Food is possibly the most important part of daily life in Asia. You can eat all day long if you wanted to, grazing from one stall to another, having small plates of food, often which are the only thing that particular stall holder makes. We grew up with hawker food being our version of fast food – that quick snack after school or when we were out shopping with my mother. We have vivid memories of her picking us up from school and going to the market near Holland Village in Singapore. After parking her car she would take us into the covered hawker centre area and sit us at our favourite Won Ton Mee stall with a bowl of noodles (or 2 for my brother!) whilst she went off to do her food shopping. We would wander off and get our drinks (black jelly drink which i still don’t really know what it contains) and sit and wait for her. The won ton mee came was egg noodles in a steaming broth with little pork wontons and some greens. Very simple with just a sprinkling of white pepper and a few pickled green chillies and soy.
At a recent get together with some of my old Singapore school friends we invariably came around to discussing food… those fried wontons they served in our canteen, the South Indian banana leaf restaurants and typical Singaporean food such as chicken rice. To someone who hasn’t tasted Hainanese Chicken Rice, they can’t imagine what we would see in a dish which looks just like boiled rice and chicken. But that chicken is just cooked, so very tender, and the rice is cooked in the chicken stock…and the sweet soy combined with the fiery chilli & ginger sauce is a combination made in heaven!
I decided to make it last weekend – a toss up between roasting the chicken or poaching it… Chicken Rice won the vote! I don’t have a recipe as such, but the following method seems to work…. Put a whole chicken in a large saucepan with an onion cut into chunks, a large chunk of ginger, a couple of celery stalks, a few black peppercorns and a tablespoon of salt. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Boil this for 10 minutes and then turn off the heat. Leave the chicken to cool in this liquid.
Once the liquid has cooled drain the chicken and leave to one side (I covered mine with clingfilm to keep warm). In another saucepan, wash your rice as normal (I used basmati) and drain. The pour in the strained cooking stock from the chicken – 1cm above the top of the rice. If the stock isn’t salty, add salt to taste. Bring this to the boil and then put a tight fitting lid on it and leave to steam for 10 mins. Turn off the heat and rest for 15 minutes.
Chilli and ginger sauce – use a mini chopper or food processor. I put in 6 large red chillies, about 2cm piece of ginger, 1tsp salt and juice of half lemon. Whizz this all up together and that’s your fiery sauce!
To serve: Joint the chicken… If you were in Singapore the chef would take his cleaver and chop through the bones. I preferred to joint it and then take the breast off the bone and slice it. Put into a serving dish and garnish with spring onions and a sprinkle of sesame oil. Serve with the rice, chilli sauce, sliced cucumber and if you have any stock left, serve this on the side like a soup. Sweet soy to taste.
Its simple but hearty comfort food. My cousins tell me its unlikely we will be eating chicken when we are in Malaysia as there have been cases of Avian flu… but my craving has been semi satisfied by eating it at home!