Hainanese Chicken Rice Set

A Singaporean staple of moist chicken, aromatic rice, and tender bok choy, finished with chile garlic sauce and kecap manis.

Overhead view of Hainanese Chicken Rice Set

Serious Eats / Fred Hardy

Why It Works

  • Scrubbing the exterior of the chicken with salt produces a smooth skin with a superior final texture.
  • Poaching the chicken until each piece registers the ideal temperature on an instant-read thermometer keeps the meat moist.
  • Using the poaching liquid—including any rendered chicken fat—to cook the rice and bok choy infuses the whole meal with rich chicken flavor.
  • Letting the broth stand for several minutes allows the chicken fat to rise to the top, making it easier to collect and add to the rice.

Almost no matter where you are on the globe, you'll find some sort of chicken and rice dish. Singaporeans perform their version with delicious justice, standing out as one of the simplest and purest versions I've ever seen. This Singaporean staple is hands down one of my favorites, which says a lot given the multitude of over-the-top, tasty dishes that surround me. Chicken rice is simple and soothing—exactly what you should order when you want to take a break from the usual fiery dishes. I eat it just about every week.

Singapore's Maxwell Food Centre, an open-air market bustling with diners. Small food stalls line the walls.
Maxwell Hainanese Chicken Rice is only a few stalls down from Heng Heng Hainanese Chicken Rice (both have blue signs).

Serious Eats /Yvonne Ruperti

And not just because it's good value for your money, although it doesn't hurt. A plate of it can cost as little as $2 US dollars! For that, you get a plate of perfectly tender and expertly sliced chicken (roasted or steamed) mildly flavored with sesame oil, a bowl of rich broth, and a mound of fragrant rice cooked in stock and chicken oil, all garnished with cucumber slices and fresh cilantro. I like to think of it as a deconstructed chicken soup. Shell out a little more change to get a "set," which comes with steamed greens topped with a sprinkle of crispy fried shallots. For those who crave more flavor or heat, you can drizzle on dark, thick soy sauce (kecap manis) and spoon on some fresh and tangy chile sauce. Though I like the flavor of the skin on the roasted option, I like the moist meat texture of the steamed chicken.

The storefront of Heng Heng Hainanese Chicken Rice. Cooked whole chickens hang behind the plexiglass and platters of add-ons are on display beneath.

Serious Eats /Yvonne Ruperti

Chicken rice, specifically known as Hainanese chicken rice, is from Hainan, along the southern coast of China. Immigrants brought the dish to Singapore and now you can find it everywhere—and I mean everywhere. My local hawker center, Maxwell Food Centre, has no less than five stalls dedicated to the dish (Maxwell, Heng Heng, Ah Tai, Tong Fong Fatt...). Just look for the rows of plump poached and roasted chickens hanging on display in the shop windows.

But all of the shops look the same, so how do you choose? Singaporeans certainly have their favorites. There's always a ridiculously long queue at the well-known Tien Tien Chicken Rice (Tien Tien's chicken rice beat Gordon Ramsay's at Hawker Heroes Challenge in 2013). I'm pretty loyal to Maxwell Hainanese Chicken Rice: The folks are super friendly, the chicken is juicy, and if I'm super hungry I can ask them to pop a hard-boiled tea egg onto my plate.

A Hainanese chicken and rice plate with broth, sauces, and a side of simmered bok choy topped with browned shallots.
The chicken rice set with egg at Maxwell Hainanese Chicken Rice, Maxwell Road Hawker Centre.

Serious Eats /Yvonne Ruperti

Since Hainanese chicken rice is cheap, easy to procure, and delicious, I will admit I haven't had much of a need to cook it at home. Now it's time. While there are many parts to this recipe (I decided to go full out and cook the "set,") all in all it's simple to make. The trickiest part is getting the chicken just right. If you overcook the chicken it will be tough and dry. I had a hard time achieving this the first time—I'm so used to simmering the chicken until it's falling off the bone, but that's not what you want here. Gently poach the bird just until done. In Singapore it's even common to get a plate of chicken with a few bloody bits near the bone, though I wouldn't suggest you do that at home.

The broth (fortified with rendered chicken fat) that you've created is chicken rice gold. It ties the whole meal together. You'll ladle some up in bowls to serve as the soup, braise the greens in it, and use it as your cooking liquid for the rice. The schmaltz from the flavorful stock makes the rice some of the best you'll ever have.

This story was originally published as part of the column "Singapore Stories."

August 2013

This recipe was cross-tested and updated in 2022. For the chicken, we call for scrubbing the skin of a whole chicken with salt which delivers a smooth skin and better final texture. Once cooked, the chicken is shocked in ice water, patted dry, and rubbed all over with sesame oil. For the rice, we added in aromatics, cooking garlic and ginger in the melted chicken fat until lightly golden before adding the rice. Lastly, for the bok choy, we scaled down the quantity and reduced the cooking time, cooking the bok choy until just tender.

