Chicken Rice, 3 Ways: Hainanese | Vietnamese | French


(Regular readers of r/Singapore will realise that this post is just a copy of the Reddit thread.) 

Clickbait titles:

  • Man Forces Family to Eat Chicken Rice One Week In a Row For Likes on Social Media

  • I ONLY Ate Chicken Rice for ONE WHOLE WEEK

  • Chicken Rice But I Screw Up Every Step On The Way

  • The Only Chicken Rice Guide You’ll Ever Need

Chicken and rice is a pretty common combination around the world, but in this post, I want to explore 3 very similar recipes with two common threads: chicken poached to create a chicken stock, and rice that is cooked using said chicken stock. If you were to follow along, note that all these dishes prefer some kind of free-range chicken.

A deceptively plain-looking dish, with just poached chicken, rice and sometimes a few slices of cucumber or Nyonya Achar. This dish found in Singapore and Malaysia is perhaps the cleanest-tasting chicken rice on today’s menu, and probably the most famous thanks to the huge media attention this dish gets.

Hainanese Chicken Rice and its influences

A deceptively plain looking dish, with just poached chicken, rice and sometimes a few slices of cucumber or Nyonya Achar. This dish found in Singapore and Malaysia is perhaps the cleanest-tasting chicken rice on today’s menu, and probably the most famous thanks to the huge media attention this dish gets.

But the name is a little misleading; the current iteration of Hainanese Chicken Rice we can find in Singapore/Malaysia contains not only influences from its progenitor Wenchang Chicken, from the Wenchang county in Hainan province of China, but also Cantonese ones, most notably Bak Chit Gai or White Cut Chicken. (Regular readers of r/cooking should remember Chinese Cooking Demystified’s post on Bak Chit Gai.)

Bak Chit Gai is technically a chicken dish and not a chicken and rice dish. Wenchang Chicken is technically not even a dish, but it refers to a local breed of chicken that has been in Wenchang for at least 400 years. This means even if it’s stir-fried or stewed, any dish you make with that breed of chicken is technically still Wenchang Chicken. But to keep things simple, we’ll only refer to the “white cut” method of cooking. Sounds familiar? That’s because both the Hainanese and Cantonese refer to this poaching method as “white cut” “白切“.

 

The White Cut 白切 Method

Ingredients
  

  • 1 Chicken Chicken rice stalls in Singapore will ask for birds at least 2kg
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • Water enough to fill a pot
  • 4-5 slices ginger
  • 2 whole scallions
  • Ice and water bath or rice-wine

Instructions
 

  • Before going into the white cut method, you'll want to cut off thefatty parts and skin of the chicken you're using. These excess fatwill be used to make chicken fat, or schmaltz for Hainanese ChickenRice.
    The white cut method generally leavesthe whole bird intact, including the feet and head. That said,depending on the pot you have in your home, it might not fit soyou'll want to do adjustments there.
  • Throw some sliced ginger andscallions into a pot. Fill it with water and boil. If making a scallion sauce (to be shown later), you may want to use morecallions, reserving the top for the stock and bottoms for the sauce.
  • While waiting for the water to boil, rub salt all over the chicken. It's said that this step is to cleanse the chicken skin and give it a better sheen. The primary purpose is not to season, but to clean. This means the salt is to be washed away (which I left out in the video). Some recipes may also call for this to be prepared hours ahead of making the stock.
  • When the water is boiling, hold the chicken by the head, or hold them under the wings using chicken hooks or some kind of chopsticks. You'll want to gently dip the chicken under the water, then lift them up again several times. This step ensures that the chicken cooks evenly by changing the water that cooled down in the chicken cavity. You will notice the water temperature change from boiling to just simmering upon contact with the chicken.
  • After dunking a few times, leave the chicken poaching in the pot forabout 45 minutes. You'll want the water to be very gentle here, withyour heat on the lowest flame. Optionally, you can also simply turnoff the flame, put on a cover and let residual heat gently cook thechicken for these 45 minutes. Depending on your pot, this may or maynot work for you. Cooking with residual heat only will result in amore tender chicken (think like sous vide). Certain recipes also say that 20 minutes is sufficient, but I thinkthis entirely depends on the size of your bird.
  • After those 45 minutes, prepare an ice bath for the chicken or enough rice-wine to coat the chicken. Lift the chicken out of the pot, being careful of hot stock in the cavity. Then put the chicken into the ice bath. This tightens the skin and gives a gelatinous texture. The traditional method is using rice-wine to cool the skin down, as alcohol evaporates faster and obviously people didn't have freezers traditionally. In Wenchang and the early days of Chicken Rice in the Straits, this step is completely skipped over, with the chicken simply let to rest under a cover. In Wenchang, the skin is still gelatinous and shiny even without this step. I suspect the breed of the chicken has something to do with this. Personal experience also says that free-range chicken tends to have better-tasting skin.

