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Hainan chicken (Thai style)

In Thailand, this is served early in the morning. People on the way to work, or kids on the way to school, will stop for a plate of it. Our favourite spot for this dish in Hua Hin, where we have holidayed as a family for the past 40 years, can be sold out by 11 am on busy days. Most regular travellers to Southeast Asia will know this dish well, as it’s available in various forms in most countries in the region.In Singapore they poach the chicken, but the Thais steam the chicken in a big steamer, with the water in the bottom pot catching the fat drippings, which are in turn made into a delicious broth to have with the chicken-fat rice. I always brine my chicken, even whenI’m steaming, as I always get a better, juicier result. This is mygo-to comfort food, a family favourite. And I love to take my time making this meal, because I think it’s the time and love that add extra deliciousness.

 

STEAMED CHICKEN

4 cm knob ginger, flattened, plus extra for steaming

3 garlic cloves, smashed, plus extra for steaming

4 coriander roots, cleaned and crushed, plus extra for steaming

dash Chinese cooking wine

dash light soy sauce

1 whole chicken

1 tablespoon kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)

coriander leaves, to serve

4 cucumbers, sliced

ginger, green shallot and sesame sauce (page 302), to serve

sweet soy sauce with chilli (page 303), to serve

CHICKEN-FAT RICE

chicken fat (see Cook’s Notes)

3 cups jasmine rice, rinsed and drained

2 garlic cloves, smashed

3 coriander roots, cleaned and crushed

4 cm knob of ginger, flattened

1 pandan leaf, tied in a knot

sea salt, to taste

21⁄2 cups chicken stock (page 298) or water

Brine the chicken (below), using the ginger, garlic, coriander roots, Chinese cooking wine and soy sauce in the brining liquid. Drain well and pat dry before using.

Rub the chicken with kecap manis. Put some flattened ginger, garlic and coriander root inside the body and place into a large steamer over a large pan of simmering water. Cook for 50–60 minutes, until the chicken is tender and cooked through. Let the chicken rest in the steamer until you are ready to serve (reserve the liquid underneath).

Meanwhile, to make the chicken-fat rice, place the chicken fat in a frying pan over medium heat and heat until rendered (melted). Add the rice and stir to coat well with the fat. Transfer to a rice cooker and mix through the garlic, coriander roots, ginger and pandan leaf. Season with salt and add the stock or water. There will be less liquid than when you usually cook rice, but we want this rice to be a little drier and not over-cooked. Not under-cooked or al dente either; chicken rice should be on the firmer side. Cook according to your rice cooker directions.

 

SOUP

1 heaped teaspoon chicken stock powder

1⁄2 brown onion, sliced

2 coriander roots, cleaned and crushed

2 garlic cloves, smashed

6 Chinese cabbage leaves, chopped

200g shiitake mushrooms, sliced or halved

white pepper

To make the soup, reserve 1–2 tablespoons of the steaming liquid from the chicken and set aside. Add the chicken stock powder, onion, coriander root, garlic, cabbage and mushrooms to the remaining liquid. Bring to the boil then simmer over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Taste to see if you need salt or soy sauce, and season with white pepper.

Break up the chicken and take out the bones and carcass. Slice into large bite-sized pieces and place on a platter. Mix the reserved steaming liquid with the kecap manis and pour over the chicken. Garnish with coriander.

Serve the chicken, rice and soup with the cucumbers and two sauces. Kids will probably prefer just kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) over their chicken and rice.

[COOK’S NOTES]

Inside the chicken cavity you will find small deposits of fat –use these. You can also ask the butcher to keep chicken fatty bits for you. I keep small sandwich bags of chicken fat stored in the freezer. There is also a deli product called schmaltz that I have used, which is perfectly fine if you don’t have any chicken fat lying around.

How to brine

Brining isn’t an absolutely necessary step when you’re cooking meat or chicken, but, if you have the time to do it, it makes all the difference – it both tenderises and infuses flavour. Speaking of flavour, the only rule for what you add to the brine mix is that it is to your taste. A basic brine is 8 parts water to 1 part salt by volume. I just use table salt for this. Make up the brine by stirring salt into the cold water, in a large enough container to hold your meat so that it will be fully submerged. Choose a glass, ceramic or plastic container rather than metal. Add your favourite flavourings – choose flavours that will complement the recipe the meat is to be used in. We often use a dash of Maggi sauce, apple cider vinegar, bay leaves, peppercorns, garlic and fresh herbs. For Asian recipes, include flavours such as ginger, chilli and soy sauce. Add the meat, cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or up to 24 hours. Drain well and pat dry before cooking. You can also brine in beer.

Recipe extracted from Where the river bends, by Jimmy and Jane Barnes. HarperCollinsPublishers RRP $55.00

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