Tuesday, September 03, 2013

#Eatsomethingnice article 4 - Chicken Rice

proudly a part of #Saysomethingnice

image credits: Veronica Ng

Hainanese chicken rice is succulent steamed white chicken, cut into bite-size pieces served on fragrant rice with some light soy sauce, topped with sprigs of coriander leaf, sesame oil and accompanied by a delicious chilli-garlic dip.

The chicken is very tender, with the flesh slightly translucent where it meets the bone and fully infused with a delicious flavour and fragrance. The rice is cooked with boiled chicken stock, chicken fat, garlic, ginger and shallots. Some stalls serve extras such as hardboiled eggs, chicken liver, firm tofu and kailan as side dishes.

This is a dish of Chinese origin most commonly associated with Hainanese, Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine, although it is also commonly sold in Thailand. It is based on the well-known Hainanese dish called Wenchang chicken.

Chicken rice in Malaysia is available in many coffee shops and restaurants or street hawker stalls, and recently many chain restaurants have also sprung up nationwide. Most chicken rice vendors also offer an alternative of roasted chicken instead of the regular steamed one. Other variations include a BBQ version and even a honey-roasted choice.

Malaysia having a predominantly Muslim population, we have naturally adapted halal chicken rice or ‘Nasi Ayam’, and modified the dish to suit our liking for spicier and fried food. The chicken is steamed and then fried or roasted to give it a golden crispy chicken skin. However frying the chicken does make the meat a little drier. The chili condiment has also been modified with less garlic and ginger, and tamarind juice is used to give it the trademark tang.

The texture of the rice is important and it takes quite a bit of experience to get it done properly. Each rice grain should be individually separate yet cooked properly to the core without any hint of grainy hardness. It should be moist and slightly oily but not mushy and cloying.

The rich flavour of the rice comes from the grains that have been pre-fried in chicken fat and then cooked in chicken broth. The chicken is steamed until it is just cooked with a little pink remaining on the flesh near the bones. Whilst the cut chicken is served on a large dish, the rice is served on individual plates.

Alternatively, golden brown roasted chicken is also served with the specially cooked rice. The dish is accompanied with a chilli sauce made up of chillies, garlic, and ginger. A thick broth of chicken stock garnished with a sprinkle of spring onions is also a must.

Melaka is famous for serving their chicken rice in the shape of balls. To find out why, we had to go back in time to the story behind chicken rice. As mentioned, this comfort food dish was initially brought over to Malaysia by Hainanese immigrants.

In the early years, the dish was sold by traveling peddlers and the reason why the rice was sold in little balls was primarily a functional one. Cooked in a large metal pot with pandan leaves and ginger slices, the rice was painstakingly shaped into balls with bare hands before it grew cold. The rice-balls made it easier for a traveling peddler to serve his clients, as he did away with conventional plates and could easily wrap the balls in banana leaves.

The Melaka rice balls are golf ball sized with a rather garlicky flavor. Because they are so compact, four or five balls are enough to make you feel quite full. They are so tasty that most people can eat the balls on their own with the spicy and tangy chilli sauce.

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