So, I had spoken of Hainanese Chicken in my last post on making soup. Why? Because for the best version of this dish, you don’t poach your chicken in water, you poach it in soup. However, water does work in a pinch, it’s just not as tasty. Now, I can hear some of you say “poaching!?” but do trust me – this makes a chicken so tender and lovely.

This is a simple dish, it just takes some time. However, if you’re really on it, you can make the rice and sauce while you’re waiting for the chicken to get done. A meat thermometer is helpful, but not crucial. You’ll want to read through it all first, as this is a multi-part recipe: chicken, sauce, and rice. Though I’ve had little success on the rice. Still working on that!

Preparation of this chicken is basically a total spa treatment. Exfoliate the skin (with salt), a hot soak in aromatic water, and then shocking it in an ice bath (you know, to close the pores!). The ice bath halts the cooking process and allows the skin to become “crunchy” in that al dente way as well as allowing a nice layer of gelatin to congeal.

Hainanese Chicken

What  you’ll need for the chicken

  • 1 Whole chicken (about 3 lbs)
  • 1/2 cup Salt, coarse
  • Soup/Water (enough to cover your chicken by an inch when in the pot)
  • 1″ round of Ginger, peeled (if poaching in Water)
  • 1/2 tbsp Sesame oil
  • Ice, at least two trays worth. More is better.
  • Two pots, large enough to hold the chicken and liquid

Instructions for chicken

30 minutes to an hour before you start, haul the chicken out of the refrigerator and let it sit on the counter. You basically don’t want this to be fridge-cold when you put this in your water. In the meantime, gather your ingredients. You’ll want to put the salt aside in a bowl by your chicken, as you’ll want to access that with chickeny hands. Prep your soup (don’t need to heat it, just make sure it’s liquid) and ready your pot (the smaller of the two if there’s a difference).

  1. Grab your chicken and a handful of salt and begin by massaging the salt into the skin of the chicken. Continue the spa treatment until all the stray impurities (feathers, weird bits) on the skin have been sloughed away, leaving your poultry with smooth, shiny skin. If you’re using water, be generous with the salt. Be thorough and make sure you get into the crevices!
  2. Place the chicken into your pot and top it up so that the soup/water covers the chicken by about an inch. Smash and toss your stub of ginger in. Turn the heat on high and bring the pot to a boil. If you’re like me and your pot is a wee bit too small, we’ll top it up with some boiling water or soup in the next step.
  3. Once the water has come to a rapid boil, immediately turn the heat all the way down to low. If your chicken is peaking above the water line, now is a good time to top up with some boiling soup/water to cover the chicken entirely. Cover the pot with a lid and let it sit for about 30 minutes. Now would be a good time to prep (or make if you have more stock) your sauce.
  4. As the time to check your chicken draws near, it’s time to prep your ice-bath. In the sink, fill the second pot with ice and cold water. Being in the sink allows you to transfer the chicken more easily and contain any splashes that might occur.
  5. After the 30 minutes is up, grab your meat thermometer and check your chicken. Stab it in the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone. It’s ready if it reads 165°F-170°F. If it’s under, keep checking it every 10 minutes. When it’s ready, turn off the stove and bring the pot next to your ice bath.
  6. Transfer the chicken over to your ice bath. Since the soup is still hot, you’ll want to do this with tongs, but be careful not to puncture the skin if you can, or you’ll lose the possibility of that lovely gelatin layer. Let it sit in the cold water for about 20-30 minutes. Reserve the hot chicken soup/water, as you’ll want to make your rice with that – probably while you wait for the chicken to cool.
  7. After enough time has passed, pull the chicken out, shaking off excess water. Now, I like to debone my chicken, and it is at this point I will do so, before slicing the chicken further. I will also dump the bones back into the water/soup to intensify it, or make entirely new stock for next time. You don’t have to debone, but that’s up to you. Either way, you’ll want to rub the sesame oil and more salt into the skin before you cut and serve.

What you’ll need for the sauce

This sauce is traditionally served up with the chicken. I’ve managed to make a really good sauce and an okay sauce. I have not quite gotten it down pat, but here’s what I have so far.

  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2″ stub of ginger, peeled
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp reserved poaching liquid or stock
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 4 tbsps Sirracha hot sauce (But I used a thick Korean one)

Instructions for sauce

1. Put all ingredients in a blender. Have at it for 30 seconds, or until mixture is fairly smooth. That was easy, wasn’t it?

You can use more stock if you find the sauce is too thick.

What you’ll need for the rice

Okay. I’ll be honest here. I haven’t been able to successfully make stove-top rice. Every recipe I read is “cook 15 minutes and then fluff” but mine usually takes… an hour… and then it’s mushy. So I highly recommend using the rice cooker vs a pot, especially if it counts.

  • 2 cups of long-grain rice
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2″ stub of ginger, peeled, finely minced
  • 2 tbsp chicken fat (or vegetable oil, but really, you want the chicken fat)
  • 2 cups of broth
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • large frying pan

Instructions for rice

  1. Wash your rice and drain it well.
  2. Fry up the garlic and ginger in the chicken fat and be careful not to burn it, but it should smell pretty yummy. (Note: Make sure your oil is hot enough!)
  3. Toss in the rice and coat it evenly while continuing to fry up the ingredients. About two minutes.
  4. Transfer to a pot (or your rice cooker) and stir in the sesame oil and salt. Add 2 cups of broth and bring up to a boil (or, hit the ON button for your rice cooker and disregard steps 5 & 6).
  5. Turn down to low heat and cover rice. Let cook for 15 minutes.
  6. Remove pot from heat and let it sit for another 10-15 minutes. Check on it and see if the grains are opaque. Or taste the rice, which is what I do anyway, despite having a glass lid.
  7. When it’s done, fluff your rice and serve.

Serving is usually a bowl of rice, sliced chicken, a bowl of soup (if you have any left over), dark soy sauce, and the hot sauce. Garnish with green onion and parsley if you wish! Sure, it sounds WAY more complicated than it really is, but it’s given me tasty results (except the rice… dammit), and I’ve made it several times successfully. I mostly based my recipe from the one posted on Steamy Kitchen, with tweaks and info from my mom. And if you don’t want to make the rice, regular plain white rice is really awesome anyway.