Hainanese Chicken Curry

Posted on June 4, 2010 by Aun

For the past few months, my darling wife S and I have been taking turns writing a rather short column for the Asian edition of Reader’s Digest. For this month’s piece (June 2010), S wrote about how she and I often prepare some of our favourite foods on weekends, freeze them in small portions and then consume them over the following week. It’s our own little way of ensuring that even when we need a fast meal, we can have something wholesome and homemade.

One of our all-time favourite freezer foods is Hainanese Chicken Curry. This is a variation of chicken curry preferred (or most often prepared) by Chinese-Singaporeans. The taste is quite different from most Indian curries or even Malay, Indonesian or Thai versions. And while I said it was wholesome, it’s not really all that healthy. A lot of the flavour in the curry comes from copious amounts of coconut milk. Nonetheless, it’s really delicious and very, very comforting. Which is exactly what one wants after a long day of work.

Making this curry is actually really easy. All you need are the right ingredients and a little bit of time. Here’s the recipe.

Hainanese Chicken Curry
Serves 8 as part of a multi-course meal

10 pieces of boneless chicken drumsticks cut into large cubes
4tbs curry powder
2tbs cooking oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
5 shallots, peeled and finely sliced
2inch length of ginger, peeled and bruised
1 lemongrass, cut into thirds and bruised
6 whole cloves
3 star anise
2 cups coconut milk (ideally fresh)
2 potatoes, cubed (optional)
¼ cup loosely packed curry leaves
Salt to taste

Marinate the chicken pieces with 1tbs of curry powder and set aside.

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and add the garlic, shallots, ginger, lemongrass, cloves and star anise.

Combine the remaining 3tbs of curry powder with just enough water to create a thick paste. Add the paste to the pot and saute until the mixture is aromatic. Add the chicken pieces and continue to cook until the chicken is evenly browned. Add the coconut milk and lower to a simmer. Add between ½ to ¾ cup of water (this depends on your taste preference), and bring it back to a simmer before adding the curry leaves. Continue to simmer until the chicken is cooked, then season with salt to taste.

Now, if you are going to eat this curry right away, feel free to toss in your potato cubes when you add in your water. If, however, you (like me) want to pack the curry away to be eaten on another day, I’d recommend against adding in the potatoes at this stage. Basically, if (like most Singaporeans) you like potatoes in your curry, add them in when you reheat your curry. Just give your cubed potato pieces at least a good 15 minutes or so of cooking in the hot curry.

I pack the chicken away into bags (that I seal with my vacuum packer), weighing each one so that they are fairly equal. Each bag usually weighs in around 500g-600g.

In the Reader’s Digest story, S also let slip one of my own favourite ways to use my chicken curry, which is to cook it up as part of a rather Modern Singaporean curried chicken risotto. I’m a big fan of experimenting with “Mod Sin” (as Chef Willin Low calls it) dishes. I’m particularly proud of several of the dishes S and I have come up with, including a cold “chicken rice” udon salad that we’ve become a bit addicted to of late (but that’s another post). Anyway, the curried chicken risotto was really just something I threw together one night because, well, I had a packet of the chicken in the freezer and I had a wierd craving for risotto. Happily, it came together really nicely and we’ve even started serving it to dinner guests — with rave reviews all around so far. I even served it, rather trepidatiously, to a famously fussy Italian restaurateur (and real Italian food traditionalist). I totally expected him to poo-poo my modern fusion creation. But to my surprise, he didn’t say anything about the dish during the meal. Perhaps he was being polite, I thought. But to my even greater surprise, his wife told me later that the risotto was his favourite dish of the night.

Mod Sin Curry Chicken Risotto
feeds 6

500g-600g of the chicken curry (one bag)
2tbs olive oil
1 small white onion, diced
300g risotto rice
50ml vermouth or white wine or cooking sake
1l vegetable or chicken stock
1.5tbs butter
2tbs parmesan, grated
salt and pepper

Defrost the chicken curry and reheat it in a saucepan. When heated through, try and shred the curry as much as possible using two wooden spoons or two forks, or whatever works best for you.

Put the stock into a pot or saucepan and keep warm.

In another saucepan or pot–essentially your favourite thing for cooking risotto–heat up the olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onions, stirring them frequently. Then add the rice. Stir the rice for about a minute so that it can get slightly toasted. Then pour in the vermouth/wine/sake. Let this bubble and cook for a few seconds until all the alcohol has burnt off. Stir during this.

Add 2 ladles of the stock into the rice. Lower the heat to medium-low. Stir and cook until the liquid has been mostly absorbed by the rice. Then, using a big slotted spoon, try and scoop up as much of the shredded chicken as you can and transfer it into the pot with the risotto rice. Transfer all the chicken over. Discard any remaining curry gravy; you won’t need it.

