Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Malaysian-Style Roasted Hainanese Chicken Rice

If there is ever a national meat category voted by Malaysians, it is safe to say chicken will be the king of all in the tropical island of Malaysia. No one die hard Malaysia-born native can nor voluntarily will go through a day without having some form of chicken dish or eggs.

Why do we love chicken so much? Well, what's not to love about it? Living in a multi-racial country, where people have different cultural and religious views on everything, from food to clothing, politics and what's not, chicken is like our answer to unity. I dare you to name me one person in Malaysia who will publicly announce to the world that he/she detests chicken. None?

When it comes to the preparation of chicken in Malaysia, the dishes are as varied as the population that makes up the blend of people who all represents a different side of Malaysia. Predominantly a majority of Malay populated country, there are no less than a hundred different methods of preparing the poutine in all different types of spices and coconut milk blend, the recipes traditionally passed on from one generation to the next, and often, a closely guarded secret.

The Chinese and Indian populace in Malaysia will of course have their variation of how best to prepare chicken, mostly depending on the mood of the days, be it a spicy concoction that rivals the Korean potent gochujang and kochukaru mixed of paste or the more subtle Chinese herbs laced steamed variation of chicken dishes.

As diverse as the chicken dishes in Malaysia mimicking the different cultures of the population, everyone can agree it is the Chinese community's famous Hainanese Chicken Rice, a dish purportedly brought over by a group of immigrant from the Hainan Island, south of China, which reigned supreme among all the different poultry preparations in the country.

Now, some may disagree, stating rather matter of fact that Hainanese Chicken is a Singaporean dish. Well, the truth is, Singapore and the then-Malaya was united as one country by the British colonist at the time and it was not until 1965 when the little island officially separated itself from the mainland Malaya. So, to claim one dish as its own when the same preparation was being taught and very much celebrated by others just north of the border is a bit.......counter-productive, wouldn't you say it? If it is up to me, let's just call it a truly South-east Asian dish enjoyed by all the countries in the region.

Traditionally, Hainanese chicken is boiled in chicken stock or just plain water, and then submerged in ice cold water to keep the skin intact, retaining the skin's color, springiness without getting soft and soggy. The barometer of how a good Hainanese chicken rice dish is prepared can be a long list of criterion which is best left to the professionals in cooking competition to deal with. I kid you not, there is a Hainanese Chicken cooking competition, very much like Memphis in May or the Texan famous chili cookoff competitions down south.

An equally popular spin-off from the boiled Hainanese chicken is the roasted Hainanese chicken. In Kuala Lumpur, you will find thousands of roadside eateries, as well as, franchise-based restaurants or mall food court selling both the boiled and roasted version of the famous fowl. The younger generation tends to prefer the roasted version of the poultry while the older generation almost always choose the boiled version over the earlier. Maybe they know something that we don't?

Whichever way you prefer to cook the chicken, the best way to enjoy the this simple albeit controversial dish is to dunk the chicken in garlic chili sauce, a smear of ginger scallion paste, a drizzle of dark soy sauce if you like, with a mouthful of that greasy rice cooked with rendered chicken fat. Oh yeah, rendered chicken fat. Any restaurateurs offering you a healthier version of the dish is only jibbing you off the most heavenly good experience of what we proclaim a good Hainanese Chicken Rice!

Malaysian Style Roasted Hainanese Chicken Rice
Serves 6-8

-For The Chicken
6.5lb to 7lb whole chicken (roaster)
5 slices of ginger
2 stalks of green onions
2 Tbsp of honey
1 Tbsp of molasses (or Chinese maltose if you can find it)
1 tsp of 5 spice powder
2 Tbsp of soy sauce
1 Tbsp of cooking caramel (Substitute with other dark soy sauce if you can't find it)
1 tsp of sesame oil
1Tbsp of Chinese rice wine (Shaoxing works best, substitute with dry sherry)
A few dashes of ground white pepper

-For the rice
2 cups of long grain white rice (preferably jasmine rice)
2 slices of ginger
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 1/2 cup of chicken stock (homemade or store bought)
4 Tbsp or more liquid chicken fat (rendered from excess fat from the chicken)
salt to taste

-For the chili dipping sauce
2 Tbsp of chili garlic sauce (the one you find at the Asian grocery with the green cap, next to Sriracha)
3 Tbsp of sugar
3 Tbsp of cider vinegar
1 tsp of liquid chicken fat