Notes

Notes: In Singapore (should be same for Malaysia), certain hawkers prefer chickens that are at least 2kg in weight.
And stalls or restaurants, it's likely that they have a much larger pot cooking many chickens at once. As a result, a homecooked stock is likely to not be as flavourful. It is thus recommended, though not necessary, to use two chickens, previously saved up chicken bones, or use additional chicken stock.

The Sauces

While there are many small variances between the 3 Chinese chicken dishes, the easiest way to identify them is the sauces.

For white cut Wenchang Chicken, the most important part of this dish other than the breed of chicken, is a special sauce made from garlic, cilantro, ginger and a local variety of Calamansi. Depending on who you ask, the sauce can be said to be the main emphasis of the dish. Chilis may or may not be used in this calamansi sauce.

This appears to quite similar to the Strait’s Chili Sauce

Chicken Rice Chilli Sauce

Ingredients
  

  • 5 pieces Chilli
  • 5 pieces Bird's eye chilli
  • 2 ladles Chicken Stock
  • 1 bulb Garlic
  • 25 g ginger
  • Calamansi juice to taste
  • 1.5 tsp sugar to taste
  • 1/2 tsp salt to taste

Instructions
 

  • Simply blend the above, or use a mortar/pestle for better results.

Bak Chit Gai is usually accompanied by a ginger-scallion sauce called Geung Yung ( 薑蓉 ).

Ginger Spring Onion Oil/ Geung Yung

Ingredients
  

  • 5 Spring onions, bottoms
  • Equal amount of ginger
  • Oil or chicken fat

Instructions
 

  • Grate or use a mortar and pestle to get a lightly crushed ginger paste. Young ginger, which is less stringy than old ginger, tends to be preferred. Some may also call for the ginger to be simply minced.
  • Bottoms of spring onions may be left whole or lightly crushed. Mix this together with the ginger.
  • Heat up an amount of oil enough to cover the ginger and scallions you used. When this oil is hot, pour this directly over the aromatics, which will cook them just slightly.

As for Hainanese Chicken Rice, you can expect to see up to a whopping 5 sauces. Typically, a plate is served with 2 or 3 on the side, with one soy-based sauce drizzled directly onto the rice or chicken.

READ  Singapore Noodles, the Merlion Statue of Singapore Cuisine

One of those sauces is Geung Yung, though it is more common to see

Ginger-Garlic Sauce

Ingredients
  

  • 3 cloves garlic I used whatever leftover from the bulb
  • Equal amounts of ginger
  • 2 ladles chicken stock to taste
  • 1/2 tsp sugar to taste
  • 1 tsp sesame oil to taste

Instructions
 

  • Simply blend the above ingredients, or use a mortar/pestle for betterresults.

Finally, the two remaining sauces are used according to preference, as they are both soy sauce based. They are directly drizzled over the chicken or rice. This is added into the dish somewhere in the 1970s to 1980s, influenced by the Cantonese.

Sweet Dark Soy Sauce

Ingredients
  

  • 80 ml water
  • 2-3 Tbsp rock sugar or white sugar
  • 80 ml dark soy sauce

Instructions
 

  • Put water and sugar in a smallpot, and melt the sugar to create a syrup.
  • Mix the dark soy sauce with the syrup. Start with slightly less, then adjust with more soy to taste.

Notes

Different dark soy sauces have different sugar levels, so definitely adjust this according to taste. Alternatively, kicap manis may be a decent substitute that can be used straight out of the bottle.

Sesame Soy Dressing

Ingredients
  

  • 1 tbsp sesame oil to taste
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce to taste
  • few ladles chicken stock to taste

Instructions
 

  • Mix the above according to taste.

Notes

You can also play around with other ingredients like shallot oil, shaoxing wine or oyster sauce.

