The Woks of Life
Hainanese chicken rice has become a famous dish thanks to its key components. There’s the rice, which is cooked with chicken fat and chicken, and three amazing dipping sauces: a chile sauce, a ginger sauce, and a sweet, dark black soy sauce. This recipe takes some concentration and a little elbow grease, but the results are well worth the effort!
For the sweet dark soy sauce:
1/3 cup water
3 tablespoons rock sugar (about 3 sizable chunks, or just measure out granulated sugar)
1/3 cup dark soy sauce
For Sauce 3: Chile Sauce
6 fresh red chiles (we used Holland chilies)
3-inch piece of ginger
3 cloves of garlic
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
Juice of 1 small lime
1 teaspoon rice vinegar (or white vinegar)
3-5 tablespoons chicken broth (from boiling the chicken, or until a saucy consistency is achieved)
In a small saucepan, heat the water and sugar over medium heat. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves and the liquid thickens into a simple syrup. Add the dark soy sauce, stirring to combine. Transfer to a sauce dish.
For the chile sauce:
Grind the chiles, ginger, and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. You will probably have to scrape down the sides of the food processor 1–2 times to ensure everything is ground up evenly. Add the sesame oil, salt, sugar, lime juice, and vinegar to the food processor. Pulse 2–3 times to combine.
Transfer to a small bowl and add chicken broth (what you used to boil the chicken) 1 tablespoon at a time until a saucy consistency is achieved. This is really about your preference, too; if you like a thicker paste, add less broth. The broth also helps the sauce come together and adds additional chicken flavor!
Set aside a piece of the chicken fat at the back cavity. Transfer the chicken to a plate and pat dry with a paper towel. Lightly rub the chicken with the salt. This will give the chicken skin a nice sheen. Set it aside.
In a large stockpot, bring the water, along with the ginger and scallions, to a boil. Before adding the chicken to the pot, rinse the chicken under running water to wash away the salt. Carefully lower the chicken into the boiling water, positioning the chicken breast-side up. Now is a good time to adjust the water level so the chicken breast just pokes above the water so you aren’t left with dry white meat.
Once the water boils, carefully lift the chicken out of the water to pour out the colder water that is trapped in the cavity. Carefully lower the chicken back into the pot. Bring the water to boil again, and cover the lid. Turn off the heat and leave the pot, covered, on the stove for 45–50 minutes (set a timer). To check if the chicken is done, stick a toothpick into the thickest part of the drumstick; if the juices run clear, it’s cooked through.
When the 45-minute timer (for the chicken) is almost up, prepare a large ice bath. Once the chicken is cooked, carefully lift the chicken out of the pot, drain the water from the cavity, and lower it into the ice bath. Take care not to break the skin. After 15 minutes in the ice bath, the chicken should be cooled completely. Drain and cover with clear plastic until ready to cut and serve. The ice bath stops the cooking process, locks in the juices, and gives the chicken skin better texture.
While the chicken is cooling, make the rice. Heat a wok over medium heat. Add the chicken fat and render for about a minute. Stir in the minced garlic and fry briefly, making sure it doesn’t burn. Add the uncooked rice. Stir continuously for about two minutes.
Turn off the heat. Scoop the rice into your rice cooker and add the appropriate amount of chicken stock (instead of the usual water — this amount may vary depending on your rice cooker) and salt. Close the lid and press start.
If you don’t have a rice cooker, you can follow these steps. When you wash your rice, let it soak for an additional 20 minutes. Drain the rice and follow the same steps above, but instead of transferring the rice mixture to your rice cooker, transfer it to a medium/large pot. Add 3 cups of chicken stock and the salt, giving it a quick stir. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Once it boils, immediately turn down the heat to the lowest setting. Let the rice simmer and cook (covered) for 10–15 minutes, until the rice is done. It’s not quite as foolproof as the rice cooker, but you should get a very similar result. Just be sure to keep an eye on it; burnt rice is no fun.
While the rice is cooking, let’s prepare the three signature dipping sauces. You can also start preparing these sauces while the chicken is cooking in the pot. Put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse a few times.
*Can also serve this dish with sweet dark soy sauce or chile sauce (recipes below).