Why do I have this stupid compulsion to come up with ridiculous puns for the titles of these posts? Why? As Mr Fawlty’s medical guests once said “there’s enough material there for an entire conference”. I’m sure that would apply to most people, but it probably applies a little bit more to some than others. Anyway I blame my mother. Primarily ‘cos she’s dead and can’t answer back and also ‘cos she smoked and drank heavily during pregnancy. Eek, a mouse.
So, stupid title or not, you simply can’t hide from this delightful offering any longer. I refer to, of course, Hainanese Chicken Rice (HCR). Now don’t let me down; I’m picking that the majority of my learned readers will already have been introduced to this wonder of the Orient. If you haven’t you should be slapped until you take the plunge – chickenallergy sufferers obviously exempted, but you’ll need to show your badge.
Hard to know perzactly where to start with this one; after all it’s like it says – chicken and rice wiv a little bowl of soooop. Oh no it isn’t. If only life were that simple. If any cheapeat is a testimony to cooking skills it’s this one.
HCR originated in the South China island of Hainan about 450 trillion years ago. Later migration to Malaysia and Singapore created the Nyonya peoples (also known as Peranakans) and HCR is the spine of their quite delicious and sophisticated cuisine. As with many SE Asian dishes there are multitudinous variations upon a basic theme; if you’re interested sit down with a large cuppa and go Googling – you’ll find heaps of recipes. Despite the variations there is one common theme. Complexity. What appears to be a simple dish has a tortuous methodology. My tip? Don’t even think about cooking it yersweetself. Leave it to the experts and help the employment figures.
So what is it? Chicken and rice wiv a little bowl of soooop of course, weren’t you listening? The whole thing revolves around the creation of a masterstock, in which the rice is cooked, the chicken is poached and from which the soup is derived. Now I’m guessing that these masterstocks are closely guarded family secrets, and have been in continual production for 450 trillion years, like they never finish the pot but simply top up as required, meaning 450 trillion year old tastes have been allowed to develop. I’m sure you’ve all considered, nay, worried about the fact that, due to the Earth’s water being a fixed amount from the beginning of the atmosphere, we do not drink beer we just rent it. This means that statistically we have all probably drunk a molecule or two of Julius Caesar’s “beer” along the way. Now that may sound disgusting (….but give her a dusting etc) but a) it’s sort of true and b) it explains the ridiculous depth of flavours in a good HCR. That said, I’ve never really had a bad ‘un and I’ve had hundreds. Along with our old mate meegoreng it’s the main lunch item in Singapore and Malaysia, and one tends to join the locals. Doing so adds to the flavour of the visit and helps conjure up visions and memories. Maybe my bucolic visions of wood fires, straw hats and 500 year old cooking grannies are all wrong. Maybe there’s some ginormous nuclear powered factory in the depths of Tennessee that ships 5 tonne vac packs of the stock to a central warehouse hidden away in the Cameron Highlands where gravity distributes the golden liquid via labyrinthine pipes to the local kepala desai who allow only chosen villagers to purchase it, generally those villagers with a surfeit of amazingly nubile young daughters willing to……..whoa boy, cheap eats, remember.
Back to the HCR. So what are the many variations? OK, the chicken can be poached or poached then roasted; the chicken can be served hot (Singaporean) or cold (Malaysian/Thai); the rice can be yellow or white etc etc. In Thai places the dish is called kha mun gai. And it can easily be given an informal Heart Tick – just peel off the skin and give it to the mongoose. My personal fave is cold, poached, skin on, yellow rice and that seems to be the most common format in these parts. I also break with tradition by having hot sambal as a side, but make sure you ask for this after the dish is in front of you or they tend to substitute that for the other dipping sauces (see pic).
In Auckland every man and his mongoose – did you know that the plural is mongeeses? – seems to sell HCR. As I said, I’ve tried dozens of them and to be fair they have all been on the high side of good, even standing up to comparison with the HCR capital, Singapore. I had a dry one once from that Chinese place upstairs at Mercury, but even that was OK. The main reason I prefer cold is that the chicken is generally served over a bed of beansprouts in a delightful dressing. When it’s cold you get this luvverly crunch which becomes a less than luvverly squelch when hot. And the rice, don’t forget that it’s been cooked in the mysterious masterstock so treat it with respect please.
So for once I’m not going to recommend a specific eatery. Good ones are available all over, even in the CBD! By the way, that’s a bottle of Tsingtao beer in the background. 330ml of 5% delectability for $4.50, but if I told you where it was from I’d have to kiss you. Make love not war.
As a concept Hainanese Chicken Rice easily rates full marks.