Hainan's Chicken Rice
Anyone who visits Hainan, China must know what Hainan chicken rice is because it is so popular that you can find it every where, either in a five stars restaurant or at a street vender. Not only in Hainan either, I actually saw some restaurants in San Francisco and New York City that carry this dish in their menu. What make it Hainan chicken rice and not Hong Kong or Taiwan chicken rice? What is the difference? The locals claim that their chicken is soft, tender and not greasy. Soft and tender, yes. Not greasy, no. I found that it is as greasy as anywhere else. Also, their chickens have to be specially raised, it has to be male, castrated young chicken and they add husk in it's food.
Both my parents are from Hainan. I know about Hainan ckicken rice as early as I can remember. My dad used to castrate our own chicken. When he did a good job, the chicken survived and we raised that chicken until it grew to a mature size. If it didn't survive, we would eat the chicken that day. Whenever he planned to castrate a chicken, my mom will hold the morning grocery shopping until the result of the castration was known. My dad hated that. My mom insisted on doing so - she did not want to buy too much for that day! My mom is an expert in cooking chicken rice, she said so and I really believe so. No matter what occasion or festival, it never went without chicken rice. I was asked to help my mom prepare this dish so many times that even now, I still remember every step of preparing a Hainan rice disk.
To begin, you boil the freshly butchered chicken with some salt, ginger and green onion. Be sure not to boil too long. Test the chicken by pocking into it with a fork; if no blood comes out, it is done. Scoop some chicken oil from the pot into the rice cooker (an automatic rice cooker will do.) Start to heat the rice cooker, adding a few cloves of fresh garlic and add uncooked rice. Mix it thoughly, then add chicken soup in proportion to the rice cooked and wait for the fragrance of the chicken rice when it is done. The chicken is served with two kinds of sauce, one is a blend of ginger with chicken oil and salt; the other is a blend of ginger, soy sauce and soy bean paste. The later one is less greasy.
The first time I went to Hainan, I made a big mistake when my relatives asked me what I want to eat. Since I was in Hainan, of course I chose Hainan chicken rice. For the next couple of days every meal I had Hainan chicken rice! By the fifth or sixth meal I started to feel like chicken grease was pouring out from my face. My daughter, who was a vegetarian then, kept saying she was not hungry just to be polite. I had to ask for other less greasy dishes and more vegetable for both of us.
Over time, I make some modifications on my chicken rice to reduce the animal fat as much as possible. I boil the chicken the day before and keep both the chicken and soup separate in the refrigerator. The next day I remove the fat from the soup, practically in a sheath because the fat all clotted by then. Instead of using chicken oil, I use a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil mixed with garlic and rice, then use the almost fat free soup to cook rice. As for the sauce, I use olive oil to replace the chicken oil also. The cold chicken kept overnight tastes good in a different way since it is more firm. To me, this modified chicken rice is not much different from the original recipe. I do not know how good it is to my health but it sure makes me feel a lot less guilty when eatting it!
Try it and enjoy the famous Hainan Chicken Rice.
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Published on 3/1/05