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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Just Salt

We had another quiet, simple weekend, just spent with my daughter and husband. While Saturday was efficiently spent doing the weekly groceries, and driving my daughter to and from her violin lessons and ending with Mass in the early evening, our Sunday began with brunch of Filipino tapsi (combination of breakfast sweet meat, fried rice and fried egg) at this place we recently discovered called Deo’s Hideaway Bar, just a 5 minute drive from our house. It is situated at one of the high points of our area quite near the Provincial Hall with a really great panoramic view of Metro Manila, from Muntinlupa on the left to Quezon City and Marikina on the right. Just sitting there and taking everything in was therapeutic by itself.

In the spirit of going back to basics, it was also timely that a week before, I already planned on trying out a different recipe for Hainanese Chicken Rice for dinner. My old recipe called for salting the chicken, and stuffing the cavity with ginger and lemongrass, then boiling the chicken until it was cooked through. With this method, I usually ended up with chicken that was dull, got too flaky, and the skin all torn up.

However, this new discovery of mine required prepping the chicken by rubbing it all over with kosher salt. In my case, since I wasn’t able to make a quick drop at the supermarket for kosher salt, I just used rock salt (I’m not sure if they’re actually the same thing), which worked just as fine. Rubbing the chicken all over and inside the cavities definitely made the chicken and its skin all firm and glossy, and certainly contributed to producing a better broth, both in appearance (one ends up skimming off white colored scum, instead of brown), and taste (clean chicken flavor). It is also desirable to have a rice cooker for preparing the rice dish as it will substantially cut your labor time. I used jasmine rice for this version, but any long grain variety will do. However, jasmine rice is already aromatic by itself and it is ideal for this dish. I further enhanced the flavor and aroma by adding a few leaves of pandan (screw pine) into the rice cooker and the result was all heavenly flavor and aroma.

The first few bites into the chicken, and few sips of broth certainly confirmed why this much loved Singaporean dish is named as its national dish, and getting to be more popular here as can be seen by restaurants sprouting like mushrooms offering this as their special.

Considering that I cooked double the recipe of this dish as I was going to try it out for the first time on 8 people, it took me three hours to cook everything alone — from the chopping to the scrubbing to the boiling and plating. But now that I’ve already gone through the whole thing once, I am now familiar with it and will probably be able to cook the same dish for a shorter period next time. Don’t be daunted by my experience here. Hainanese Chicken just needs a bit more care in preparing and cooking, but the reward of a simple, flavorful and invigorating dish is well worth it.

The Chicken

1 whole chicken (organic if available)
kosher salt (or rock salt)
4˝ section of ginger cut in 1/4˝ slices
spring onion (both green & white parts)
3 cloves garlic, crushed with some skin on
1 tsp or so of sesame oil

The Rice

2 Tbsp. chicken fat or vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1˝ section of ginger, finely minced
2 cups long grain or Jasmine rice soaked in water for 10 mins. or longer
2 cups reserved chicken broth
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
pandan leaves

The Chili Sauce

1 Tbsp. lime juice
2 Tbsp. reserved chicken broth
2 tsp. sugar
4 Tbsp. Sriracha chili sauce
4 cloves garlic
1˝ ginger
generous pinch of salt to taste

For the Table

1/4 cup dark soy sauce
few sprigs cilantro
1 cucumber sliced into bite sized chunks

1. To clean chicken, rub with salt to rid of loose skin and dirt. Wash and pat dry inside and out. Season generously with salt inside and out.
2. Stuff chicken cavity with crushed garlic, ginger and spring onions. Place in stockpot and fill with water just covering the chicken. Let boil over high heat, then immediately turn heat to low and keep to a simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes more (depending on the size of the chicken).
3. Check for doneness by sticking a fork or chopstick into the flesh under the leg and see if juices run clear, or insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone. It should read 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. When chicken is done, transfer to a container prepared with ice water and soak to stop the cooking process and allow to cool. Reserve the chicken broth to serve as soup, for cooking rice & preparing the chili sauce.

5. For the rice, drain the water. In a wok or saucepan, heat 2 Tbsp. oil over medium high heat. When hot, add ginger and garlic and fry until fragrant. Make sure not to burn the aromatics.
6. Add drained rice and stir to coat. Cook for 2 minutes, add sesame oil and mix well.
7. If cooking rice on stovetop, in the same saucepan where you are frying the rice, add 2 cups of reserved chicken broth, add salt and pandan leaves if using, and let boil uncovered. Immediately turn heat down to low, cover the pot and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit (with lid still on) for 5 to 10 minutes, to allow residual heat to finish the cooking.
8. If cooking rice in rice cooker, after frying, pour aromatics and rice into rice cooker, add 2 1/2 cups reserved chicken broth and salt. Fold 2 to 3 pandan leaves together, if using, and insert in the rice. Turn on your rice cooker and allow it to cook your rice accordingly.
9. While rice is cooking, remove chicken from ice bath and rub outside of chicken with sesame oil. Carve chicken for serving.
10. For chili sauce, blend all ingredients in the blender until smooth and bright red in color. Prepare soup by adding salt as needed and serve hot.


  1. You are so right! Rubbing salt on a chicken is such a delicious meal; and surprisingly so. Who would have thought such simple ingredients...

    But yes! It works! I've ate something very similar where I work (a Chinese restaurant). I'm glad I can now know how they do it.

  2. Thanks Brittany! Here’s to simple yet satisfying dishes...Keep in touch! I certainly will : )

  3. Looks absolute heaven... the recipe is simply delicous... :)