What the gals eat

Posted on June 18, 2006 by Aun

Singapore is famous for many things, but the thing our country is most famous for is its food. And of all the wonderful local dishes that people love eating here, no one dish may be more beloved than “chicken rice”. I have to admit that while I like chicken rice tremendously, it’s not my favourite local food — I’d rather have char kuay teow or fish head curry. But it has been the preferred local food of almost every local woman I’ve dated, including my beloved wife S. Sometimes, it even feels like the only thing Singaporean girls want to eat is chicken rice. The first girl I dated here didn’t want to eat anything else when we went out. For another, chicken rice was comfort food, something to eat when she needed a pick-me-up or a taste of home. S loves chicken rice for its simple, delicate and delicious flavours. She also likes it because, compared to a lot of other local dishes (like the ones I love), it’s relatively healthy. Well, at least the chicken is. After all, it’s boiled.

For the uninitiated, chicken rice is boiled chicken, served at room temperature, paired with rice that’s been cooked with chicken stock, sesame oil, ginger and garlic. The chicken and rice are eaten with 2 sauces, dark soy sauce and a chili sauce that’s been flavoured with freshly minced ginger.

Our favourite chicken rice purveyor is what S calls, “the great undiscovered chicken rice stall”. Because while it is popular, it is not one of the more well-known or famous ones. It has also not, as far as we know, been written up or included in any of the major guides to Singapore. It does, though, serve up what we feel is the best chicken rice in town. We’ve brought several major foodies, both amateur and professional, to try it and all have been impressed. Some have also become regulars. The chicken served at the unimaginatively-named Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice is tender and juicy. It’s served with a bit of the chicken’s natural juices (some say that this addition is very Cantonese), which keeps everything moist. In addition to the chicken meat, S always asks for an order of chicken livers. These are done beautifully here. Unlike most other places that overcook their livers, these are served deliciously tender, almost creamy. One food writer we shared these with likened it to a platter of low-cost foie gras. The rice here is also good, well-flavored and aromatic. Another local food writer liked it so much he ate two bowls on his very first visit. For those of you intending to drop by, we recommend having your chicken rice with an avocado shake. There are two stalls in the same lane that prepare this rich, creamy and yummy drink.

Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice
Alexandra Village, Blk 120
Bukit Merah Lane 1, #01-15
Singapore 150120

For readers further afield, I recommend trying to make your own chicken rice. Below is the recipe S included in Lonely Planet’s World Food Guide: Malaysia & Singapore. It’s based on a recipe that a friend passed her and that she’s been tweaking over the years. Enjoy!

Hainanese chicken rice
Serves 4

1 fresh whole chicken (about 1kg)
1 tsp salt
1 Tbs light soya sauce
1 tsp Chinese rice wine
2 pieces of ginger, each 1-inch thick, lightly bruised with the back of a knife
1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly bruised
1 spring onion
1 tsp sesame oil

For the rice
2 cups long grain jasmine rice
2 1/2 cups chicken stock (obtained from cooking the chicken; see recipe)
chicken fat (from preparing the whole chicken; see recipe)
1 Tbs finely minced ginger
5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp salt
1 pandanus leaf, tied into a knot

Chilli and ginger sambal
10 fresh red chillies, seeds removed from half, chopped
10 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 Tbs peeled and chopped ginger
1 Tbs vegetable oil
1Tbs chicken stock (obtained from cooking the chicken; see recipe)
salt, to taste
sugar, to taste
calamansi juice, to taste

To serve
1 cucumber, halved length-wise and thinly sliced
sprigs of coriander
dark soy sauce
salt
ground white pepper
2 spring onions, finely sliced

Remove the fat from the cavity of the chicken and set aside for use in flavouring the rice later. Vigorously rub the cavity and exterior with salt. Then rub the chicken cavity with 1/2 tablespoon of the soy sauce and all of the rice wine. Stuff the cavity with ginger, garlic and spring onion. Set aside for 1 hour (not in the fridge).

Bring a deep stockpot, filled with enough water to cover the chicken, to the boil. Lower the chicken into the pot—it should be completely immersed. Immediately turn off the heat, cover, and leave to stand for 1 hour. At 15-minute intervals, lift the chicken and drain the water from the cavity to ensure that the chicken cooks inside as well. At the 30-minute mark, reheat the water almost to boiling point, then turn the heat off. Never having been allowed to boil, the chicken should be cooked to succulent and juicy perfection.

