One of the dishes I love eating when visiting family Malaysia is Hainanese chicken rice (also affectionately known simply as 'chicken rice'). It's also considered a national dish of Singapore – so I'll be sure to try it in situ when I stop over for a few days next year.
Wherever you find it though, the make-up is always the same: a deceptively plain-looking piece of chicken that's actually a flavour bomb in disguise, having been simmered in a simple stock until ridiculously tender. It's served with rice cooked in the same fragrant broth the chicken was simmered in, and often with at least one dip on the side.
My version spikes the dish with sake, and is served with fresh pickled veggies and homemade sweet chilli dipping sauce.
(Part 1 of 2 of my entry for the Japan Centre's Gekkeikan Masters Cooking Competition).
I decided that Gensen Sozai Junmai Sake would be ideal for this project, its mild, clean flavour wouldn't fight with anything else I'd be using. Plus the 300ml bottle was just the right size for what I had in mind. It seems like a lot when you're pouring it into the pot, but after an hour of slow simmering with the other ingredients the flavours balance out really nicely.
This recipe isn't technically difficult, but does take a few hours and a bit of a timing strategy. The pickles take the longest (about two hours), so make them up first: while they're, well, pickling, cook the chicken: this takes an hour. Once the chicken is cooked, you turn off the heat and let it rest in the hot broth for half an hour (in which time you can whizz up the chilli sauce). Once the chicken has rested the rice can be cooked with the broth, which takes around 15-20 minutes.
Ready? Let's go!
Total preparation and cooking time: 3 hours
Ingredients for Pickles:
1/3 cucumber, sliced into discs
100g radishes, sliced into discs
1tbsp sake (taken from a 300ml bottle of Gensen Sozai)
2tbsp white rice vinegar
2tsp caster sugar
Pinch of salt
1tsp gochugaru (or any other chilli powder – I just like the smokiness of gochugaru)
Ingredients for Chicken and Broth:
2 chicken breasts, skin on (preferably with bones)
1tbsp coarse sea salt
Roughly 3cm cube chunk of ginger, sliced
1 spring onion, cut in half and split lengthways
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with the flat of a knife
3 pandan leaves, tied together in a knot
300ml sake (reserve/ set aside 3tbsp for the pickles and chilli sauce before using the rest)
Enough freshly-boiled water to cover the chicken breasts in a saucepan (you won't use all of it)
Ingredients for Rice:
150g white rice (I used basmati)
300ml chicken cooking broth
Ingredients for Sweet Chilli Sauce:
2 large red chillies, de-seeded (or not, if you're brave)
1 small clove garlic, peeled
Roughly 2cm cube ginger, sliced
2tbsp sake (taken from a 300ml bottle of Gensen Sozai)
1tbsp white rice vinegar
2tsp caster sugar
Pinch of salt
To serve (optional):
Banana leaves, cut to size
1) Mix the liquids, salt, sugar and chilli powder together in a bowl (or a sealable food bag), stirring until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Add the cucumber and radish slices, cover (or seal) and pop in the fridge for two hours, remember to stir a couple of times to make sure everything gets an even coating.
2) Rinse the chicken breasts in cold water and 'exfoliate' the skin by rubbing it with the coarse sea salt. Pop them skin-side down in a medium-sized saucepan (no need to chuck all of the used salt in as well: the chicken will have absorbed enough). Pop in the ginger, garlic, spring onion and pandan leaves, and pour enough hot water to come up to an inch below the top of the chicken. Pour in all of the sake (remember to leave a little for your chilli sauce later), and simmer on a low heat for an hour. Switch the heat off and let stand for half an hour.
3) To make the chilli sauce, blitz everything together with a hand blender. Done.
4) Rinse the rice with cold water three times, swirling it around in a small saucepan and draining each time. Measure out 300ml of your freshly-made chicken broth, add it to the pan and simmer on a low heat for about 15 minutes, or until the liquid has been absorbed. Fluff the rice up with a spoon or fork, cover and let it sit for a further five minutes.
5) When you're ready to serve, bring the chicken to a simmer in the remaining broth for five minutes. Remove the chicken, de-bone and slice, and arrange on a plate with the rice, pickles and dipping sauce. If you like, the broth can be served as a starter soup.
Enjoy, and have fun!