Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hainan chicken & rice

This recipe is basically the same as the previous one for White Cut Chicken, as the bird is slowly poached into a perfect state of juiciness. Then, the resulting stock is used to cook the rice, which adds a wonderful savory balance to this one-dish meal. All that is needed are some vegetables to round out the plate, and you’re done.

If you’ve ever been to Southeast Asia, you’ve probably seen – and even tasted – Hainan Chicken and Rice. This is probably the most famous thing to ever have emerged out of China’s second largest island, and was most likely brought to more tropical parts of Asia by immigrants who knew a good thing when they tasted it. 

What you might not know is that this actually developed out of another Hainan specialty, Wenchang chicken, a dish that is locally considered one of the island’s four greatest culinary creations.
Perfume for the rice

Hainan Chicken and Rice is a no-brainer meal because almost all of the work is done by the refrigerator and the stove. Little is required of the cook, except for keeping an eye on the clock. As with White Cut Chicken, the secret is all in the timing, so that the bird cooks all the way through without even beginning to dry out. 

If you are like me and tend to avoid chicken breast because it has more or less the texture of newspaper, this recipe should rock your world. Plump, ever-so-gently pink, and dripping with juices, you can really appreciate how the folks in this region understand what white meat is supposed to be.

Hainan chicken and rice 
Hǎinán jīfàn  海南雞飯
Serves 4 as a main dish

1 fryer (about 2½ pounds)
1½ teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon Cantonese white liquor or other white liquor or vodka
Boiling filtered water
Chinese pilaf in the wok
Toasted sesame oil

2 cups long grain white rice (basmati is great here), although short grain rice is great, too
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
3 bay leaves
5 slices ginger
2 green onions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
3 cups stock from the chicken (including the fat, as well)
½ teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)

Dipping sauces (any or all):
A            2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons fresh peanut or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

B           2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon apple cider or rice vinegar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, finely minced

C           3 red jalapeno peppers, finely diced
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice or apple cider or rice vinegar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
Prepping one of the sauces
Sugar to taste

D          Fresh limes
             Cilantro sprigs

1. Prepare the chicken as in White Cut Chicken up to step 3, but don’t cut it up yet, and reserve the poaching liquid as stock for the rice.

2. Rinse the rice and drain it well. Heat the oil in a wok on high until it starts to shimmer, and then add the bay leaves, ginger, green onions, and salt. Stir them around in the oil until you can smell their fragrance, and then dump in the raw rice. Stir-fry the rice until it begins to turn opaque and white. Stir in the stock, bring the wok to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to very low. Slowly cook the rice for about 17 minutes, or until the stock has been completely absorbed and the rice is fluffy. Turn off the heat and let the rice steam by itself while you prepare the rest of the meal. Just before serving, use chopsticks to pluck off and discard the bay leaves, ginger, and green onions.

3. Make sauces A, B, and C by cooking them lightly and quickly over high heat. You just want to take off the raw edge of the aromatics and seasonings, so as soon as they barely come to a boil, pour each sauce into a separate small bowl; taste and adjust seasonings. Slice the limes and coarsely chop the cilantro.

A full, easy, perfect meal
4. If you want to serve the chicken chopped up, now is the time to do it, but that’s not how I like it. If you are like me and prefer to shred the meat, heat up the stock to a simmer, turn off the heat, and then plop the chicken back into the stock for a minute or two to warm up. Remove and drain the chicken, place it on a rimmed plate, and then pull off all of the meat. (Return the bones to the stock for further simmering, by the way.) Cut up the skin into thin shreds, too.

5. Prepare 4 dinner plates and one rice bowl. To serve, scoop a quarter of the rice into the bowl, smooth off the top, and then turn it upside-down on a dinner plate. Repeat with the rest of the rice and plates. Arrange the chicken alongside and on top of the rice, and decorate the plate with the limes and cilantro. Serve while still hot, and pass around the various dipping sauces.