At the end of the hour, remove the chicken from the pot, and plunge into a large bowl of iced water to arrest further cooking. Once cool (about 15 to 20 minutes), drain the chicken thoroughly. Rub it down with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of soy sauce and sesame oil. Snip off the chicken wing tips, neck, and legs. Toss these into the liquid left in the stockpot. Set the chicken aside, covered, until ready to serve.

To prepare the rice, rinse it in a sieve under cold running water until the water runs clear. Drain thoroughly. Bring the pot with the chicken stock to the boil, simmering until the liquid is reduced to about 5 cups, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface. Strain the stock. Measure out 2 1/2 cups for cooking the rice. Set the rest aside. Place the chicken fat set aside earlier in a medium saucepan. Cook on a low heat to render the fat (there should be about 3 tablespoons worth). Add the ginger and garlic, and fry gently until aromatic without browning. Add the drained rice and sesame oil, stirring well to coat each grain with fat. Add the 2 1/2 cups of chicken stock to the rice, and bring to the boil. Add the pandanus leaf and salt. Simmer briskly until there is no water left on the surface of the rice. Clamp the lid of the saucepan on tightly, and immediately reduce the heat to the lowest. Leave for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat off, and allow the rice to stand for another 10 minutes before uncovering. Alternatively, after frying the rice, place it in a rice cooker with the pandanus leaf and salt. Substitute chicken stock for the amount of water you would ordinarily add to cook the same amount of rice.

For the chilli and ginger sambal, process or blend the chillies, garlic and ginger to a fine paste, adding the oil and chicken stock (from what was reserved earlier) to facilitate the process. Scrape into a bowl. Stir in salt, sugar and lime juice to taste. Dish some into 4 individual saucers.

When ready to serve, chop the chicken Chinese-style into bite-sized pieces with skin and bone intact. Place on a serving platter over the sliced cucumber. Garnish with sprigs of coriander. Dish some dark soy sauce into 4 individual saucers. Bring the remaining chicken stock back to the boil. Season to taste with salt and ground white pepper. Ladle into 4 small soup bowls and garnish with the sliced spring onions. For each serving, pack a small bowl with rice, then invert rice onto a plate. Each person gets a plate of aromatic rice, a bowl of shimmering chicken broth, and 2 small dishes of dipping sauces—the chilli and ginger sambal, and the dark soy sauce. Everyone helps himself or herself to the platter of Hainanese chicken placed in the centre of the table.

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. S June 21, 2006 at 9:12 am

    I have to report, though, that the drinks stall next to the roast duck stall is now serving rather mediocre avocado shakes.

  2. Anonymous June 21, 2006 at 10:59 am

    Very tempted to go Alexandra HC after reading all the raves here. I’ve tried Swee Kee along Seah Street, not bad. Another place is Wee Nam Kee oppo Novena. Maybe should go Yet Con some day to soak in the old world charm.

    One wet blanket comment tho: A friend told me that chicken rice is carcinogenic/artery-clogging because they cook the rice with chicken fats. She asks for plain rice when she eats chicken rice – what a kill-joy right?

  3. Dennis She June 21, 2006 at 1:22 pm

    ive eaten at this place numerous times cos it’s so near where i live! good stuff i take for granted. =)
    Dennis

  4. spots June 21, 2006 at 8:54 pm

    hmm… one day, u shd try steaming the chicken – it’s sweeter that way. ^__^ i hv a recipe on my blog! look at my recipe list under all recipes page

    as for chicken rice stall – have you tried powsing? [http://www.powsing.com.sg]

  5. zhonghuarising June 21, 2006 at 10:18 pm

    It has been years since my last trip to Singapore, but I can still taste the chicken rice. Now I have a craving that nothing else will satisfy!

  6. The Guilty Carnivore June 22, 2006 at 8:12 am

    Hi Chubby Hubby,

    Thx for the great recipe. I think I’m going to try this out, as who doesn’t like chicken and rice? Good, old fashion, comfort food. Sustenance. My Vietnamese mom made a version of this all through my childhood.

    I might try a slight variation and boil the chicken with some 5-spice powder and some whole spices, like maybe a cinnamon stick or star anise (in a nod to my mom).

    For us unitiated stateside yankees, can you tell me what pandanus leaf and calamansi juice are?