-For the ginger dipping sauce
3-inches of ginger root, grated
3 stalk of scallion, finely chopped
3 Tbsp of canola or vegetable oil
1 tsp of liquid chicken fat
3/4 tsp of rice vinegar
salt to taste

For the Chicken

1) Prepare the whole chicken. Discard the pack of giblets in the cavity. Save it for chicken stock later.
2) Trim off excess fat. Dunk those fats in a stainless steel pot which you will use to cook the rice in later.
3) Pat the chicken dry, outside and the cavity as well. Fold the wing tips to the back of the wings so it will stay put.

4) In a small bowl, combine honey, molasses, soy sauce, rice wine, 5 spice powder, cooking caramel, sesame oil, and ground white pepper in a bowl. Mix well and set aside.

5) Place chicken in a pan layered with wire rack. Rub the seasoning mix all over the chicken, inside and out till all seasoning mix is used up. There will be a lot of dripping in the pan, discard later.

6) Place the sliced ginger and green onions into the cavity of the chicken.

7) Using a kitchen twine, tie the legs together so it covers the cavity. Discard all the seasoning drippings in the pan. Place chicken on a wire rack in the pan and leave to dry uncovered in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
8) 30 minutes prior to cooking, remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Set the pan with the chicken on the counter to come up to room temperature. Preheat oven to 425F.
9) With the backbone side up, place chicken in the oven and roast for 20 minutes. Then turn the temperature down to 375F. After 30 minutes of roasting, or when skin turned golden and crispy on the upper side, turn chicken over breast side up.
10) Continue roasting for another 45 mins, till chicken is golden brown and internal temperature of the meat measured on the thighs reached 170F. Once the meat is cooked and if the skin has not crunched up, turn on the convection function in your oven and let it crunch up the skin for 10 mins. If you don't have the function at your disposal, just turn off the oven, then turn the broiler on high. Watch the bird the entire time to avoid burning the skin, your aim is a nice golden crunch.

11) Remove from oven and let stand for 20 mins before carving. longer if you can stave your family away from the crispy roasted chicken resting on the kitchen counter.

Note: The roaster which I used is about 6.5lbs. Based on my approximation of 18 minutes per 1lb of chicken at a 375F oven, it should take about 117 minutes, 3 minutes under the 2 hours mark. However, since I started off the chicken at the higher temperature of 425F for 20 minutes, it reduced the overall cooking time. Mine was done at approximately 1 hour and 15 mins.

For the Rice

1) Place pot with the excess chicken fat on the stove top and turn it on to medium. Fat will begin to render.
You will get about 1/4 cup of liquid chicken fat.

2)Save about 3 tsp for the ginger and chili dipping sauce while leaving behind the remainder liquid chicken fat in the pot.
3) To proceed with the rice, pour in the rice grains, chopped garlic, and ginger into the pot. Saute till you can smell the garlic and ginger permeating the air. Stir occasionally to avoid burning the garlic.
4) Add chicken stock and about 1/2 tsp of salt into the pot. Cover and turn heat up to high. As soon as it begins to boil, reduce heat to low and set timer for 25 mins. Once the timer goes off, remove pot to the cooler side of the stove. Let rest covered for 10 minutes before fluffing the rice with a fork.

For the Chili dipping sauce

1) This is the easy version of making the chili dipping sauce which taste equally as good as the ones that called for all the ingredients to be pounded into a paste using fresh chili peppers.
2) In a bowl, combine all the ingredients. Stir till sugar dissolved. Let rest at room temperature, covered to be served later.

For the Ginger Dipping Sauce

1) Grate the ginger in a bowl. Add the thinly sliced scallions into the bowl. Add remaining ingredients. Season with salt to taste. Let rest at room temperature to develop the flavor. You can make the ginger sauce ahead of time. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature. Serve on the side with chicken rice.


  1. Thanks for the recipe. The roasted chicken looks wonderful! I am trying out this recipe tomorrow.:-)

    1. You are most welcome. Do give it a try. Nothing beats Malaysian's roasted chicken rice when you are far away from home and the craving kicks in :)

  2. I've made this a couple of times now. 425F was a little too hot for my chicken, burnt the skin the first few times so i had to turn it down a little. Other than that the recipe is perfect! Everyone loved it :)