And despite having so many sauces, it is said that for Hainanese Chicken Rice, the main emphasis of the dish is…

Chicken Rice Rice

Ingredients
  

  • Chicken fat from chicken
  • 1 bulb garlic
  • few slices ginger optional
  • 280 g Medium Grain Rice
  • Chicken stock from cooking the chicken
  • Salt to taste

Instructions
 

  • Cut the chicken fat/skin into small pieces, then put them into a pan, starting with medium heat then lowering down as fat starts to render. You can also add a splash of water at the start, as certain schmaltz recipes suggest.
  • As long as you're patient and constantly adjust the heat so the skin doesn't burn, you should get golden crispy chicken skin and rendered out chicken fat. You have to use additional oil if you don't have enough chicken skin.
  • Either leave the chicken skin in for the rice, take them out for garnish, or eat them straight.
  • Saute some garlic, whole, and ginger in the rice. You can also mince them, but most chicken rice stalls sell the rice without visible bits, so leaving them whole and taking them out of cooked rice makes sense.
  • Then saute rice until the oil is absorbed by the rice.
  • Transfer the rice mixture into a rice cooker. Fill with chicken stock previously made according to cooker. You'll notice that I don't give exact measurements here and that's because... my measurements probably won't work for you. America's Test Kitchen explains this more thoroughly, but the gist is that all rice regardless of variety absorbs water in a 1:1 ratio. Different recipes use wildly varying ratios from 1:1.5 to 1:2.5, and that's because the size and shape of the pot/cooker will affect how much water evaporates in the process of cooking.
  • After about 35 minutes of cooking (again, depending on your pot/cooker), the rice will be cooked and we're ready to plate.

This rice is what Hainanese refer to as 油饭, or oily rice. Wenchang chicken isn’t necessarily served with this, and will sometimes be served with white rice. The Hainanese in the straits may have done this to further stretch the flavour of the chicken when they were serving in European or Peranakan households in the early days.

In Malaysia, you’ll also find chicken rice served in the form of balls. In Singapore, only 1 or 2 stalls are left selling this.

Hainanese Chicken Rice Balls

Ingredients
  

  • (Follow above Chicken Rice Rice recipe, but)
  • 40 g Glutinous Rice replace medium grain rice with equivalent amount

Instructions
 

  • Same steps as above. Some recipes omit using glutinous rice and stillachieve the same result.
    When serving, simply shape them intoballs by cupping them between your hands and rolling.

These rice balls were used as picnic food when the Hainanese travelled to the hills for Ching Ming, a festival when Chinese families visit ancestral tombs to sweep them and pay respects. Nowadays, it makes less sense for the portability, and I’d say that eating rice using a spoon is easier rather than using your hands.

Everybody has their own preferred way of eating chicken rice, so you can simply plate it however you want. I prefer to leave all the sauces separate so I can have multiple flavours when eating.

Some Hainanese Chicken Rice History

Although the Hainanese reached the Straits in the 1820s, Wenchang chicken remained in homes as a dish for special occasions. Before modern farming methods, chicken was still very expensive.

(Dates may be different depending on history text, I used Singapore’s national library source.)

The Hainanese typically found employment as cook boys, waiters and servants in hospitality or F&B, sometimes in European or Peranakan households. These were kind of leftover jobs they were forced to take since other dialect groups arrived earlier to take the better jobs and Hainanese was unintelligible to other Chinese communities.

After World War 2, European and Peranakan families moved away and the servants of those households had to become hawkers.

It’s said that Nam Heong chicken started selling Chicken rice in 1938 in Kuala Lumpur, and in Singapore Wong Yi Guan was the first to start selling the dish in the 1940s.

Wong was known to many as “uncle commie共產叔” selling “Commie Chicken 共產雞”. Know that this has no negative connotation since he just gave unsold chicken away to his neighbours. The rice he sold at this time was in the form of balls. Which made sense since it’s portable.

Anyway, his apprentice Moh Lee Twee 莫履瑞 then opened Swee Kee Chicken Rice 瑞記 at Middle Road in 1949, and this stall was said to be responsible for popularising the dish in Singapore. This stall closed in 1997 and their former workers reopened one in Johor.

The current oldest stall in Singapore is Yet Con, also started in the 1940s. Note that if you dine there, you might not like the taste since they still serve it 1940s style. This means no soy sauce and no ice bath.

Cantonese started selling chicken rice around the 1960s, and that’s when those Cantonese techniques started appearing.

If you’re Malaysian and know more about Nam Heong other than the bland marketing they left on their website, please leave the information in the comments.

Vietnamese: Cơm Gà Hoi An, or Hoi An Chicken (Gà) Rice (Cơm)

In the case of Vietnam, Hoi An became one of busiest ports in Southeast Asia around the 16th century. And in the 18th century considered to be one of the best for Chinese and Japanese merchants for trading. Which is why you can see Japanese architecture like this Japanese Covered Bridge. And many Chinese also moved to Vietnam, settling in the Quang Nam province.

So you can find chicken rice in Central Vietnam since at least 200 years ago, most popularly in Tam Ky, Quang Nam’s capital. It’s said that this version is plainer compared to the one we’re making today, but I’m not exactly sure in what way. Hoi An continued serving the Tam Ky version up until the 1990s, when they started selling the Hoi An version.

