In our recent post on how to poach a chicken, a reader mentioned Mark Bittman's version of Hainanese chicken with rice. It's a pure, simple meal: Chicken poached with garlic and ginger, then shredded. The light, ginger-scented chicken broth is used to cook rice, and then the chicken and rice are served with a sprinkle of scallions and cilantro, and a drizzle of sesame oil.
It sounded like heaven on a plate, a nourishing meal for spring. And you know what? It is.
Hainanese chicken and rice is a classic Singaporean or Malaysian dish that is now considered the national dish of Singapore. It's so simple and elemental: Cook a chicken in water and a few aromatics. Then shred the chicken of its cooked meat, and cook some rice in the leftover chicken stock. Serve the meat and rice together with a dipping sauce, vegetables, or other accompaniments. There are many regional and local versions, of course, and it seems that this is one of those comforting homestyle dishes that are served everywhere but really belong in the home kitchen.
There are many versions of this recipe, but the one I happened to see was Mark Bittman's from his Minimalist column.
• The Recipe: Hainanese Chicken With Rice at The New York Times
I had been craving this recipe ever since I looked it up, so when opportunity presented itself, I promptly bought a high-quality chicken and an enormous stalk of fresh ginger.
Process: This is not a difficult recipe, but it is relatively time-consuming, since you need to poach the chicken, then cook the rice and assemble the final dish. Overall, it took about 2 hours to poach the chicken, let it cool, cook the rice, and pull everything else together. But the time is absolutely worth it, and you get several different components of a meal left over for later eating. It's also very hands-off; I did most of the cooking in between some strenuous bouts of household spring cleaning!
Mark Bittman's version of this was quite easy to follow, although some of his instructions were a little sparse (what size skillet should we use for the rice, Mark?). It's OK though — this is a simple recipe, and very straightforward.
What you get, when you make this recipe, is the chicken itself, which is tender, mild, and very yummy. I shredded between 3 and 4 cups of meat off the chicken. Then there is the chicken broth, flavored with ginger and garlic. It's wonderfully spicy and delicious! You only use 4 cups in the rice, so you have some leftover broth for sipping or for soups. And finally you have this scrumptious rice — slippery with oil, and fragrant with shallots and garlic.
What I skipped: I did skip the dipping sauce, however, opting instead for a drizzle of soy sauce and sesame oil over a pile of chicken and rice. Oh, and a dab of chili-garlic sauce, too! I also skipped the tomatoes specified in the recipe, since decent tomatoes can't be had for love or money here in the Midwest right now. But I did slip in slices of crunchy, juicy cucumbers, and plenty of fresh cilantro and scallions.
End result: This is just a fabulous meal — it's a classic for a reason. It's simple, delicious, fresh, and easy. It's warm and homey enough for the chilly first weeks of spring, but the bright flavors of herbs, ginger, garlic, and chili paste bring this straight into the sunshine. It's light eating for springtime, and boy is it good.
It's such a great way to create good lunch leftovers, too; the rice, chicken, and broth can be combined with many other things for easy followup meals.
Do you ever cook chicken with rice? Have you tried this recipe? Or do you have other versions you recommend? I'm definitely hooked on this recipe; I'd love to try other variations!
Related: Jamie Oliver's Chicken in Milk Recipe
(Images: Faith Durand)