Destination Penang for Hainanese Chicken Rice

We’re at the end of the third week of the school summer holidays. Can you believe we’re already halfway through? And this week we have travelled, by virtue of our imaginations, to the idyllic island of Penang in Malaysia for the next of our Around the World in Six Suppers.

Hainanese Chicken Rice is a dish I’ve been meaning to make for years. It’s a very simple poached chicken served with rice and chicken broth, which I remember devouring as a child during our holidays in Penang.  Mum would take us down to the hawker stalls, away from the more touristy restaurants, and we would eat proper Chinese-Malaysian food with the locals. My Mum was born and grew up in Penang and would always refer to it as ‘home’. Whenever she talked about Penang, the stories would invariably touch on the food at some point!

I haven’t been back to Penang since my early twenties, and hopefully I’ll be taking my own family back there next year. But in the meantime, we’ll have to make do with my favourite Penang meal.

To make sure I got an authentic recipe, I turned to members of my Chinese-Malaysian family and my Auntie Lorene and Cousin Sisi came up trumps. Lorene now lives in America, while Sisi is in Australia – so you can see, we are a truly global family! So a big thank you to them for their help with the recipe and all the tips and advice.

It’s a wonderful dish and it transported me straight back to the days of eating it as young girl in Penang, along with the smell of frangipani flowers and calomine lotion, being taught to use chopsticks, picking fresh rambutans and mangoes from the tree, being morbidly fascinated by dead snakes in jam jars, falling off to sleep at night to the comforting whirring of the ceiling fan, and running away from my Mum, her sisters and cousins as they gourged themselves silly on stinky durian fruit sold by the hot, sticky roadside.

Hainanese Chicken Rice

A whole chicken, around 1.5kg
Kosher or sea salt
2 pieces ginger, around 3cm each
2 spring onions
3 cloves garlic, peeled and bashed
3 tbsp sesame oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 piece ginger, around 3cm, peeled and chopped
1 litre chicken stock (from poaching the chicken)
600g rice
salt and pepper

To serve:

bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
two or three spring onions, chopped
cucumber slices
tomato slices
soy sauce
chilli sauce or oil

Start by giving your chicken a really thorough scrub with coarse sea salt or kosher salt. Rub hard to get rid of all the yucky stuff on the skin of the chicken to give you a good clear broth later on. Don’t rush this job. A little effort now makes all the difference later on. Once you’ve finished scrubbing, give the chicken a good rinse with cold water.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Rub the chicken inside and out with salt. Insert into the cavity the spring onions, bashed garlic and ginger, and carefully place the chicken breast-side down into the water. Bring the water back to the boil, skim off any foam while cooking, and turn off the heat.

Let the chicken sit in the pot, covered, for around 40 minutes. To check if it’s cooked, poke the thigh with a skewer or fork. If the juices run clear, it is done. If not, leave for another five to ten minutes.

When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pan and place in iced water to tighten the skin. Reserve the stock for cooking the rice and for the soup to accompany the meal. Rub a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil into the skin, before chopping through the bone into serving pieces.

In a large pan, heat the vegetable oil and a tablespoon of sesame oil over a medium heat. Fry the shallots, garlic and ginger until fragrant. Add the rice and stir until lightly toasted and the oil has been absorbed. Pour in a litre of chicken stock and season with salt to taste. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the rice is tender – about 20 minutes.

Heat the remainder of the stock for your soup, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste and sprinkling with chopped spring onions.

To serve, arrange the chicken on a serving platter, and garnish with fresh coriander, spring onions, cucumber and tomato – although Sisi says her son and husband hate coriander, so she leaves it out! Serve with the rice and soup, and small bowls of soy and chilli sauce.

So simple and so delicious.

As this is another wonderful family recipe, I’m entering it into TACT’s Care to Cook family recipe challenge – which aims to raise awareness of this amazing fostering and adoption charity working with some of the UK’s most vulnerable children and young people.

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