If you’re not from Singapore, Malaysia or Thailand, then the image that pops up in your head after one mentions ‘chicken rice’ would probably be some fried or roast chicken with rice. Yes, chicken rice is some random chook + some rice. But it’s so much more than that.
Imagine a whole chicken first being gently poached till just cooked and then quickly immersed in ice water to stop the cooking process, locking in all the chook juices and creating a gelatine-like layer of collagen just under the skin. Then, the rice is lightly fried in chicken fats and cooked with the stock that’s left behind together with aromatics like ginger, garlic, pandan leaves and lemongrass. The result is a very succulent chicken with delectable chicken skin that’s accompanied by aromatic rice that is so good you could even eat it on its own. (Singaporeans who grew up in the 80s, which ad is this line from?)
However, chicken rice had more humble beginnings as it most probably originated from Hainan Island, China when the early Chinese immigrants brought it to South East Asia. I can’t speak for the Thai or Malaysian versions, but the Singaporean Hainanese Chicken Rice has since evolved from those early settlers’ days with many excellent choices all over the island and with Gordon Ramsey and Anthony Bourdain bringing this dish to international stardom recently.
In a nation obsessed with food, chicken rice has always remained one of Singaporeans’ favourite dish. There are many debates over which stall sells the best chicken rice in Singapore, but no one ever debates if chicken rice is worth eating . It’s an obvious choice. In fact, most of us were probably weaned on it. There are even halal and vegetarian mock meat versions of chicken rice so that everybody can enjoy this national dish.
Having a plate of chicken rice is quite a common lunch option for many though the Health Promotion Board (yes, we have statutory boards for everything) may not approve as it’s over 600kcal per serving! This homemade version of chicken rice is is not only healthier (if you don’t use the chicken fats) but can also be put together in under 40 minutes and is all cooked in one pot! However, if you wanted the authentic version, it’ll be easier to just buy it from a hawker centre as it’ll set you back for hours. Here’s the recipe for my Cheat’s Chicken Rice.
Cheat's One Pot Chicken Rice
For the chicken marination
- 4-5 bone-in chicken thighs/drums
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tsp Shaoxing rice wine (can be replaced with lemon juice)
- a dash of white pepper
- pinch of sea salt
For the rice
- 4 tbsp peanut oil / chicken fat* (See Recipe Notes)
- 5-6 small shallots, thinly sliced
- 12 slices of fresh ginger
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 lemongrass, bruised and cut into 1/2
- 4-5 pandan leaves
- 2 cups long grained Thai Jasmine rice
- 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (See Recipe Notes)
- 1/4 cup Shaoxing rice wine* ( can be replaced with chicken stock) (See Recipe Notes)
- pinch of sea salt
- chopped spring onions
- coriander leaves
- fried shallots
- sesame oil
- cucumber and tomato slices
For the chilli sauce
- 8-10 fresh red chillies, deseeded (not thai/ bird’s eye chillies!)
- 5 inch piece ginger
- 3 large garlic cloves
- brown sugar
- low-sodium chicken stock
- lime juice
1. Using a fork, prick the chicken at the thickest part so that it would be better marinated.
2. Marinate chicken thighs with light soy sauce,sesame oil, Shaoxing Rice Wine, white pepper and sea salt for about 20-30 minutes. Set aside.
3. Wash rice until the water is almost clear. Completely drain and set aside.
4. In a medium pot/ rice cooker pot, heat peanut oil/ chicken fat over medium heat. I used a combination of both chicken fat and oil.
5. Sauté sliced shallots and ginger slices till shallots have softened slightly and are lightly browned. Then add minced garlic. Sauté for 1 minute more and make sure the garlic doesn’t burn.
6. Add drained rice and coat it with all the oil/shallot in the pot and keep stirring for about 1-2 minutes to slightly cook the grains.
7. Add the chicken stock and Shaoxing Rice Wine to the rice. Layer the lemongrass halves and pandan leaves and then the marinated chicken on top of the pandan leaves. ( See 2nd photo above)
8. Turn heat to lowest flame, cover pot and cook till chicken and rice and cooked or return your rice pot to the rice cooker and cook.
9. For the chilli sauce, blend all ingredients until it reaches a slightly runny consistency, like a dip. Adjust salt according to taste. If its too spicy, add more sugar and add a little more chicken stock and lime juice. The level of spiciness will depend on the type of chillies used. Duh! Or you could used any store-bought chilli-garlic/ chilli sauce you like. (Much easier!)
10. To serve, scoop rice onto plate. Throw out any ginger, pandan leaves & lemongrass. Place chicken pieces on top of rice. Drizzle with a little bit of sesame oil and sprinkle some fried shallots, spring onions or coriander leaves. Place the cucumber and tomato slices on the side. Put chilli sauce in dipping bowl. Done!
Or if it’s just the 2 of you, eat directly from the pot! No one will know & it’s more romantic because there’s less washing up after!
1. If you’re using a rice cooker, follow the rice cooking instructions for your machine and adjust the amount of chicken stock+Shaoxing rice wine. But I found that after the rice being partially cooked, it requires less liquid than usual for the rice cooker method.
2. I found that very thick chicken drums do not work for this recipe, unless you increase the amount of rice cooked and doubled the recipe. So adjust the ‘thickness’ and size of your chicken pieces accordingly. If you’re using chicken breasts, add them for the last 10 minutes of cooking time to avoid overcooked, dry chicken.
3. You could use any type of neutral oil for the recipe. However, if you choose to use very mild flavoured oils like rice bran , then make sure your chicken stock has enough flavour. Of course, adding chicken fats add more flavour to the rice. Whenever I clean chicken, I don’t throw away the fats that I remove. I freeze the fats in a ziplock bag and use them whenever needed.
4. For a healthier version, you could replace the rice with white quinoa and use chicken breast instead. It cooks faster and is also very tasty.
5. Use the same measuring cup to measure out the rice and stock amounts. It’s not like in baking where you would use a measuring jug for liquids and measuring cups for solids.
Your rice grains should not be mushy and they should be evenly coated with the oil and slightly glistening. If you have any leftover rice, it makes for great fried rice the next day. Just reduce the oil for frying.
Enjoy your little plate of homemade Singaporean heaven! I’ve made this countless times for weeknight dinners and lazy weekend brunches when we’re too lazy get out of our pyjamas.
So shiok, ah!