Monday 21 June 2010

Marisa's PERFECT Hainanese Chicken Rice

SAM TAN'S KITCHEN HAS MOVED! Please visit the new website/online store at You can also follow Sam on InstagramFacebook and Twitter. Thank you!

Those that know me well will know that whilst I love a lot of different foods, I Love Hainanese Chicken Rice.

That's right, Love, with a capital L, in Bold, and Italicised. Actually, it's more like LOVE, or LOOOOOVE if lengthening a word with extra vowels and typing it in Caps Lock increases the meaning of it.

It is the one and only dish that I could happily eat every meal, every day forever and still request as my last before I die, the sole chart-topper in the (long) list of Yummy Grub Sam Has Loved Since She Was Yay High And Makes Kinky Orgasmic Noises Eating. So you can only imagine how I felt about my good friend, insanely-talented-cook and all-round foodie queen Marisa when I discovered how stupendously, phenomenally, deliciously perfect her version of it was.

Marisa, I LOOOOOVE you! *big hug*

Wonderful Makcik Marisa (makcik means Auntie in Malay, and it's our term of endearment for her because she cooks like the kind of old-school aunt who is able to churn out the most stonking traditional dishes, no matter how complex, all from memory) has generously agreed to let me share her amazing kai fan (chicken rice) recipe here on my blog. As is typical of a makcik she doesn't weigh or measure anything, so all the amounts provided below are my interpretations of what she means by "a bit of", "some" and "quite a lot" after some trial and error.

If you are not from Malaysian/Singapore/Hainan and unfamiliar with the beautiful concept of Hainanese Chicken Rice, think of it as a little tripartite of gourmet harmony: Part 1- poached/steamed chicken infused with the delicate flavours of ginger and spring onion then drizzled with light soy sauce and sesame oil, Part 2 a mouthwatering aromatic rice cooked in the tasty stock created from steaming the chicken, and Part 3 the accompanying condiments- a fresh ginger dip, a light garlic chilli sauce and a thick dark soy sauce (or if you're from Hainan, oyster sauce mixed with minced garlic)- that round off the entire exquisite package for your palate perfectly. Oh and of course there's a Part 4 to the equation if you choose to have it- a bowl of hot, steaming clear chicken broth. Result: culinary sublimity.

The popular Cantonese version from my mother's hometown of Ipoh typically serves chicken rice with pork meatball soup and blanched beansprouts (hence it being called nga choy kai fan or Ipoh beansprout chicken rice), whilst Singaporeans insist that a good variation must have "jelly"- the under-skin fat that solidifies into a clear gel when the chicken is served stone cold- in order to be authentic. Others refer to it as "Hailam" chicken rice and not "Hainanese"- whatever the case, if ever you're ordering it in a restaurant just ask for pak cham kai fan (white chopped chicken rice) and you're in safe territory :) Click here for a more detailed rundown of the regional variations of this divine creation than I could ever hope to write.

Maybe it's just me choosing to ignore that it's the chicken fat making everything taste good, but aside from its deliciousness I do believe Hainanese chicken rice is far healthier than many of its fried, oily, sugary, santan-laden Malaysian hawker counterparts.

You know, just in case you, like, needed an extra reason to eat this or something.

Marisa's PERFECT Hainanese Chicken Rice
Serves 4-6

Best bargain EVER- got this entire 375g bag of reduced-price ginger ends from

Asda for £0.04!

First of all, blend 150g fresh ginger to a paste (you should get about 4 heaped tbsp). Put aside about 3 tbsp to be used later for the ginger sauce/rice.

Rub lots of salt and the remaining 1 tbsp ginger paste all over 1 large (approx. 2kg) whole chicken, preferably cornfed (for firmness and texture). If you only have chicken legs or portions lying around you can use those instead, but be sure to adjust cooking time and be prepared for a less accurate result.

The ginger-and-salt rubbed chicken

Combine 1.5 litres water with 8 spring onions, finely chopped (white parts only) in the base of a large steamer. Bring to a boil and steam the chicken for about 45 mins (much less if you're using portions) over medium heat. The chicken is cooked when its juices run clear.

Leave the chicken to cool thoroughly before chopping into pieces. This is essential so that the skin has a chance to firm up and prevent the meat shredding apart when you cut it. Stir together some light soy sauce and sesame oil and drizzle generously over the meat. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves or thinly sliced spring onions.

*Garnishing tip- to make the spring onions curl, slice them into very thin strips and soak briefly in cold water.


Wash and drain 4 cups uncooked long grain white rice (1/2 cup rice per person is usually already a generous portion- this will make enough for seconds).

Blend together to a paste and stir in until well dispersed amongst the rice grains:
1 tbsp of ginger paste
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic
Salt to taste
1 tsp sugar *optional

1 pandan (screwpine) leaf, knotted. Top up with chicken stock from the steamer until the liquid level is about 1" above the rice. Cook as per usual.

Ginger sauce

Saute in a small saucepan for a few minutes:
2 tbsp ginger paste
2 tbsp oil
Salt to taste

Stir in some finely chopped spring onions if desired. Allow to cool before using.
Chilli garlic sauce

Blitz together:
50g fresh large red chillies (about 4 medium)- make sure to deseed them if they are super-hot like the large chillies you get in the UK!
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar

Serve about 1 teaspoon of each sauce per portion of chicken rice, along with a teaspoon of thick dark soy sauce/cooking caramel- Marisa and I both recommend the Cheong Chan brand (red label, made in Malaysia).
Season the chicken stock from the steamer well with white pepper and salt. If desired, add some fishballs/pork balls and blanch for a few mins until cooked.

Serve steaming hot with a sprinkling of
dried shallots or finely chopped spring onions (the green part).

Say a few words of thanks and eternal gratitude to Marisa, dig in to your homemade kai fan and savour the goodness!


  1. Wow this looks so authentic and delicious. Best of all it looks totally doable. I'll def give it a try. I think the hub will love it too!

  2. You definitely should Val, I've made it about 5 times since Marisa taught me to do it, just can't get enough!:)

  3. wow this looks absolutely fantastic...

  4. You can also add butter to the rice, it is an old trick from the hawkers!

  5. My daughter wrote down this recipe the day I came looking for nutella recipes; we made it for her birthday this week, and we loooooove it too!! The rice is absolutely the best I have EVER tasted. Thank you!!

  6. You're welcome Sarah, all thanks to Marisa :) Glad you enjoyed it!


  7. tried it tonight - first time ever, it was nyummy! Thanks to you and Marisa, fr me and my family! =D

  8. My name is Marisa too, I felt I'm sharing all this praises too :)

  9. Hi,would love to try your version of hainanese chicken rice.. but will it make a difference if we fry the rice with butter and garlic first?
    I remembered my late father-in-law who was a hainanese, used to fry the rice first before cooking..

    1. There are lots of different techniques, and I've heard of that too. It's not necessary for this version in my opinion, and some have argued that frying it first makes the rice break/mushy. But it's up to you!:)

  10. So good to hear such enthusiasm about this dish - I first had it at Newton Circus in Singapore in 1978 and its been my absolute favourite ever since , and I've introduced all my friends to it. I am quite passionate about it - the perfect meal I agree!

    1. Definitely Ollie, my death row meal by far!:)