  7. Anonymous June 22, 2006 at 9:32 am

    i like nanxiang at whampoa market (blk 90) – they are closed Fridays

    will try this one at alexandra too tho…

  8. Orchidea June 23, 2006 at 1:47 am

    Chicken rice was my favorite dish in Singapore… so good!
    Ciao.

  9. Roslyn June 23, 2006 at 6:43 am

    My parents were away on vacation for 3 weeks. What was their first meal when they reached Singapore? You’ve guessed it! Chicken Rice!!!

  10. Vivilicious June 23, 2006 at 9:25 am

    Oh god, chicken rice is the best. When I was living in the UK, that dish, plus kangkong belachan, was the one I missed the most. And I always had to have my “fix” when I came for a visit (it is a bit like crack, I reckon, once you’ve tasted it, it’s all over!). I have a current fave, but I have got to try your rec. Will give you my verdict soon!

  11. Hijackqueen June 23, 2006 at 9:55 am

    Chiken rice one! No breast, no wing. Want drumstick!!! *slurp…

  12. LPC June 23, 2006 at 7:06 pm

    Gosh! What would I do for a plate of really good chicken rice with the ginger chilli sauce?! It’s hard living in Paris to get decent Chinese food… not to mention Singaporean food. My two options are to take the Eurostar to London or follow your recipe and make it myself! Argh! What have you done?!

  13. Anonymous June 25, 2006 at 4:06 am

    Theres one chicken rice stall on the second floor of Chinatown hawkercenter,( next to the famous porridge) I actually feel they have one of the best chicken rice in town!
    Thanks for the great recipe! Im living in the states and my husband just love Chicken rice, so lucky him im going to make him some this week!

  14. ces June 25, 2006 at 10:15 am

    i tried to make this once since it’s been a fave ever since i first tasted it in brunei though…plucked the recipe from food network..i will try this version soon! thanks!

  15. Laurie June 26, 2006 at 12:04 pm

    How do you make the avacado shake?

  16. S June 27, 2006 at 9:41 am

    Hi Laurie,

    Melissa over at Traveler’s Lunchbox
    (www.travelerslunchbox.com) has a lovely recipe under The Secret Life of Avocados. Check it out!

  17. nardac June 27, 2006 at 5:41 pm

    Once, instead of slow cooking the chicken, a friend and I decided to use the old Cantonese method of twice-boiled chicken. So we quick boiled it for a couple of minutes, then picked it up and threw it outside…. there was a huge bank of snow in his backyard and neither of us could resist… rescued the chicken from its indignity… and simmered it slowly afterwards. Yummy and fun!

    Btw, I also like to toss in some pickled cabbage into the soup.

  18. Eddie Lin June 28, 2006 at 7:29 am

    Hey CH,

    I’ve actually eaten Hainanese Chicken on Hainan Island. (Hainan Island is my father’s birthplace. Our family still has a village there – The Lin Village.) I found the chicken to be very stringy and tough due to the fact that the chicken are allowed to wander and run quasi-free. However the sauce was spectacular. You could eat it a shoe with it.

  19. Su-Yin June 28, 2006 at 4:57 pm

    Hey Chubby Hubby, I have been going through your past archives the past couple of days and would like to let you know how much I love your work…truly sensational :)
    I’ll be adding you to my list of foodie favourites if that’s alright with you.
    Cheers

  20. Anonymous July 21, 2006 at 5:22 am

    I am from Indonesia and whenever I go to Singapore, I cannot leave Singapore before eating chicken rice at least once. I like eating it with a side of baby bokchoy with oyster sauce and fried shallots.
    I am studying in United States now, and whenever I went back to Indonesia for study breaks, I flew Singapore airline and had to stop in Changi for long hours, at dawn! I had to settle for the chicken rice in the food court! So sad…
    Thank God there is a Singaporean family that opened a restaurant called “Lion City Cafe” in Dallas, TX. They serve authentic Singaporean dishes including Chicken rice. Too bad they only serve it during the weekend. But oh boy, does it worth the trip! ( I have to drive 2 hours to Dallas…just for chicken rice )

  21. Anonymous July 25, 2006 at 11:08 pm

    Hi, I have tried out your recipe but am a bit confused on the 30min mark on cooking the chicken. Do I, bring the water to the boil again with the lid on or off? Leave the chicken in or out? I left the chicken in and the lid off and bring it to the boil again but this step took me 10 mins before the water will boil again. So do I let the chicken sit in there for another half hr or do I include the boiling time as well? Which then leave the chicken in or another 20 mins. Anybody? ta

  22. sydneytran August 23, 2006 at 4:49 pm

    Like to share with you my experience with Singaporean Chicken Rice. Back in 1979, as a 15-year old “boat person”, escaping from communist Vietnam, I braved 2 weeks on open sea to find freedom. We got chased away by Malaysian navy and robbed by Thai pirates 3 times before becoming so disoriented that we were just drifting South to nowhere land (at least we hoped we would hit land!)

