Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hainanese Chicken Rice – Just Add Butter

When people talk about cooking authentic recipes, a lot of the time it is assumed that the most authentic recipes come from home cooking. But to think that home cooking is always the most authentic would be misleading. Home cooking knows no rules (it’s always hard to get a recipe off my mum as she can never give exact quantities for ingredients – it’s always a little bit of this and a little bit of that) and recipes are often altered to provide a bit of variety or changes are made to recipes depending on what’s available in the cupboard/fridge. But one thing is always certain about home cooking – nothing else tastes like it.

Hainanese chicken rice is a popular dish most associated with Singaporean cuisine or Malaysian cuisine, also commonly sold in Thailand. This dish comes with a serving of fragrant chicken flavoured rice, tender poached pieces of chicken, and is accompanied with sauces and a bowl of light chicken broth. It’s a popular hawker dish and also a great comfort food.

I’ve seen many recipes on how to make an authentic hainanese chicken rice and they are quite similar in technique and ingredients used. Traditionally, the chicken rice is made by frying some chicken fat/skin in a wok to give the rice an oily texture and the rice is also fried with some garlic, ginger, lemongrass and a little salt to make it fragrant and provide a rich flavour.
However, whenever I ate chicken rice at home it always tasted different from what I had out at restaurants. When I asked my mum how she cooked her chicken rice she told me that she added in butter…butter?! My mum, as most mums tend to get overtime, has become more health conscious in her cooking, varying recipes a little bit and substituting ingredients to obtain a healthier result…well slightly more healthy results. So my mum’s logic behind using butter instead of frying the rice in chicken fat/skin was that the butter would provide the fat/oil element needed to flavour the rice and would be a healthier alternative. I don’t know whether if substituting butter for chicken fat/skin provides a healthier outcome but it certainly results in delicious chicken rice. This rice is so tasty that I am quite happy to eat it on its own with nothing else. Also added is a little fish sauce and oyster sauce, seasonings that I haven’t really come across in the chicken rice recipes that I have seen – all adding to the flavour profile.

This recipe for chicken rice would probably not be considered authentic but it’s how my mum makes it and it’s damn tasty.

Chicken Rice
2 tablespoons peanut oil
3 cups of rice
3 ½ cups of chicken stock
3 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 tablespoons crushed lemongrass
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
½ teaspoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoons light soy sauce
1 ½ tablespoons butter

Wash the rice in several changes of water (3-4) until the water runs clear. Drain in a colander and let stand for ~ 30 minutes to dry.

Heat peanut oil in a wok and stir fry the garlic, ginger and lemongrass until golden and fragrant. Add rice and continue to fry for 2-3 minutes, then add in salt, fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, light soy sauce and butter. Fry everything together well until the rice grains are coated and start turning opaque. 
Transfer the rice to a rice cooker and then add in the chicken stock and cook. Stir through before serving, you’ll find that the bottom of the rice cooker has a layer of rice that is crispy and browned from burnt butter (these are the best bits to eat!). 

Poached Chicken
1 whole chicken, use a really good chicken – organic or corn fed
3-4 pieces of ginger
few coriander stalks (2-3 bunches)
4 sprigs, spring onion, chopped 4-5cm lengths, use only the bottom third
10 black peppercorns

Wash chicken thoroughly and place into a pot that is just big enough for the chicken (it should be a snug fit). Add enough cold water to cover the chicken. Then add in the ginger, coriander, spring onion and peppercorns. Cover the pot and bring to boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the chicken to steep in the chicken stock to finish cooking for around an hour. 

Remove the chicken from the pot and plunge into a large bowl of iced water for 15 minutes or until the chicken is thoroughly cooled.

Take the chicken out of the cold water and put in a colander to drain and drip dry before chopping into pieces.

To test if the chicken is done, prick the thigh with a fork – the juices should run clear. 

Soy sauce mixture for chicken
1 tablespoon garlic oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
5 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar (to taste)
4-5 tablespoons chicken stock

To make the garlic oil, fry a few cloves of garlic in oil for a few minutes, pour into a jar and let the garlic steep in the oil.

Combine all the ingredients together, adjust with soy sauce, sugar and chicken stock to your desired taste. Pour this sauce all over the cut up chicken.

Light chicken broth
Strain the stock that the chicken was cooked in. In a saucepan, add 1 litre of the stock and bring to boil. Season the chicken stock with some light soy sauce, fish sauce, salt and white pepper to taste. 

Spoon the soup into bowls and garnish with chopped spring onion and coriander.

I like to eat hainanese chicken rice with the chilli oil that my dad makes.


  1. This is certainly a variation from most "authentic" Hainanese Chicken Rice recipies, but sounds no less yummy!

    I too, like to use the poaching broth instead of water to cook the rice with as it imparts all the lovely chicken and onion flavours into the rice.

  2. oh yum that looks amazing...and looks easy to make also! (your comment about adding butter def intrigued me!)

  3. It looks perfect.
    Very authentic.
    that being said, I am not chicken and rice obsessor like everyone else i know who seems to be. I am always outnumbered by the girlfriend, best friend and father in law who literally would seek out good chicken rice and could tell the difference! I digress, yours looks perfect.

  4. @Chris I agree that the use of poaching broth is a must otherwise the rice will be bland

    @foodcravings it's a amazing what the addition of butter can do for chicken rice!

    @sparkles the use of butter doesn't make it very authentic but it tastes good and in the end that's what counts.

  5. I think there is a reason why the word butter is so similar to the word better.

  6. I'm soo making this for dinner on Sunday night!

  7. I'll definitely try this out tomorrow, thanks.