Hainan Chicken and Rice

Happy Lunar New Year! There are a variety of foods that one is supposed to eat for the lunar new year, but unfortunately, in spite of having spent a year in Japan, I don’t know enough about what those should be. I apparently should have studied food a little more while I was there.

I made sure we ate some noodles for longevity (don’t bite or break them!). For dinner for the new year, I made Hainan Chicken and Rice, because it sounded delicious and had a simple ingredient list.

In spite of the simple ingredient list, I made a mess of my kitchen making this. First you poach a chicken. You set aside the chicken, and use the rendered chicken fat and stock in the rice. You also make dipping sauce(s) for the chicken. None of these steps are particularly difficult, but it does mean you’ll mess up a few dishes in the process. Or at least, that’s how I felt.

Hainan Chicken and Rice

You start by poaching a whole chicken in water with a half an onion, some ginger, and salt. The original recipe called for a 3.5 pound bird, but I had a cut-up chicken weighing 5.5 pounds; I put it in the largest pot I have, added the seasonings, and topped it off with enough water that all the meat was just covered. I poached it for about 20 minutes once the water reached a simmer.

Next, you’re supposed to submerge the chicken in ice water to get the skin to firm up with gelatin underneath; I wasn’t going to eat the skin regardless, but I dumped some ice on my chicken so Alex could get the full effect.

I added a little soy sauce to the broth (instead of fish sauce), and boiled the broth until it reduced by about a third. I don’t have a fat skimmer, so I put my broth in the fridge to try to solidify the fat so I could use it to cook the rice.

Later on, I made the rice. I sauteed onion, ginger, and garlic in chicken fat, then added rice. I added cold broth, brought it up to a boil, and cooked it… until it was done. I honestly didn’t time this, but I assume it took about 20 minutes on my gas range.

In the meantime, I made a ginger sauce and a soy-chile dipping sauce. Both were incredibly simple. For the ginger sauce, I blended 2 inches of ginger root, 1 tablespoon oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons broth. For the soy-chili sauce, I mixed together 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 1/2 teaspoon rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon Sriracha.

I served this with cilantro and slices of cucumber. You’re supposed to chop up the chicken to serve it, bones and all, but Alex and I just took the chicken pieces we wanted. I think the chicken should be served cold, but I prefer mine warm so I heated it. You’re also supposed to serve the rest of the broth on the side, but I’m saving it for later this week to do something or other with.

This was pretty tasty. The chicken itself was tender, juicy, and gently flavored. The rice was flavorful, although perhaps a little more oily than I’m used to since I didn’t separate the fat from the broth. Alex and I both really enjoyed the rice. In some ways, I felt like the dipping sauces were the highlight of this dish, because they were just so tasty. I liked the brightness of the ginger sauce, and the sweet spiciness of the soy-chili sauce (which Alex preferred); the chicken and the cucumber went well with both sauces.

Last night, while I was cleaning the kitchen, I wasn’t sure if I’d make this again, but today I think I would. Although prep spanned some time, it didn’t take a lot of hands-on time, and the recipe yielded 4-5 meals (I split my lunch into two smaller portions). These leftovers were still good the next day, and I still have some stock left that I look forward to using in more rice or as soup.

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