I Ate, I Cooked, I Conquered: My chicken rice journey
I've always loved chicken rice. The deceptively simple marriage of steamed or roasted chicken with rice, sliced cucumber, and garlic- and ginger-centric condiments has always held an allure for me. Perhaps it's because my childhood memories are so inextricably linked with this dish. As a treat, my parents would take me for lunch at Sri Intan, a hawker complex in Penang that was my gastronomic nirvana, primarily because it housed my favourite chicken rice stall. So good was the chicken rice there that my as yet undeveloped tastebuds would be irresistibly and unfailingly drawn to it, and I would stoically resist the temptation to try something new despite my parents' attempts to play devil's advocate by cunningly ordering new dishes with which to tease me.
Thus, while every child who grew up in Penang will unhesitatingly cite Penang Hokkien mee, char kway teow, or even assam laksa as one of their favourite dishes, chicken rice has been my one true love, transcending the considerations of evolving tastes, time, and geography. And while there is fortuitously no shortage of good chicken rice in KL—even chains like Nam Heong offer a more than decent product—the same cannot quite be said for Sydney, where sadly I spend the bulk of my time.
But because necessity is the mother of invention, the dearth of chicken rice hawkers in Sydney has compelled me to become a dab hand at making it at home. Rather than poaching an entire chicken however, I've started using breasts exclusively, because that's the part that everyone I cook for prefers to eat, and it avoids wastage. To forestall the indignity of serving my guests stringy meat, I steam the breasts after first brining them for several hours to force moisture into them (one tablespoon of salt for one cup of water). Of late, I've also taken to adding ginger and garlic to the brining solution, and to making incisions in the thickest parts of the breasts and inserting slices of ginger into them. This I have discovered infuses the still-tender meat with nuanced notes of ginger and garlic when the finished product is served, before even ginger and chilli sauces are introduced to protein, thereby giving my guests a tantalising premonition of the flavour palette they are about to consume. As for the sauces, lashings of ginger, garlic, and chilli are blended with a modicum of sugar, salt, lemon juice and chicken stock to make the chilli sauce, while ginger, spring onions, and salt flakes are combined with hot peanut oil to make the ginger oil. For the chicken dressing, sesame oil, light soy and chicken stock work perfectly, and coupled with prodigious quantities of coriander and cucumber, my chicken rice feast is ready for consumption.
Since my chicken rice journey began, I have made no fewer than 100 portions of this dish, but it was only my most recent foray three days ago that finally received the thumbs up from my extremely fastidious palate. You see, my palate—stringent, uncompromising, inured to any excuses I might conjure—has been my lifelong judge, and the memory of the chicken rice from so many moons ago has continued to haunt it all these years, causing it to reject all inferior specimens that came its way. That is, until three days ago. It looks like chicken rice is here to stay in my household, and I could think of nothing better. Have a delicious week ahead, dear readers!