When Mrs. MM and I lived in Singapore, we would probably have Hainanese Chicken Rice once a week at one local place or another. It was one of our favorite comfort foods in the island city. It was so good and so cheap at hawker stalls, restaurants and mall food courts, that we never bothered to learn how to make it ourselves. Over the years, we have tried several versions at home, but all of them were just too cooked, not reminiscent of the barely poached chickens in Singapore, that today, might give the bird flu concerned hypochondriacs the hibbie-jibbies. I once overheard that some places just stuck the chicken in a pot of just barely boiling water, then immediately turned it off and let in sit in the hot liquid for several hours until it was cooked through. Somehow, that didn’t seem to pass the health department or FDA standards for food preparation. But it would explain the incredibly tender chickens with slightly red blood near the joints/bones.
So last week while I had the food channel on, I spied Kylie Kwong preparing her version of a poached chicken with a ginger soy sauce and it looked incredibly simple and easy, so I decided to try it the next day. Honestly, I thought I still overcooked the bird, probably because our chickens tend to be so much smaller than Australian chickens, so I suspect shortening the simmering time by 10-15 minutes would do the trick the next time around.
First i prepared a poaching liquid water, several cups of Shaoxing rice wine, some soy sauce, sliced ginger, green onions, peppercorns, white onions. I brought this to a boil, added a whole chicken (try to get a big one if possible), breast down, and brought the liquid back to a very gentle simmer, not a boil. Cover the chicken with a plate to hold it down in the poaching liquid. Simmer for 40 minutes (30 minutes would be sufficient for smaller pinoy chickens), turn off the heat, and leve the chicken in the liquid for another 2.5-3.0 hours.
After the long soak in the poaching liquid, remove the chicken and chop it up “chinese” style, with bones and all. Next make a simple sauce by chopping or julienning up some fresh ginger, add a touch of poaching liquid, some light soy sauce, a little sugar, a hint of sesame oil, then heat up several tablespoons of peanut oil and dump it over the ginger and listen to it sizzle for a few seconds. Pour this over the poached chicken and garnish with some cilantro.
On its own, this was a bit blah. But paired with some kecap manis or sweet soy from Indonesia or Malaysia, and some sambal or chili sauce, and some pickled Singaporean chilis, this was pretty darned good home-made chicken comfort food. Next time I have to add some of the poaching liquid to half cooked rice so that it is infused with the same flavors… Yum.