What is Hainan Hainanese Chicken Rice
Outrageously delicious: Hainan chicken rice
Cooked lukewarm chicken on rice sounds more like gastrointestinal flu than good food. So when I was first served Hainan Chicken Rice, I was pretty skeptical. It was on a rainy afternoon in Penang, the small culinary paradise off the Malaysian coast, and I was pretty sure that I could devote my time and especially my hunger here to much better than chicken rice. I was wrong.
In all likelihood, Hainan Chicken Rice is outrageously delicious. Perhaps the most amazing thing is the difference between the dish's humble name and appearance and its devastatingly satisfying, complex taste. When done well, it can carry the essence of the chicken. My chicken that afternoon was amazingly juicy and flavourful. The skin was translucent and delicate, the rice surprisingly rich and full of wonderfully flavored chicken soup.
For the dish, a whole chicken is first cooked very carefully in or over water and then quickly cooled in an ice bath. The rice is briefly fried in chicken fat and spices and then cooked with the soup that was created when the chicken was cooked. The whole thing is served with various dip sauces and a steaming bowl of chicken soup.
Hainan Chicken Rice is a beautiful example of how tortuous the paths of our food can be. As the name suggests, the dish originally comes from the island of Hainan off the south coast of China, whose inhabitants were in turn inspired by a famous Cantonese dish, the "white sliced chicken", provided it with other sauces and bedded it on rice. From Hainan it was brought to Southeast Asia by Chinese emigrants - initially to Malaysia, in the Penang area, where there was a large, highly successful Chinese trading community as early as the 19th century. Today it is widespread across Southeast Asia and is considered a national dish in Singapore. It has also returned to China - and is available in Malaysian restaurants, for example.
The preparation of the dish or its description ranges from myth-shrouded to a Sunday walk: Danny Bowien calls in his book Hühnerreis Hainan "the best possible way to eat chicken", but adds that it is "extremely difficult to get it right: It is a dish that can really suck. But when you find someone who has it under their little finger, who has done it a thousand times, it can be life changing. " Marc Bittman, on the other hand, minimalist cooking columnist for the "New York Times", has far fewer scruples. He doesn't need five minutes to explain the recipe in his video blog and, apart from the looks, is extremely happy with the result.
I struck a middle ground between Bittman and Bowien and followed the recipe in this wonderful book. The chicken is marinated overnight with Chinese schnapps and salt and then poached for a little more than an hour and then cooled in an ice bath. The result? Very fine dinner and, almost as good, gallons of chicken soup.
Incidentally, as far as I know, chicken rice Hainan is unfortunately not available in restaurants in Vienna. The beautifully named "Grillhaus Hong Kong" serves a fine version of its role model, the "White Sliced Chicken".
Hainan Chicken Rice
Chicken rice Hainan consists of four components: the chicken, the rice, the sauce and the soup.
1. The chicken
The dish is pretty puristic, so there is no harm in using the best possible chicken for it. After cooking it should just be done, but still pink on the bone. In Asia, like all meat, it is cut into pieces before serving and served on the bone - if you don't like it, just cut it up. This also has the great advantage that you can put the carcasses back in the soup. The meat is served chilled, which, admittedly, makes more sense in tropical regions, but also works surprisingly well on cold Viennese winter evenings, as long as the rice and soup are nice and warm. A thin, gelled layer of chicken juice under the skin is a sign of a particularly successful bird.
In the evening before cooking, cut off excess skin and remove any pieces of fat from the belly. Put aside and keep for later. Bring a good tablespoon of salt with two tablespoons of Baijiu (Chinese schnapps, is available in Asian stores, but vodka also works) to the boil, mix and rub the chicken vigorously with the mixture - this lady here even recommends a chicken peeling. Place the rubbed chicken in a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight or 24 hours. Simply tip any baijiu salt leftovers into the chicken's abdomen.
Before cooking, remove the chicken from the bowl and pour away the juices, but do not wash the chicken. Fill a large saucepan that will fit the chicken with water about halfway and bring to a boil. I used about three liters of water for my chicken. Tie up the chicken and add it to the boiling water.
Put the lid on and bring it to the boil again, then turn off the heat (if you have an electric stove: take the pot off the hot plate) and let it steep for 70 minutes. The chicken cooks gently in the meantime, at the end of the cooking time my water (now my soup) was 70 degrees.
In the meantime, prepare an ice bath. Carefully lift the chicken out of the hot water, preferably with a slotted spoon, and place in the ice bath.
Blast chill for two or three minutes, then remove from the ice water and pat dry. Brush with a little sesame oil and set aside at room temperature.
Carolyn Philipps says it shouldn't go into the fridge anymore. When it has cooled down, detach the breasts and legs from the carcass and don't forget the good meat on the underside of the chicken.
2. The soup
Frau Philipps doesn't put anything but the chicken in her soup pot. That may sound strange, but it works surprisingly well: the fine chicken taste of the soup remains undisturbed. I also tried it with spring onions, ginger and a little kombu in the broth, but I liked the puristic variant better. After the chicken has been lifted out, the liquid can be reduced for a while to concentrate. Whoever dismantles his chicken throws the released carcasses and wings back into it.
By the way, after the chicken rice feast there should still be plenty of soup left over. Freeze, use to refine vegetables or simply cook the next chicken Hainan in a mixture of water and soup instead of in water. Anyone who does this consistently will at some point command a miracle broth that is several generations old.
3. The rice
Rice is just as important for the dish as the chicken. So be sure to give him love and attention. For two eaters, I take about a 0.33-liter cup full of jasmine rice.
Wash the rice well. In a not too small saucepan, leave out the excess chicken fat. If that's not a lot, add some oil. Fry some chopped spring onions, a few slices of fresh ginger and two or three bay leaves in them until everything smells fragrant. Add the rice and fry for a few minutes until it is a little translucent and also smells good. Pour chicken soup on top (1: 1 to the volume of rice). Put the lid on, bring to the boil on the highest heat, turn off the heat, leave the saucepan on the hot plate, let it stand for 20 minutes, loosen up with a wooden spoon before serving.
4. The sauce (s)
In her book, Philipps describes four different sauces that she serves with the rice. I tried them once and found them too cute. Here is a very simple recipe for what, in my opinion, goes best with Hainan Chicken Rice and has been served most often to me personally: a very simple ginger and spring onion sauce.
Chop two spring onions as finely as possible, grate a thumb-sized piece of ginger or chop very finely. Mix with two teaspoons of salt and knead a little. Heat 1/8 liter of peanut oil in a small saucepan until it smokes.
Tip over the ginger and onion mixture, wait until it has finished sizzling and bubbling, and either serve immediately or, even better, keep in the refrigerator for a few days.
5. The food
Cut the cooled chicken into chop-sized pieces. Pile the hot rice on a plate, place the chicken on top, top with not too little chopped coriander and, if available, add a few slices of lime and ask the guests not to skimp on the ginger and spring onion sauce. Serve with bowls of steaming chicken soup. (Tobias Müller, December 3rd, 2017)
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