You’ll notice that this is surprisingly recent, and I’ve tried to read (this link is a study on invented culinary heritage in Hoi an) more on this, but still couldn’t figure out the difference.

But here’s the additional backstory on Hoi An:

Back in the 1980s there were basically no tourist visitors to Hoi An, and in the 1990s the tourist industry started booming and the number of restaurants went from just 3 to a few hundred.

Many of the local food in Hoi An like cao lau and white rose dumplings are actually not really Hoi An specialities, but dishes from other cultures presented as Hoi An specialities to sell to tourists. That said, these “artificially” created dishes can really only be found in Hoi An. So they are in a weird place where the local would say these aren’t authentic because no local will eat them, but an outsider will say that they are, because it can only be found in Hoi An.

READ  McSpicy/McLaoSai/McDiarrhea, The Most Iconic Singaporean Burger - Food Origins

As for com ga or chicken rice, it appears that it is still considered a local dish.

The easiest way to describe the dish is that it’s basically Hainanese Chicken Rice with turmeric, and made into a salad. So if you have leftover Hainanese Chicken Rice, you can most likely turn that into the Hoi An version with a few tweaks!

Chicken Stock for Com Ga Hoi An

Ingredients
  

  • 1 chicken
  • 1/2 onion
  • 5 shallots
  • 4 cm ginger sliced
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp ground turmeric
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce optional, reduce salt if using

Instructions
 

  • In this case, simply throwing everything into the pot works. Butbonus points if you follow the extra steps that Hainanese ChickenRice does.

Notes

Note that you'll be making this into a salad, so even if the skin tears it's generally fine.

Ingredients
  

  • 100 g Chillis
  • 75 g Garlic
  • 75 g Sugar
  • oil

Instructions
 

  • Chop the garlic, and put them into a pan with enough oil to just cover the entire layer of garlic.
  • Start with a medium-low heat,then adjust lower when the oil starts to bubble.
  • Watch the garlic very carefully and adjust heat accordingly. If you're not careful here the garlic will burn. Once some garlic starts to turn golden brown, shut off the heat and strain the garlic to get garlic oil and fried garlic. The garlic will continue cooking even after the heat is off, so between the pan and straining it should reach just perfect golden brown.
  • Blend (or mortar/pestle) chillis into a paste, then into the pan with some of the garlic oil. Note that I deseeded the chillis since I am bad with heat, but Vietnamese recipes I see around tend to leave them whole.
  • Add the sugar. Yes, that's a lot. That's why I call it a jam. You can certainly add more if you want this even sweeter.
  • When the sugar melts and the mixture is well incorporated, add back the fried garlic. Reserve some fried garlic for the salad and garnish (I used about half, you can certainly add more).

Notes

Ratios for chilli:garlic:sugar is to taste, you can do 1:1:1. As you can tell from the ingredients, this is as basic as it gets (search tương ớt hội an for more recipes). You can experiment with sesame seeds, replacing some chillis with tomato, using shallots.

Com Ga Hoi An Chicken Rice

Ingredients
  

  • Garlic oil from making chilli jam
  • Sliced ginger optional
  • 200 g rice
  • 400 ml chicken stock (depends on pot shape and volume)

Instructions
 

  • Similar to Hainanese Chicken Rice. Except saute using garlic oilinstead of chicken fat.

When you plate everything together, you may notice that the plate looks a bit empty, and that’s because this is the tourist friendly version of this dish. In Hoi An, you’ll also find a sauce made from chicken innards. You can check out one such recipe (in Vietnamese, but with Eng subs) here.

Com Ga Hoi An Chicken Salad

Ingredients
  

  • 1 carrot jullienned or shredded
  • 100 g green papaya julienned or shredded
  • half onion julienned or shredded
  • 2 tbsp fried garlic chips
  • 2 tbsp Hoi An Chilli Jam
  • handful Vietnamese Mint Leaves also called Vietnamese cilantro, hot mint, laksa leaf, and praew leaf
  • Pepper, cumquats, lime, salt, sugar to taste optional

Instructions
 

  • Simply toss everything above into a bowl.

Notes

Green papaya isn't a specific variety, it's really just unripe papaya.

When you plate everything together, you may notice that the plate looks a bit empty, and that’s because this is the tourist friendly version of this dish. In Hoi An, you’ll also find a sauce made from chicken innards. You can check out one such recipe (in Vietnamese, but with Eng subs) here.

