Since we've been talking about what is authenticity in Asian food and mixing things up, it got me thinking about a great dish -- Hainan chicken and rice. The one dish wonder comes from the island of Hainan off the coast of China. Called Hai Nam in Vietnamese, the surrounding waters of the oil-rich island has been the subject of maritime dispute was disputed territory between China and Vietnam for years ago and Vietnam skill keeps its eyes on foreign oil contracts related to the territory.
Chickens are precious in Asian kitchens so take a whole one, poaching and eating it is saved for special occasions like Tet in Vietnam. For that reason, a dish like Hainan chicken and rice is a grand thing indeed. It's a resourceful dish because practically all the parts of the bird are used!
First the chicken is gently poached and then the cooking broth is cooked down a bit and used to cook the rice, which is fried in a little chicken fat. The chicken is cooled to room temp and cut up to be served with the flavorful rice.? A dipping sauce flavored with the broth and sometimes gilded with chicken fat accompanies the chicken. The leftover broth is served as soup on the side.
In Vietnam, we typically poach chicken and serve it under a layer of super finely shredded tender lime leaves. The sauce is salt, pepper, lime juice and fresh chile. Hainan chicken and rice is just a few steps further beyond that. I ate many versions on my recent trip to Asia and the best rendition was in Singapore. After returning home, I replicated it, but added my own Viet touch, a bit of nuoc mam in the broth.
Typically, there's a fresh ginger dipping sauce. In Singapura, they serve a sweetened soy sauce and a super duper spicy chile sauce. I've offered all three below for you to choose. You can make these sauces 1 or 2 days in advance to cut down on the work. In developing this recipe, Singapore food expert Christopher Tan's book Shiok!? was quite helpful.
Find a good chicken for this dish. I used a Buff Orpinton raised by Deep Roots Ranch in Watsonville, and the fat that I got was oh so yellow and flavorful. It's lean bird, what you'd say is chewy in Vietnamese terms. Chinese markets have terrific whole chickens, with the head and feet attached. Or just go to your grocer and find the best your pocketbook can afford.
And, that shocking in ice business after poaching? It firms up the skin and puts a great layer of gelatin underneath. The process is a little secret among master chicken poachers. Enjoy.
Hainan Chicken and Rice
Com Ga Hai Nam
Serves 4 to 6 as a main course
For the chicken:
1 whole high quality chicken (about 31/2 pounds)
5 quarter-sized slices ginger, peeled or unpeeled, crushed with the broad side of a cleaver or chef's knife
1/2 medium yellow onion, sliced
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon fish sauce
For the rice:
2 cups raw long-grain rice, such as Thai jasmine
4 tablespoons chicken fat (take from poaching liquid) or peanut oil
1-1/2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
4 fresh or thawed pandan leaves, tied together in one loose knot (optional)
Salt, to taste
Sauce option 1: Ginger sauce
2-inch chubby section ginger (about 2 ounces), peeled and thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
Sauce option 2: Singapore chili sauce
2 or 3 large red chiles, such as Fresno, cayenne, or long chile, coarsely chopped
2 or 3 hot Thai chiles, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1-1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon hot chicken poaching broth
Sauce option 3: Sweet Soy Sauce
1 tablespoon light (regular) soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 -1/2 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon Asian chili sauce, such as Sriracha
1/2 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
1 tomato, thinly sliced or cut into wedges
4 or 5 sprigs cilantro, coarsely chopped
1. Rinse and pat the chicken dry with paper towel. Cut off the head, neck, wing tips and feet - extraneous parts that are on your chicken. Use a heavy cleaver to cut the neck and wings into halves or thirds. Aim to cut through the bone. Set aside.
2. Select a pot that the chicken snugly fits into with about an inch clearance between the top of breast and the edge of the pot. Fill it halfway with water and add the extraneous parts that you just cut up, along with the ginger, onion, and salt. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat and add the chicken.
When the pot returns to a boil, lower the heat to gently simmer. Bubbles should softly dance at the surface. Basing your cooking time on the chicken's original weight, poach for 10 minutes per pound (a 31/2-pound fryer takes 35 minutes). Use tongs to rotate the chicken halfway through to ensure even cooking.
Near the end of the cooking time, get a large bowl of ice water ready and set it near the stove. Use tongs to remove the chicken from the pot and plunge it in the ice water. Turn the chicken to expose it to the cold water. Drain and place the chicken on a plate. Let it cool completely before slicing. Leave it at room temperature if serving soon, or cover it in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring it to room temperature before cutting.
3. Meanwhile, add the fish sauce to the broth. Boil the broth until it has reduced by one-third, or until its flavor has concentrated enough for your taste. Turn off the heat and, skim the fat - reserving it for cooking the rice. Strain the broth into another pan. Discard the solids. Cover and set aside while the chicken cools.
4. For the rice, rinse the rice and let it drain for 10 minutes in a mesh strainer positioned over a bowl. Meanwhile, bring the stock to a near simmer in a small saucepan, and then cover to keep it hot.
5. In a heavy-bottomed 3-quart saucepan, heat 4 tablespoons of chicken fat over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, ginger and shallot and cook, stirring constantly, until no longer raw smelling, 1 to 2 minutes. Firmly shake the strainer of rice to expel any hidden water, and then add the rice to the pot. Stir constantly with a large spoon until the grains are opaque white and feel light, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat slightly, measure out 2 1/2 cups of hot broth and add the broth and expect dramatic boiling. Immediately give the pot a big stir, reduce the heat to medium to simmer, add the pandan leaves, then let the rice simmer vigorous.
Cook the rice for a few minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times, until most of the water has been absorbed and the surface looks glossy and thick; small craters/holes may form too. Decrease the heat to low, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes to firm up and finish cooking. Uncover, fluff with chopsticks or a fork, and then cover. Wait 5 minutes before serving. The rice will stay warm for 30 minutes.
6. Make one, two or all of the sauces and set at the table:
For the ginger sauce, put the ginger, oil, salt, and 1 tablespoon of hot chicken poaching broth (take it from the pot) into a small electric mini chopper and process to a fine texture. Taste and add up to 2 more tablespoons of poaching broth. Transfer to a dipping sauce dish.
For the Singapore chili sauce, put all of the ingredients, the large red chiles, Thai chiles, garlic
Ginger, sugar, salt, lime juice and 1 tablespoon hot chicken poaching broth into a small electric mini chopper and process to a semi-coarse sauce. Transfer to a dipping sauce dish.
For the sweet soy sauce, combine the light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and chili sauce in a dipping sauce container, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
7. To serve, use a sharp knife to detach each wing at the shoulder joint. Separate the two wing sections and use a meat-chopping cleaver to chop them into smaller pieces. (Or, keep them whole.) Arrange them on one large serving plate or two small ones. Remove the breasts and leg and thigh quarters. Cut the meat off the bone and slice it into bite-size pieces. Add them to the serving plate(s) in a nice arrangement, skin side up for a beautiful presentation. (Guests may remove the skin while eating.) Finish by scattering cilantro on top.
Bring the broth to a near boil and taste, adding extra salt if necessary. Strain the broth into a large soup bowl and sprinkle with black pepper. Serve immediately with the chicken, rice, cucumber and tomato slices, and dipping sauces.
You may have guests eat the broth out of a rice bowl and the rice and chicken from a plate, using fork and spoon as primary utensils.