    One night, despite the exhaustion from the lack of food and water, my eyes detected the hue of lights on the horizon. In the morning, we landed on a wide/deep sandy beach of where we later found out to be the new constructing Singaporean Airport. The Singaporean police soon surrounded us, spraying some sort of white disinfectant powder over our heads, clothes, bodies. We were then ushered onto a number of police vans to be relocated to a different part of town.

    By then, I was no better than a zombie – a lifeless, white-eyed, feet-dragging and very HUNGRY zombie! The police brought me back to life with what I would later name my personal “miracle food”

    To name the dish “miracle food” just because it saved my life would do the dish a great injustice. Unlike dry, tasteless lembas bread, the rice was sweet and moist, with perfect firmness that allowed the savory of each white long grain. The chicken was succulent, its white skin oozed golden richness. Rice and meat perfectedly packaged in green banana leaves. I finished one, still hungry but could not gather up enough courage – and English – to ask for second.

    Singapore chicken rice has since been the apex of my food list. Late last year, after 26 yrs, I had a chance to visit Singapore. I roamed the city for days, looking, tasting the dish.

    Unsatisfied!

    Could I – like Thomas Wolfe who can never go home again – never taste my Singaporean chicken rice the same way before the end of my tumultuous live?

    SQT

    p.s. for those who wonder, lembas bread was what kept Frodo and Sam alive.

    p.s.s. Frodo and Sam from Lords of the Ring. Hello?!!

  23. Anonymous September 16, 2006 at 7:05 am

    Anyone knows how to make the roasted chicken for chicken rice? I loved it when I visited Singapore.

  24. Satrangi October 18, 2006 at 11:33 am

    OMG! I am drooling here. I had my first chicken rice in the restaurant right across from where I work. I am now an addict! Craving some right now, but I am veg till end of next week!! AAARRRRRR!!!!!

    I’m am going to try this recipe at home.. once my veg week is over.

  25. Jan Shim January 26, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    I came across this blog when I was researching online the key to succulent and juicy Hainanese chicken rice. As a photographer who recently began taking food with a keen interest, I gave your recipe a go, improvising it as I went along and glad to report that I was ecstatic to finally have home cooked chicken that is, well, succulent and juicy!

    Here’s a gallery from that day http://shimworld.com/gallery/ChickenRice/

  26. Drinkkopi June 29, 2010 at 1:59 am

    I stumbled onto this accidentally… The stall is my fave too and I’ve been eating here for 20 years! Besides the yummy chicken, the chilli condiment is absolutely powerful…But the food centre is now closed for Reno… Do you know where the stall went?

  27. Singapore Doula September 21, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    @Drinkkopi: I’ve been searching high and low for this stall ever since I knew that the food centre is under renovation… My pregnancy craves is not helping the situation much though..

    What I do know is that the food centre will reopen for business in Nov 2010. I do hope that the stall will continue to operate from AV…

  28. CH Teoh February 14, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Dear Sir,
    Do you have the recipe for the soya sauce that the pak cham kai is served in? Most websites only give the chili sauce and ginger sauce but I cannot find a recipe for the soya sauce that is on the plate of chicken.
    Rgds.
    CH Teoh

  29. lilian June 3, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    Hi, if i were to do this with chicken legs (as in chicken thigh and drumstick joined together by the bone), do I still have to lift it in and out of the water or just leave it in to poach? Or perhaps would u recommend just poaching it in barely simmering water for a couple of mins say 5-10 and then leaving it totally covered in the water? Sorry I just prefer to do it with chicken legs instead of a chicken we kinda like the dark meat better.

  30. Dale December 29, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    That’s my chicken rice guy! My family has been going to his stall for years. Fortunately, he’s training his eldest son to also cook. His rice is wonderful and he adds crunchy pickled veggies in the side. He’s one of the nicest hawkers I’ve ever met too. Now to try cooking at home. If it doesn’t work, at least I can have the real thing at lunch – my office is just around the corner, and his chicken rice was a factor in choosing where to work.

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