Recipe Facts

Prep: 35 mins
Cook: 105 mins
Active: 45 mins
Cooling Time:: 15 mins
Total: 2 hrs 35 mins
Serves: 4 servings

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Ingredients

For the Chicken:

  • 1 small whole chicken (3 to 3 1/2 pounds; 1.3 to 1.6kg), giblets removed

  • 2 tablespoons (18g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt (for table salt, use half as much by volume or the same weight), plus more to taste

  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) rice wine, such as Shaoxing

  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) soy sauce

  • One 3-inch knob ginger, peeled and sliced (3 tablespoons; 40g)

  • 3 medium scallions (2.5 ounces; 71g), trimmed and halved

  • 2 pandan leaves, tied into knots, optional (see notes)

  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) toasted sesame oil

For the Rice:

  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (20g; from 3 cloves)

  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh peeled ginger (15g; from a 1 1/2–inch piece)

  • 2 cups long grain white rice (12 1/2 ounces; 355g), rinsed well

For the Bok Choy:

  • 3 tablespoons (45ml) vegetable oil

  • 2 medium shallots (2 1/4 ounces; 64g total), peeled and sliced into 1/16-inch-thick rings (about 1/2 cup)

  • 8 ounces (227g) baby bok choy (6 small heads), washed, trimmed, and halved lengthwise

For Serving:

  • 1 small cucumber (9 ounces; 255g), sliced (2 cups)

  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro (4 ounces; 113g), stems and leaves chopped (2 cups)

  • Chile garlic sauce

  • Kecap manis (sweet soy sauce; see notes)

Directions

  1. For the Chicken: Pat chicken dry and trim excess fat and skin from neck and tail areas; set fat and skin aside for rice. Sprinkle chicken with salt and vigorously rub and massage salt all over chicken to “exfoliate” skin. (Skin should look smooth and be free of any lumps, bumps, or imperfections. Take time to exfoliate it well; the better scrubbed the skin is, the better the final texture will be.) Sprinkle with white pepper.

    Overhead view of cleaned Chicken

    Serious Eats / Fred Hardy

  2. Place chicken, breast-side up, in a large stockpot and add rice wine, soy sauce, ginger, scallions, and pandan leaves (if using). Cover chicken with water by about 1 inch, ensuring that chicken is fully submerged.

    Overhead view of chicken submerged in stock pot

    Serious Eats / Fred Hardy

  3. Heat over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Cover and reduce heat to low to maintain a bare simmer and poach chicken until breast registers 155°F (68°C) and legs register 165°F (74°C) with an instant-read thermometer (avoiding bone), 25 to 30 minutes (the breast and leg pieces may reach their respective temperatures at different times; make sure to remove each as it is ready). Remove chicken from pot and immediately transfer to a large bowl of ice water. Soak chicken in ice bath until cool, about 10 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate, gently pat dry, and rub sesame oil all over chicken. Set aside until serving.

    Chicken in an ice bath

    Serious Eats / Fred Hardy

  4. Strain broth, discarding solids. Return broth to pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil until reduced to approximately 9 cups (do not skim fat). Season to taste and let cool 15 minutes to allow fat to rise to surface.

    Overhead view of broth in stock pot

    Serious Eats / Fred Hardy

  5. For the Rice: In a small saucepan, cook reserved chicken fat and skin trimmings over medium heat, stirring often, until fat begins to render and surface of saucepan is coated in melted fat. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in rice until coated in fat, then remove from heat. Transfer rice mixture to a rice cooker and cover with 3 cups broth (using as much fat as possible from broth). Cook rice according to manufacturer’s directions.

    Overhead view of a wooden spoon in the rice

    Serious Eats / Fred Hardy

  6. For the Bok Choy: In a small saucepan, heat oil and shallots over medium heat, stirring, until deep golden brown, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer shallots to a small bowl lined with a paper towel.

    Golden brown shallots transferred to a bowl

    Serious Eats / Fred Hardy

  7. In a large skillet with a lid, bring 3/4 cup broth to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add bok choy and cover. Cook until just tender but still bright green, 2 to 3  minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with fried shallots.

    Bok choy cooked and sprinkled with fried shallots on a plate

    Serious Eats / Fred Hardy

  8. To Serve: Reheat remaining broth and ladle into bowls. Carve chicken off bones and slice thinly (you can leave the bone in the drumstick, if desired). Arrange chicken on a plate, spooning a small amount of broth over top. Serve with rice, bok choy, sliced cucumber, cilantro, chile sauce, and kecap manis.

    Broth being ladled over chicken

    Serious Eats / Fred Hardy

Special Equipment

Rice cooker, instant-read thermometer

Notes

Pandan leaf is used in Southeast Asian cooking. It may be found in your local Asian market. Pandan adds subtle flavor but is not integral. Do not substitute pandan flavoring.

Kecap manis is a thick, sweet soy sauce. Dark soy sauce, which is not as sweet, can be substituted.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
706 Calories
37g Fat
37g Carbs
52g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 706
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 37g 48%
Saturated Fat 8g 39%
Cholesterol 152mg 51%
Sodium 2525mg 110%
Total Carbohydrate 37g 13%
Dietary Fiber 3g 12%
Total Sugars 6g
Protein 52g
Vitamin C 44mg 222%
Calcium 141mg 11%
Iron 4mg 25%
Potassium 1060mg 23%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)