Writing by Peter Hilton

Simple chicken rice

Cutting corners to make quick single-portion Hainanese chicken rice 2023-04-01 #cooking

A bowl of chicken rice, topped with chicken and chilli sauce

Hainanese chicken rice, like many classic dishes, maximises output from limited ingredients. results from economic constraints, in this case making one chicken go as far as possible. I’ve enjoyed the resulting flavour and simplicity in Singapore’s food courts, and in Thailand where chillies take the spiciness up a notch.

I haven’t enjoyed chicken rice in restaurants in Europe. One disappointingly served chicken pieces on plain rice: not the same thing at all. Inevitably, I tried making it myself.

Authentic recipes

You prepare this dish by cooking rice in chicken stock, flavoured with garlic and ginger. Chicken fat makes it greasy, cheap and tasty. In some languages, its name translates to oily/greasy rice.

Authentic recipes such as Adam Liaw’s require poaching a whole chicken and produce more servings than I need. That, and preparing several separate sauces, takes too long for me.

Cooking with constraints

Instead of making chicken rice properly, I’ve explored what I can achieve when cooking a quick lunch, with two constraints:

  1. prepare a single portion,
  2. in half an hour.

I can achieve this by:

  1. replacing the whole chicken with one boneless chicken thigh
  2. skipping the accompanying sauces
  3. rushing the stock.

The result barely does the dish justice, but tastes good, and you could do worse cooking lunch in half an hour. As with risotto, even if doesn’t compare to the original, you can still get a lot of satisfaction from making your own.


Stock ingredients Rice ingredients

Remember the fundamental rules of cooking: that’s enough rice and that’s not enough garlic.


Steaming the rice requires a fixed duration. Simmer the stock for longer if you have time. Other times may vary.

Timeline and task dependencies

Preparing the ingredients one step at a time while cooking takes less elapsed time than preparing all of the ingredients before you start (mise en place), but it doesn’t matter if you take longer, as long as you don’t overcook the rice.


Stock ingredients Rice ingredients

First, render the chicken fat in the rice pan:

  1. Cut most of the white fat from 1 chicken thigh.
  2. Render the fat in the rice pan, on a medium heat.

Next make the stock. Simmer the following for 15-30 minutes, in the stock pan, with the lid on:

  1. 200ml water
  2. ½ tsp salt
  3. 30g spring onion, 40g carrot, 20g ginger - all sliced
  4. 1 chicken thigh

While the stock simmers, prepare the rice.

  1. Peel and finely chop 10g garlic and 40g shallot.
  2. Fry in the chicken fat for a few minutes until translucent (add some cooking oil if needed).
  3. Stir in 100g/120ml jasmine rice.
  4. Turn off the heat, and wait for the stock.

When the stock’s ready, cook the rice.

  1. Remove the chicken from the stock, and put in a covered dish.
  2. Strain the stock into the rice pan, discarding the sliced vegetables.
  3. Stir the stock into the rice.
  4. Put the lid on the rice pan, and bring to the boil.
  5. Steam on a low heat for 15 minutes, without removing the lid.

To serve, slice the warm chicken and put on the rice, and garnish with chilli sauce.

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