Then add another 2 ladles of stock into the risotto. Keep repeating this process until almost all the liquid has been used up. When you have just a few ladles left, you should taste the rice. The perfect consistency is a little firm on the surface but creamy inside. If it is already close to this, then you know you can add less stock. If too hard, you will need to add more. You can also then add a bit more salt to taste. But not too much because you’ll be adding cheese at the end.

When you feel the rice is the right texture and you have just a bit of liquid in the pot, turn off the heat, stir in the butter and the parmesan. Taste again and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

To fancy up this dish when I serve it to friends, I have started plating it topped with a touch of coconut foam. Which is much easier to make than you might imagine. You’ll need a blender, ideally a stick blender. For the foam, use coconut water–the lovely refreshing liquid in a young coconut. You’ll need maybe half of what’s in one coconut (drink the rest, it’s really good for you). Add a pinch of salt and maybe a quarter teaspoon of lecithin powder. Then beat/aerate the liquid. The foam bubbles will appear on top. With a wide spoon, lift off the foam and ladle it over the risotto. Instant sexed-up Mod Sin dish!

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his bouncing baby boy!

What Others Are Saying

  1. Belinda June 4, 2010 at 1:01 am

    Great recipe! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Coco @ Opera Girl Cooks June 4, 2010 at 1:19 am

    Wow, this looks really lovely. Mellow and rich without too much heat, it’d be great to come home to on a winter night! I’m going to file it away for the cold weather months.

  3. Georgia June 4, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    I think it’s a great idea to cook during the weekend and save food for the week. And it’s even better when you can be creative with the meals and come up with multiple dishes. I’m trying the risotto next!

  4. V June 6, 2010 at 2:10 am

    Oh wow, the chicken curry risotto is indeed an genius creation. Will try that soon!

  5. Tasty Thailand June 6, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Just wanted to say I’ve been reading your blog on and off fora long time, and you’ve really motivated me to get started on my own food blog.

    I live in Thailand, just about the food capital of the world and, as a writer, it seems crazy I haven’t started a food blog before now – particularly when Thai food has been guilty for most of my 10 kilo weight gain :)

    Keep up the good work on your blog. Really look forward to reading your new entries.

  6. Rich June 8, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Great recipe and directions, but i can’t see how long it takes to make anywhere? How long would you say. My problem is I’m always busy and never have time to make great food

  7. Fred Lin June 10, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    nice recipes! I gonna try making your version of hainanese curry with what I can gather here in Shanghai. Btw, what’s pictured in the first photo ?

  8. Darlyn Brown June 11, 2010 at 6:46 am

    I admire you and S for spending time together cooking on weekends for your favorite dishes. Chicken curry is one favorite of mine but I will try your variation. Great!

  9. tasteofbeirut June 11, 2010 at 9:55 am

    This is one grand dish! Perfect with a risotto; I know coconut milk is fattening but who cares? we are not eating a gallon per serving right? it is the taste, ultimately, that counts.

  10. Karen Soh June 11, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    Thanks for the inspiration. I think I might try the Thai green curry version of this whenever my hubby (not so chubby, yet) has a craving for one of his favourite comfort foods.

  11. eleni June 13, 2010 at 5:18 am

    Grand dish and the coconut foam tops it all…

  12. Pam @ Cookware guide June 13, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    Congratulations on writing for Reader’s digest! That is great.

    What makes foamy top on recipe? curious.

  13. alkanphel July 6, 2010 at 2:08 am

    Wow curry chicken risotto is a pretty interesting fusion of Singaporean and Italian cuisines! I’d love to try this out at home :D

  14. Dgrub July 15, 2010 at 1:26 am

    The curry powder really affects the curry dish you make. Do you have any recommendations? For sure curry powder found in a gas station at 99 cents is not same as one found in a decent store.

  15. WaterCHampers July 18, 2010 at 12:35 am

    Yums. Must try. Love ideas for freezing food for the week. I do that too but not uber classy like yours, of course. Love the foam idea but knowing me, I would just gleefully whack on more coconut milk instead.

  16. ana August 30, 2010 at 5:42 am

    Can i use canned coconut milk?

  17. S September 5, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    hi ana, you can use canned coconut milk. It won’t taste exactly the same, but just adjust the amount of coconut milk to your taste. CH’s mom used to also use skimmed milk.

  18. ana September 8, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    Thank you so much! I am still looking for fresh coconut milk here in Vancouver or maybe frozen.

  19. Betty at Purse Party February 24, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    It looks delicious! I’m definitely going to try out this recipe.

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