French: Poulet/Poularde au Riz Sauce Supreme

Meaning, Chicken with rice and supreme sauce. Sometimes you’ll also see “poulet au riz pilaf”, and that just means the rice is cooked pilaf way.

Nothing to do with Wenchang Chicken this time, but it’s also made from the chicken stock. Really similar to Hainanese chicken rice, but with an emphasis on concentrating all that stock into a sauce. No complicated history (as far as I searched for) this time. This is just several recipes from Escoffier (that guy who basically invented modern French cuisine) put together.

Also, a disclaimer that mine didn’t quite taste as chickeny as I thought it would. A good reference is French Cooking Academy’s video, whose channel is based a lot on Escoffier’s recipes.

 

Poulet au riz Sauce Supreme Chicken Stock

Ingredients
  

  • 1 chicken
  • 1 carrot roughly diced
  • half onion studded with cloves
  • 1 celery rib roughly diced
  • 1 bouquet garni (leek, bay leaf, parsley, thyme)
  • water enough to fill pot
  • salt to taste

Instructions
 

  • Once again, simply throw everything into a pot. Though nobody isstopping you from adopting the Cantonese methods 😉

Notes

For this recipe, using just one chicken just isn’t quite as flavourful, so I recommend at least putting in additional chicken bones.

Fun fact: as it is labeled so in Escoffier’s book, bouquet garnis used to be called “faggot”.

Mushroom Essence for Poulet au riz Sauce Supreme

Ingredients
  

  • 6 button mushrooms
  • 1 small knob butter
  • water enough to cover
  • salt

Instructions
 

  • At this time, you should prepare the mushroom essence with putting everything above in a small pot and simply let it simmer. You mightwant to check water levels time to time so this doesn't completelydry out. We're basically making a butter mushroom liquid. You shouldget between half a cup to a cup of liquid.

At this point, it would be good to prepare the roux for the supreme sauce using butter and flour. This needs to be cold later for when the stock is ready. Melt the butter, then simply pour the flour in and mix well using a whisk. Once it’s well incorporated like a paste, let that cool somewhere.

After 45 minutes, the stock should be ready for the rice, and the mushroom essence should be simmered long enough.

Rice for Poulet au riz Sauce Supreme

Ingredients
  

  • small knob butter
  • half onion diced
  • 160 ml rice
  • 400 ml chicken stock
  • 1 sprig thyme or bouquet garni

Instructions
 

  • Melt the butter and saute the onions and rice. Basically same stepsas other chicken rices, just swapping some ingredients.

Supreme Sauce for Poulet au riz Sauce Supreme

Ingredients
  

  • 30 g butter
  • 30 g flour
  • All remaining chicken stock after using it for rice
  • 2 tbsp heavy cream to taste
  • 2 tbsp mushroom essence to taste

Instructions
 

  • Take out the chicken and the vegetables from the stock, and leavethem by the side. The vegetables may not look very appealing, butthey are definitely edible.
  • Strain and sieve the stock if you're not feeling lazy. What we wantto do with this remaining stock is to concentrate everything intojust a few ladles. Put the flame on high and just let the liquidreduce. You can also cut the chicken and throw the bones back in somore flavour can be extracted while the stock is reducing.
  • Once you are left with just a few ladles, take a ladle and pour into the cold roux you left aside before. Heat is off now. Then start whisking, and add each ladle as the roux incorporates into a sauce.Tu rn on the heat, then start reducing this again if it gets too cool or watery.
  • Add in a little mushroom essence (start with just 2 Tbsp)and adjust to taste. Too much mushroom essence will make it taste like a mushroom sauce instead.
  • When the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of your spoon, it isdone. Add cream to finish, and whisk again to incorporate.

When serving, melt more butter into the rice (I omitted). Then garnish with parsley. 

Resources/Links

Bits and piece of information are used from the links below.

Hainanese Chicken Rice:

Wenchang Chicken Videos:

Other Hainanese Chicken Rice Recipes:

ATK’s video on Rice Ratio

Chinese Cooking Demystified’s White Cut Chicken:

Vietnam Chicken Rice:

https://hiddenhoian.com/eat/best-chicken-rice-com-ga-restaurants/

Esheep Kitchen:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKvsCxioJeQ

Helen’s Kitchen recipes:

CƠM GÀ – Vietnamese Chicken Rice Recipe

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hs1vThbfVO4

Hoi An Noodle Recipe (Cao Lau) – Brown Noodle with Pork and Greens

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SNt3TlEY0s

French Cooking Academy’s video if you want to do this a more proper way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-RirdGBA4g 

You might be able to find Escoffier’s book on archive.org.


Leave a Reply