Happy new year of the rooster everyone, may it bring health, wealth and prosperity. To ensure good fortune consume some chicken rice at your new year festivities. But even if you don’t believe in all that, make sure you eat it anyway because it really is the ultimate chicken dish.
I like to call my version Luxury Chicken Rice or XO Chicken Rice because I’ve pimped it with dried Cantonese seafood. In much the same way ordinary chilli oil becomes XO sauce, all that sweet seafood umami boosts the flavour of the rice to the next level. I’ve been tinkering with this dish for many years, mainly because I was never really satisfied with the quality of chicken in the UK. A truism: In Asia, chickens taste really of chicken, if you know then you know. The skins are thick almost snappy, the flesh is firm and dark and flavourful, even the breast. Whereas in the UK most chickens are bred for cheapness and massive pappy breast meat that taste of nothing. So, in the journey to ultimate chicken rice the first step is good flavourful chicken. I like using French ‘label rouge’ cornfed chicken that are available, unsurprisingly, in good Chinese supermarkets. The French know how to breed chicken for maximum flavour but best of all they know to leave the massive plug of yellow chicken fat in the cavity. This is important because that chicken fat carries the essence of chicken. Without it your rice cooked in the stock of one gently poached chicken will taste insipid. If you can’t get hold of good chicken, an excellent substitute is guinea fowl.
I suppose I should mention Cantonese dried seafood because it’s much a part of this recipe as the chicken. Without it you might as well read all those other chicken rice recipes and end up slightly disappointed. In the West there’s saltcod but the breadth of dried seafood in Asia is vast. In Southern China and Hong Kong it is particularly treasured. The finest Cantonese banquets would be incomplete without dried abalone, sea cucumber or sharks fin. At an everyday level, dried prawns and scallops are used to lend their natural sweetness to braised dishes. The drying process concentrates and boosts the amino acids and glutamates so they are packed with natural flavour enhancers. In this recipe I use a mixture of large prawns, squid and scallop (aka conpoy). Compared to dried oysters and cockles these are all fairly mild and do not detract from the chicken flavour. Source the best you can find and make friends with Hong Kong connections.
How do you feel about borderline pink chicken? This recipe will take you to that line. The chicken will be moist, the meat just cooked through, the thigh bones still rosy pink. In Hong Kong, they poach their chickens so that the leg bones are still bloody inside. When they chop the legs you can see the bloody bone-marrow spraying over the pearly flesh. If this disturbs you then simply take your chicken off the bone before chopping it. I always do this nowadays anyway, I don’t really see the point with leaving poached chicken on the bone. Roast duck yes, definitely chop it up on the bone as the flavourings are on the inside. So when you chew a piece you get the full flavour. This does not apply to poached chicken.
In essence it’s a simple dish, boil chicken >> cook rice in chicken stock >> eat chicken with rice, but as with all simple dishes it’s the little details that unlocks maximum flavour.
XO Chicken Rice
Serves 2-3 on its own
For the Chicken
Chicken – medium sized about 1.5kg
Ginger – large thumb sized lightly bashed
Spring onion – 3 stalks
- Remove the plug of fat from the cavity of the chicken and set aside for cooking the rice. If you need more fat trim off any excess skin.
- In a pan that is just larger than the chicken, boil enough water to barely submerge it. Add the ginger, spring onion and salt. Taste the water for saltiness as this will eventually be used to cook the rice. If you want to be geeky about it you want a 3% salt solution.
- Lower the chicken gently into the boiling water, dipping it several times breast side down so the skin tightens and won’t split during cooking. Lay the chicken breast side up in the pan and bring the water back up to a simmer. Simmer gently for 15 mins covered, turn the heat off and let it finish cooking in the residual heat of the pot for another 40 mins. Adjust the time if you have a bigger chicken. You are looking for an internal (inside thigh) temperature of no more than 70C.
- Plunge the bird into plenty of ice water and let it chill for 10 mins. This will stop the cooking and keep the chicken succulent.
- Carefully hang the bird upside down for at least an hour, preferably more, to bring the bird back up to room temperature and for the flavour to fully develop.
For the rice
40g Chicken fat
150g Shallot, finely sliced
1 Garlic clove, large, finely minced
450g Jasmine rice, washed and drained
80g Dried scallops, prawns and squid soaked in cold water till soft, at least 6hours
2 Pandan leaves, split and tied into a knot
Kombu, 5cm square
- Render the chicken fat and slowly fry the shallots for 15 mins till they are brown and sticky, careful not to burn.
- Add the garlic and cook briefly to take the rawness out of the garlic before adding the chicken stock and the water used to soak the dried seafood. You now have your flavoured chicken stock with which to cook your rice.
- Add the flavoured stock to the rice. Shred or chop the seafood into small pieces and add that into the rice, add the pandan and kombu.
- Cook the rice in your normal way via absorption (I transfer the whole lot to a rice cooker).
How much stock do I need to cook my rice? Roughly 1.25 parts stock to 1 part rice by volume. This is a question I cannot answer accurately because it all depends on what type of rice you use, how old it is and your cooking vessel. If you regularly cook white rice by the absorption method allow a little extra stock to compensate for the additional seafood in the pot.
Once the rice is cooked serve the chicken neatly chopped up in the Chinese way* and devour with this, the non-optional ginger-scallion oil:
70g Ginger, finely grated
35g Spring Onion (Scallions), equal amount of white and green parts finely chopped
15g Coriander, mostly stalks finely minced
1 tsp Salt
75ml Groundnut or Vegetable Oil
- Combine the ginger, spring onion, coriander and salt in a heat proof bowl.
- Heat the oil in a small pan till it is smoking. Make little wells with a chopstick in your ginger mixture and pour the smoking oil all over it. It will sizzle, lots, the little wells will ensure the hot oil reaches all the nooks.
- The mixture should be a runny oily paste consistency. If it isn’t sizzle some more oil into it. Finish with a merest dash of soy sauce to round the flavour off.
* if you’re a Thai cook just chop it up roughly and sling it on top on the rice. Khao Man Gai tastes just as good!