Demystifying the perfect chicken rice recipe
The "work smart not hard" method
Following clamorous requests from readers and friends last weekend for the full chicken rice recipe, I am enthralled that 1) there are plenty of fellow chicken rice lovers out there (but, really, who doesn't like chicken rice?) and 2) that for this milestone week for Buro 24/7 Malaysia (happy first birthday, team Buro!), what could be more appropriate than sharing a recipe for a much beloved dish so that it too can become part of your gastronomic oeuvre, to be cooked for loved ones as a nourishing delicious family meal, with a modicum of fuss, but with an absolute optimum of enjoyment?
So here we go. If you're planning to "go traditional"—use the whole chicken—then be prepared to invest a little more time in the kitchen as you will need to poach the chicken and then break down the pieces before serving. If however you are serving health- and weight-conscious diners, then my "work smart not hard" method will suit you perfectly. If you're using the whole chicken, you may wish to trim the fat, render said fat over a very low heat, and then retain the liquid fat for use with the rice, the flavour of which it infinitely elevates. As for the whole chicken (use the best you can find, ie free-range and organic), stuff a handful of whole garlic cloves and generous chunks of ginger into the cavity and put breast side down into a large pot filled with water. Do not allow the water to bubble but stay at a gentle simmer for twenty minutes, after which you should turn off the heat, cover the pot, and leave it alone for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken but don't throw out the poaching stock, and brush the chicken skin with sesame oil. You can cover it but purists insist on wrapping it with Glad wrap to 'freeze' the chicken at this stage of cooking, which is very lightly done, pink at the bones and with a gelatinous skin that for many chicken rice lovers is absolutely de rigueur.
If you're using breasts, first brine them for no less than an hour (I usually leave them for three hours till I am ready to use them for dinner) in a mixture of salt and water (one tablespoon of salt for every cup of water). Make sure the breasts are covered. If you like, make incisions in the breasts and insert slices of ginger and garlic into them. I also introduce pieces of garlic and ginger to the brining solution, so that apart from tenderising the chicken, the integral notes of ginger and garlic are delicately insinuated into the meat. When you are ready, simply steam the breasts till cooked.
If you've rendered the fat, heat it over medium heat in a large pan, then add another handful of chopped garlic and ginger and fry till fragrant. If you don't have fat, cooking oil will do. Add your rice and stir well to thoroughly coat, then transfer the rice to a rice cooker. Add a litre of the reserved poaching liquid if you used the whole chicken (if not, you can add store-bought chicken stock). If you have access to pandan leaves, tie a handful into a knot and add it to the rice, throw in a pinch of salt and a glug of light soy sauce, and then cook the rice.
While the rice is cooking, make your sauces. For the chilli sauce, I use a handful each of chilli padi and red chillies, a generous knob of ginger, a handful of garlic cloves, a pinch of sugar, salt, and some lemon juice. Remember, it's all about taste. If you like your sauces punchy, then by all means use more garlic. Add some chicken stock and blend.
For the ginger oil, pound a generous knob of ginger with a handful of spring onions into a paste, then heat some cooking oil till smoking, and pour onto the mixture. For the dressing, simply combine one part sesame oil to two parts soy sauce with a glug of chicken stock and pour that over the chicken once you have arranged it on a platter. If you have any remaining chicken stock, you can season it and top with coriander and served as a soup. But it's absolutely imperative that you garnish the chicken with plenty of coriander and cucumber slices. Like the sauces, the importance of these two dance companions simply cannot be overstated. Ready? Now tuck in and enjoy your family's enjoyment of the meal.