Dr. Sook-Bin Woo’s Chicken Rice
On the list of the world’s best dishes, Chicken Rice is ranked No. 45. On the list of the world’s plainest names, chicken rice is No. 1, but it is exactly what you want to eat right now.
Also known as Singapore Chicken Rice, Hainanese chicken rice, and the national dish of Singapore, Chicken Rice is poached chicken over a rich, chicken-y rice, zinged up with lime-chili sauce, fresh scallions, sesame oil and soy sauce, and freshened with cucumber slices. I was introduced to this dish by Dr. Sook-Bin Woo, a Dental Pathologist at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, a long-time resident of Ipswich, and a Singapore native. Dr. Woo says that when her grown children come home to Ipswich, this is the dish they want her to prepare.
Chicken rice is both ridiculously simple and seductively sublime. It’s Southeast Asian home cooking, Singapore’s soul food. Every Chinese coffee shop, Singapore restaurant and street vendor sells a version of chicken rice. A fast food chain, The Chicken Rice Shop, claims to serve “grandmother’s traditional Hainanese secret recipe chicken rice,” and is franchised all across Southeast Asia.
Pay attention to the popularity here, and don’t be deceived by the simple name. If you have never tried it, chicken rice bears no resemblance to any soup or casserole from this quadrant of the earth. Hainanese chicken rice has a market on deliciousness that nothing in the American repertoire can challenge. (You don’t see Ma’s chicken soup on the list of the world’s 50 Best Dishes.)
This is the season when so many of us retreat from figgy pudding to the fresh, bright flavors of Asian cuisine, the fluid exchange of sweet and salt, brightened by fresh. Chicken rice offers all those tastes, but has the added advantage of being soulful. By soul I mean broth. This dish is all about the power of chicken broth without being soup.
The chicken is poached in water, which becomes the stuff with all that folkloric goodness. The rice is then cooked in that unstrained broth — retaining all the flu-defeating, antibiotic properties chicken fat is famous for, creating power rice — rice that glistens with chicken-y richness. The chicken is removed from the bone and placed over the rice. The brightness comes next with a lime-chili sauce that covers the chicken, then fresh scallions, and then a quick shower of toasted sesame oil and soy sauce. Cool, crisp cucumber slices come in as the finisher taste.
Many of the traditional Hainanese recipes call for an older chicken that might be tough but full of flavor. I just happened to have made my chicken rice with Rockport laying hens. They were exactly that — a little tough, but full of unbeatable flavor, which made my broth that much more delicious. If you are lucky enough to find an older chicken, skip the ice bath in the poaching part of the recipe, and simmer the chicken for at least an hour, or until it is tender.
Hainanese Chicken Rice
For the chicken:
One 3-4 pound chicken
2 teaspoons salt for rubbing chicken
2-inch fresh ginger, smashed
3-4 whole scallion
For the chile sauce:
2 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons poaching broth
4 tablespoons Sriracha sauce
4 cloves garlic, grated
1-inch fresh ginger, grated
2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
For the dish:
2 cups jasmine rice (or long-grain white rice)
4 cups of the broth from the cooked chicken (unstrained)
1 bunch scallions
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Dark soy sauce or black vinegar for drizzling
Toasted sesame oil
Have a bowl of ice water large enough to hold the chicken ready.
Rub the chicken liberally with salt. Put the knob of ginger and the scallions into the chicken cavity.
Place the chicken in a pot large enough to poach it. Cover with cold water, and bring to a boil.
Lower the temperature, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the leg joint loosens easily, and the chicken is definitely cooked through. Remove the chicken immediately to the ice water bath.
In a medium sauce pan, add the rice and 4 cups of the broth. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the rice has absorbed all the liquid.
Remove the chicken from the bones as neatly as possible.
To make the sauce, simply whir all the ingredients in a blender.
Take 1-2 cups of the remaining broth and warm in a sauce pan.
To serve, spread the rice out on a platter. Lay the chicken over the rice. Spoon the sauce over the chicken. Spray the scallions and cilantro over the chicken. Drizzle with soy sauce and sesame oil.
When serving, if the dish seems to have cooled too much, spoon some of the hot broth over each portion.