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!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Sago Gula Melaka (Sago Pearl Pudding with Palm Sugar and Coconut Milk)

Like a cold, tropical fusion between sticky rice pudding, creme caramel and a bouncy jelly, this quintessential Malaysian favourite combines the spongy spring of moulded sago pearls with the richness of santan (coconut milk) and the fragrant sweetness of palm sugar (gula melaka) to form a decadent yet refreshing dessert, particularly well-suited for cooling you down after a spicy meal.

For those who are unfamiliar, sago pearls are tiny dry opaque white balls practically identical to tapioca pearls (see picture below). Both turn translucent and soft when soaked and cooked, and more often than not you can use them interchangeably as I do with this recipe. Occasionally instead of white you'll find pearl sago artificially dyed green, red or multiple other colours- personally I prefer my sago in its original form, but they taste the same so feel free to use those if bright desserts are your kind of thing. Do not, however, attempt to substitute gula melaka (pictured below) unless utterly desperate- not molasses, Thai palm sugar or even Indian palm jaggery can quite compare to the glossy darkness and rich woody flavour of Malaysian (or more specifically, Malaccan) palm sugar.

Be sure to make everything at least 4 hours before serving so they have a chance to chill thoroughly.

Sago Gula Melaka (Sago Pearl Pudding with Palm Sugar and Coconut Milk)
Serves 12

  • Making the Sago
Soak 200g sago/tapioca pearls in water for 5 mins, then drain.

Raw sago/tapioca pearls

Bring 5 cups of water to boil in a large pot* with 1 knotted pandan (screwpine) leaf (for added flavour and fragrance). Gradually dribble in the soaked sago, stirring constantly to avoid clumping. Boil on low heat for 10 mins until almost translucent, then switch off the heat, cover and let sit in the residual heat a further 10 mins until completely transparent.

* If desired, throw in 

The half-cooked, almost translucent sago

Top up the pot with cold tap water (to make it less gummy) and pour the mixture carefully through a fine metal sieve. Rinse under cold running water whilst stirring with a spoon-the clear sago grains will be quite hard to spot initially but will emerge once all the liquid drains.

*Washing up the sieve is no fun as all the gloopy excess starch will be stuck to it, but use a good scrubber and lots of soap/hot water and it shouldn't take too long.

The drained sago pearls

Stir in a generous pinch of salt and 1/3 cup sugar, then pour into slightly wet individual moulds/cups/serving bowls (having them damp makes it easier to unmould later on) or a large casserole dish if you prefer to have people scoop their own portion. Refrigerate until set.
  • Dissolving the Gula Melaka (the shortcut way)

Gula melaka in its typical cylindrical form

Place a 200g gula melaka block (you will only use a fraction of this for the sago but they tend to come at roughly this size) with 3/4 cup water into a bowl. Some recipes say to grate/shave/chop the block first- don't bother as it melts just as easily from whole, and makes no difference whatsoever to the end result!

Microwave on maximum heat at 2-3 min intervals, stirring carefully and breaking the block into smaller chunks with a spoon as it starts to soften. Be very careful as boiling syrup can cause serious burns. Repeat as many times as necessary, stirring in between until it totally dissolves to form a dark and glossy syrup. If desired, sieve to remove any grit (though I never bother as it will settle at the bottom anyway). Refrigerate until completely cold- if your syrup looks too runny, don't fret as it will thicken once chilled.
*If you don't own a microwave, you can dissolve it the traditional way in a pot over low heat on the stove. As usual make sure to stir constantly to prevent burning.

  • Making the Santan (skip this step if you're not bothered about adding pandan flavour)
Combine in a small pot and simmer over low heat, stirring constantly:
100ml fresh coconut milk (do not substitute with powder)
A pinch of salt
1 pandan (screwpine) leaf, knotted

Once it starts bubbling, remove from heat and let the santan cool. Discard the pandan leaf and refrigerate until cold.

To serve, unmould the puddings and serve with a generous drizzle of both toppings. Ensure there is plenty of extra so people can top up to their own taste. Dig in!

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Mascarpone Cheesecake Ice Cream

The title of this post says it all, and yup, just like all the other ice cream recipes on this blog no churning or special fancy-pants machine is required :)

Happy chomping!

Mascarpone Cheesecake Ice Cream
Makes about 1 pint

Stir together in a bowl until well-combined:
250g mascarpone cheese
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup (about 85g) icing sugar, sifted
Generous sprinkling of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a separate bowl (ensure it is clean and dry), whisk 2 egg whites until stiff and fold into the cheese mix until well-combined. Roughly crush 6 digestives into chunks (or use ginger nuts, shortbread, graham crackers or any other cheesecakey biscuit you like) and stir in.

Freeze for at least 4 hours or until completely firm. Before serving, leave at room temperature for a few minutes (or move it to the refrigerator for 20 mins) to ease scooping.