Hainanese chicken rice

With my eldest turning 17 this week I think it’s time to start writing down the family recipes. The food that we eat and share as a family. Soon enough our boys will be off and although I will love getting those phone calls asking how to cook this and how to cook that – this can be my gift to you, boys. All recipes gathered in one place. And anyway, with the craziness of last year clearly continuing into this year, I need a project to stay sane. I’m going to try to write that cook book that I’ve been forever talking about.

So this is a fairly new dish on our table, Hainanese chicken rice. In short, chicken, rice and three sauces. A gently simmered chicken in an aromatic broth, rice cooked in the liquid from the broth and three delicious sauces that complete the dish.

Here in Hong Kong it’s a common dish that can be found in many places but it originated from people of the island of Hainan that immigrated to Singapore. It’s considered Singapore’s national dish. The traditional way is to eat the chicken with the skin gelatinous from poaching and we eat it like this sometimes – but I t hink we all prefer the chicken to be roasted after poaching and the skin to be crisp and golden. Serve with fresh coriander and cucumber.

Cooking the chicken. Bring a pot of water to teh boil. (I like to make extra broth to keep for later and tend to use about 3 liter of water.) Rinse the chicken, pat it dry and rub with sea salt. Stuff the belly with a bundle of spring onions, a handful of chopped garlic and ginger. Put extra aromatics in the water together with a teaspoon of black pepper corn. The use of aromatics in the water and inside the chicken will flavour the meat nicely and create a delicious broth. Add some salt to taste and a glugg of soy sauce to the water, bring it to the boil, insert the chicken and lower the temperature. Let the chicken gently simmer for 40 minutes depending on the size of your chicken. I like to let the chicken rest in the broth with a handful of coriander stems (and roots) until ready to cut it. You can now roast it if you want to crisp up the skin.

Use the cooking liquid to cook the rice and start making the star of the dish – the sauces.

Sweet and sour chilli sauce. Finely chop and pound the ingredients in a pestle and mortar before blending into a smooth sauce. You could mix it in a blender from the start – but the flavours come out more in a pestle and mortar and it’s how it’s done traditionally. Hot red chillis, a nob of ginger, a few garlic cloves, juice of half a lime, a table spoon of sugar or honey if you prefer. Finish with some of the cooking liquid of the chicken. When it comes to quantities – it depends on your taste and you need to taste it as you go along to get the right balance between sweet, sour and savoury.

Spring onion, ginger, salt and hot sesame oil. Finely chop, pound in a pestle and mortar and pur over the hot sesame oil. I don’t mind this sauce to be a little chunkier. You can grate the ginger if you want to before pounding.

Soy sauce, a dash of sesame oil and a little cooking liquid is your third dipping sauce. Enjoy!


  • a chicken
  • water
  • spring onion
  • garlic
  • ginger
  • soy
  • sesame oil
  • chili
  • salt
  • rice

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *