This time, exactly one year ago, Key and I arrived wide-eyed and pretty nervously at Changi Airport. We have lived in Singapore for one year today! I’m calling it our Singaversary :)
What better way to celebrate, than to share with you, my cheat’s chicken rice recipe.
Chicken rice is an iconic Singaporean dish. Some would even say (myself included) that it is Singapore’s national dish.
At first it seems like it could be a bit of a bland dish, but if you have ever had it, then you will know that it is not the case. You can pick up a serve of this for around $4.00 SGD (approximately $3.50 AUD) at pretty much any hawker centre in Singapore. I really love it, so of course I wanted to try and make it myself at home.
I have made chicken rice once before, not long after we moved into our condo here, which was just over a month after we first arrived in Singapore. It was a bit laborious and the flavour was good, but not the same as the hawker centre versions. We had trouble cutting up the soft whole chicken to serve it and I found some other fundamental issues with making it at home. I went to a second cooking class at Coriander Leaf in November and Chef Samia Ahad taught us the way that she makes it. I learnt some tricks and tips and I had the confidence to try making it again.
So as I said, there are a few issues with making chicken rice at home. I have made some changes that definitely make this a non-traditional recipe, but I think that it’s made it a more practical dish to cook at home and improved the flavours in some elements.
To make the rice, traditionally you would need a fairly large amount of rendered chicken fat. You can do this yourself at home by slowly cooking some chicken skin until the fat renders out, but you need a fair bit so unless you can buy just chicken skin from your butcher or you plan to store it up in the freezer, this could be a sticking point. My cooking class teacher Samia did the hard yards and showed us how to render the fat but she also suggested using bought duck fat as a cheats option. Bam! I was all over that. Issue one solved.
Traditionally the rice is flavoured with the ‘stock’ from cooking the chicken but I had a couple of issues with this. Firstly this means you have to wait for the chicken to finish cooking before you can start cooking the rice. Therefore your chicken is mostly cold by the time your rice has finished. Secondly, the ‘stock’ is also quite lightly flavoured from cooking just one chicken in it. The stocks at the hawker centres probably have multiple chickens cooked in them each day so they are much richer. It’s also widely known that MSG is a common ingredient used to really boost the flavour in the stock. You can buy MSG at the shops here and while I don’t mind eating food that contains it sometimes, I’d definitely never add it to my home cooking. Samia suggested using either home made or purchased chicken stock for the rice instead. This will result in better flavoured rice and you won’t need to wait for the chicken to be finished cooking to start the rice, so you can enjoy your chicken rice warm.
The other change I’ve made to the traditional recipe is to ditch the whole chicken and just poach some skinless chicken breasts. Honestly, I just think this is easier than cooking a whole chicken. It doesn’t take as long, it’s easier to get an even doneness throughout the similar sized breasts and you don’t have to worry about tricky carving or eating around bones. Traditionally, there are multiple cold water baths during the cooking process which helps keep the chicken skin tight and not flabby from the poaching. This means that the chicken ends up cold after the final ice bath, but it’s served warm in hawker centres. Honestly I don’t know how they get around this and how they heat it back up without losing the tightness in the skin. I did find it hard to get the right texture in the chicken skin and to be honest, it’s not my favourite part anyway so I just removed it from the equation.
Some final points:
This recipe is based on using an intensely flavoured home made chicken stock that has no salt added. This can definitely be made using a purchased, salted stock but keep this in mind when seasoning, as a salted stock will require less salt added to the dish. I made a variation of my pressure cooker stock recipe for the stock elements. I only made this up to step 2 in the recipe, which means the stock is only flavoured richly with chicken without any vegetable or seasoning elements. By all means use a purchased stock but either buy a good one (I talk about my favourites here) Or, just buy a basic supermarket one and reduce it down to about two thirds of its original volume on the stove top to make it richer. This will only work with a no salt stock though as reducing a salted stock will result in a stock that is overly salty.
Chicken rice is normally served with three condiments: a fresh chilli sauce, a ginger and garlic sauce and a dark soy sauce. I’ve combined the chilli and ginger sauce into one sauce, based on Samia’s recipe. The dark, thick soy or kecap manis is also essential not only for taste, but it also helps with presentation by giving some contrast against the stark white chicken and rice. Hands down, the best kecap manis you can use for this is the ABC brand, which funnily enough, I was only taking about yesterday.
I know the ingredients list looks long, but a lot of ingredients repeat themselves and the majority of them are very easy to find.
The chicken just needs a quick marinade while you put together the dressing and chilli sauce. Make sure when you put the chicken into poach, you pour all of the leftover marinade ingredients into the water as well.
The dressing helps keep the poached chicken very juicy as well as ensuring it has plenty of flavour.
The chilli sauce just needs a quick process for a chunky, raw chilli sauce to form. You may need to add a little more stock depending on how juicy your chillies are, you are just trying to achieve the consistency of a chunky sauce. The heat level is up to you, I like mine with a bit of punch.
Using duck fat in the rice is by no means traditional but a fantastic cheat.
Use a long grain white rice for this, something like a Thai long grain is perfect.
The chicken does not look appetising at all when it first comes out of the stock, but so long as it’s rested well and the dressing is poured over it, you can see that it is plenty soft and juicy.
Remove the tied pandan leaf and fluff the rice up to serve. If you don’t have access to fresh pandan then you can leave it out. It won’t have the lovely pandan aroma, but the rice will still be fantastic.
Juicy and flavourful chicken with buttery and incredibly moreish rice. I could eat a whole saucepan of that rice to myself!
Easy Chicken Rice at Home – Adapted From a Samia Ahad Recipe
Ingredients – Serves 4
For the Chicken
- 4 chicken breasts, skinless and boneless
- 1 tbs of light soy sauce
- ½ tsp of finely chopped ginger plus an additional 4 cm piece of ginger cut into 3 large pieces for the poaching water
- ½ tsp of peeled and finely chopped garlic plus an additional 2 peeled garlic cloves for the poaching water
- Thinly sliced spring onions, green part only, for garnish
For the Dressing
- 1 tsp of sesame oil
- 1 tsp of neutral oil
- 1 tsp of light soy sauce
- 1 tbs of unsalted chicken stock
For the Chilli Sauce
- 4 large red chillis, roughly chopped
- 1 small red chilli, roughly chopped or alternatively ½ tsp of dried red chilli flakes
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 eschalot, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
- ½ tsp of sesame oil
- 3 tbs of unsalted chicken stock
- 1 tsp of kalamansi lime juice, or alternatively normal lime juice
For the Rice
- 2 tbs of duck fat
- 1 tsp of peeled and finely chopped ginger
- 1 tsp of peeled and finely chopped garlic
- 1 cup of Thai long grain rice
- 2 cups of unsalted chicken stock
- 1 pandan leaf, tied in a knot (optional)
- 1 tsp of sea salt flakes
- To marinate the chicken, mix together the soy sauce, finely chopped ginger and garlic with a pinch of salt. Add the chicken and stir well to evenly distribute the marinade and then set aside, out of the fridge, while the dressing and chilli sauce are made, or, for at least 10 minutes.
- Set a big pot of boiling water on to boil. Add the large ginger and garlic pieces to the pot to flavour the water slightly.
- Next, make the dressing for the chicken by mixing together all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.
- To make the chilli sauce, add all of the ingredients to a processor with a pinch of salt and process until a chunky sauce forms. Add extra stock if required, to achieve the consistency of a chunky dipping sauce. Taste and season with extra salt if required.
- Once the dressing and chilli sauce has been made and the chicken has been marinating for at least 10 minutes, the water should have boiled. Add the chicken breasts to the water along with all of the leftover marinade ingredients.
- Immediately place the lid back on and bring back up to the boil. Once the water boils again, turn off the heat and without disturbing the lid, let the chicken poach in the hot water for 15 minutes.
- Once the chicken is in the water, heat the duck fat in a medium sized saucepan over a medium heat.
- Add the chopped garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant. Add the rice and stir to coat it in the fat. Add the stock, salt and the tied pandan leaf and then bring up to the boil.
- Once the stock boils, stir the rice to pick up any pieces that have begun to stick to the bottom of the pot. Place a lid on and reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cook the rice for 10 minutes.
- After 10 minutes, turn off the heat and without disturbing the lid, let sit for another 10 minutes.
- Around this time, the chicken should be done, remove from the water and let rest while the rice finishes cooking. The chicken will start to cool down but letting the chicken rest well and drop down to a warm temperature will help produce a moist texture.
- Once the rice has finished resting, remove the pandan leaf and fluff with a fork. Test for seasoning and add more salt if necessary.
- To serve, slice the chicken, with the grain, on the diagonal. Pour even amounts of the dressing over each sliced breast and then serve alongside the rice, chilli sauce and kecap manis. Garnish with the thinly sliced spring onions.