; and the rice and chili sauce good enough to wolf down on their own.
My amah never failed to remind me (and everyone else!) of an incident. The 70-cent portion was served on a single plate – sliced chicken on a mound of rice -- just like today. The $1.50 ‘deluxe’ set would get you a plate of rice, with much more chicken on a separate plate. However, spoiled and broke as I was, I insisted on having the ‘deluxe’ style -- but at 70 cents. The stall owner naturally refused; whereupon I threw such a big tantrum that he relented. Being all of ten years old at the time, I got away with it!
These days, most diners, and even stallholders themselves, often confuse the Hainanese for Cantonese chicken rice. Signboards or menus say ‘Hainanese’ but what you actually get is Cantonese. The difference? The Hainanese do not soak their chicken in icy cold water after boiling it, hence there is no jelly-like layer of gelatin developing just beneath the skin.
The chicken is soaked in room-temperature water for 30 minutes or so, then dripped dry and placed on a tray, covered with a piece of towel. The Cantonese, on the other hand, plunge the chicken in icy water then hang it to drip dry, leaving theirs with the thin gelatinous layer below the skin.
Cooking chicken and its rice is simple. Everyone seems to have his or her own little trick for a good version; here’s mine.
Hainanese Chicken Rice
Ginger juice 2 tbsp
Chinese wine 1 tbsp
Salt 3 tbsp
Spring onion 2 stalks
Ginger 3 slices, thickly sliced
Pandan leaves 1 stalk, bruised
Water 7 litres
Chicken stock 2 litres
Oil 2 tbsp
Rice 3 cups
Chicken stock 3 cups
Ginger 2 slices, thickly sliced
Pandan leaves 4, bruised
Salt 1½ tsp
Chicken oil 4 tbsp
Red chili 5, minced
Chili padi 2, minced
Ginger 4 mm, bashed and minced
Garlic 5 cloves, bashed and minced
Calamansi juice 5 tbsp
Chicken broth 3 tbsp
Salt ½ tsp
Sugar 1 tbsp
- Marinate chicken with ginger juice and Chinese wine for 30 minutes. Rinse and drain.
- Boil a pot of water (2 litres) and chicken stock. Add spring onion (1 stalk), 2 slices of ginger, pandan leaves, and boil for 5 minutes in high heat. Add 1 tbsp of salt and turn off the heat. Let it rest and cool to room temperature. This is to ‘cool’ the chicken immediately after being boiled.
- Boil another pot of water (5 litres) with the remaining spring onion and ginger. Add 2 tbsp of salt. Holding chicken by the neck, plunge it into the boiling water. When the water starts to boil, remove the chicken. Wait for the water to boil rapidly again, then plunge the chicken in and repeat the step two more times. On the third plunge, leave the chicken submerged in the water. Let the water boil for 1 minute. Cover with lid and turn off the heat. Leave the chicken for 40 minutes.
- Remove the chicken and plunge it into the pot of room-temperature chicken stock and leave it submerged for 30 minutes.
- Remove chicken, drain and lay flat on a plate, cover with a wet towel until it is ready to be chopped and served.
- Wash and drain rice in a colander for 30 minutes.
- Saute ginger with 1 tbsp of oil until it turns slightly brown. Add chicken stock and boil.
- Add rice and pandan leaves to boiling stock. Boil until the water subsides to the level of the rice.
- Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add the remaining oil, salt, and stir thoroughly, continue to simmer for another 10 minutes.
- Mix the rice thoroughly again. Close the lid and turn off the heat.
- Let it rest for another 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
- Mince chilies and ginger finely.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
- The sauce should be sour and a tad sweet.