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Hainanese Chicken Rice is one of my favourite dishes. Since I grew up in Singapore, and my father's family is originally from Hainan (my grandparents emigrated to Johore from there), I tend to do the common Singapore variant which involves making everything from scratch on the day. Usual time from starting cooking to served on the table is around 90 mins to 2 hours, depending on how many chickens you want to do, and how fancy you want to get with the condiments.

This recipe is for one chicken, which will usually serve 4 adults provided they don't all eat as much as I do. Also instructions for condiments, including my chilli sauce recipe. There are about a zillion different ways to do the chilli sauce - this is the one I happen to like. Feel free to take alternate recipes off the Intarwebz, or try some of the tweaking options below. I assume you have a normal method of cooking rice - whatever that is, stick with it.


  • Large heavy stockpot, big enough to fit a whole chicken with room to spare, must have a tight sealing lid.

  • Wok or small frypan

  • Rice cooker (microwave version, or specific pot, or stove pot for absorption method)

  • Mortar and Pestle (you can use a blender if you must, but this is a lot better with mortar and pestle)

  • A small sieve

  • A good carving knife or chef's knife


  • 1 whole free range chicken - fully defrosted or fresh

  • sesame oil and olive oil

  • 1 head of garlic

  • 3 cups of rice

  • a few knobs or so of fresh ginger

  • several fresh chillies (use big not-so-hot ones or small super hot ones or a blend, depending how hot you want)

  • 1 bunch of spring onions (scallions, for USAnians)

  • A cucumber

  • "Ketjap Manis" or "Thick Soy Sauce"

  • light soy sauce


  1. Take chicken, slice out and reserve "fat pads" from around the neck and back of thighs, including a few bits of skin.

  2. Place chicken into large pot, fill with cold water until chicken is well underwater.

  3. Put pot on stove, bring to the boil. (That will take around 30-45 mins, most likely. See below for what to do when it boils.)

  4. In the meantime, take fat pads + skin, dice them roughly, put into wok/frypan, add a small amount of sesame oil and olive oil.

  5. Fry on a low to medium heat until skin is crispy. (Usually around 10 mins.)

  6. While that's going on, take head of garlic, remove the outer skin and separate cloves of garlic, but leave the skin on individual cloves intact where possible. (Don't forget to check your frying chicken fat and skin for burning and give them a stir regularly.)

  7. Once you've done that, set up your rice cooking as you would usually do (wash rice, put in cooker, add normal amount of water), then add the head of garlic cloves and about 3 tablespoons of rendered chicken oil and skin. Smoosh those down a bit into the rice. They won't stay down really, but it's kinda fun, and helps to mix the oil into the rice a little. Start the rice cooking.

  8. At this stage, your pot of chicken should be heading towards boiling. Let it just come to the boil, quickly turn it down to only just simmering enough to swirl the water with the lid off and leave it for about 5-10 minutes, then put the lid on and turn the heat off completely. NOTE: Do not open the lid to peek. You want that pot to stay hot, because the chicken will not be cooked if you let the pot cool down. Peeking will waste a lot of heat every time you open the lid. Don't be tempted. Really. Raw chicken is not good for you. It needs to sit on the stove for about 45 minutes and remain pretty hot the whole time.

  9. If you're cooking your rice on the stove with absorption method (rather than a fire-and-forget microwave cooker or rice cooker device), then finish your rice cooking off before moving on to the next step.

  10. Slice ginger, then pound in mortar until it is all smushy and no whole pieces remain.

  11. Press the pounded ginger into the small sieve over a small bowl, separating the pounded ginger flesh from the ginger juice.

  12. Chop chillies and lime leaves, then pound them in mortar until all smushy.

  13. Mix pounded chilli and lime leaves and ginger juice, possibly adding a small amount of the pounded ginger flesh. Put in a serving bowl.

  14. Chop spring onions (approximately cubed).

  15. Mix spring onions and pounded ginger flesh, pour remaining chicken oil over, add some more sesame oil, and mix well. Put in a serving bowl.

  16. Slice cucumber on the diagonal. If you can be bothered, wait and blanch it in the chicken pot once you remove the chicken. Put in serving bowl.

  17. Put some ketjap manis in a serving bowl.

  18. Put some light soy on table.

  19. Once you've waited the 45 minutes, the chicken should now be very nice and soft. Lift it out and drain it over the pot.

  20. Carve the breasts off the chicken and dice them. If you're clever and can be bothered with presentation (I never am), you can make sure the breast stays intact but diced, and place it on a big serving plate.

  21. Joint the thighs, drumsticks and wings and add to serving plate. If you're clever and can be bothered, you can assemble this around the breasts and make a chicken-looking object.

  22. Serve up everything (condiments in bowls, rice, chicken in the middle), and give everyone a bowl to eat with.

  23. Bring a bowl for bones.

  24. The plot with eating it is to put rice in your bowl, add whatever proportions of condiments you desire, grab chicken, and eat. Don't be afraid to use fingers with the bony bits, this is not an elegant dining experience.

  25. See Chinese Chopstick Technique if you need chopstick eating hints.

  26. Warning: You will overeat.

  27. Enjoy.


  • You now have a large pot of rather good chicken stock. You can turn this into egg-flower soup immediately, or just put it away for later use.

  • You also have a chicken carcass with rather a lot of meat left on it. Peel this off for sandwiches. Goes well with left over chilli sauce.

Tweaking (alternate options you might want to try):

  • Cheap pot - If you have a cheap pot that doesn't hold heat well, or an ill fitting lid, you may need to leave the stove on absolute minimum on the smallest burner, rather than relying purely on heat retention.

  • Flied Lice - Fry the rice in the chicken fat before putting it on to cook, which results in much tastier rice.

  • Sunday Service - Slice off the bishop/parson's nose and add it to the serving plate.

  • Giblets! - Boil some chicken livers in the stock and add them to the serving plate.

  • Show a bit more leg - If you want, you can add a couple of chicken marylands (thigh+drumstick cut) as well, since many people prefer the drumstick or thigh bits. I almost always do this if serving 4, mainly because I like leftovers.

  • Lots more chicken - If you have a big enough pot, two chickens and 4 marylands will feed a lot of people. You may need to boil the chicken for 15-30 mins rather than 5-10.

  • Get to da chopper - If you're really dedicated and have a large chopper and know what you're doing with it, and can be bothered (again, I never am), you can chop the thigh and drumstick through the bone and into pieces before serving.

  • Cor 'limey - Lime juice instead of or as well as lime leaves in the chilli sauce.

  • Stocky Sauce - Take out about half a cup of chicken stock once it's done and add to the chilli sauce.

  • Stock Savers - Freeze the stock in halves, use it next time, half plus more water for boiling the chicken, half for cooking the rice. (Credit: Tien Cya)

April 2015

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