The World 50 most delicious foods: The Hainanese chicken rice

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22250d8a64286340_Thumb_xxxlargeDo you know the TV show My Kitchen Rules? If not here is some information for you: The MKR is an Australian competitive cooking game show broadcast on the Seven Network since 2010. In the show they are teams of two contestants with pre-existing relationships—from New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, and Western Australia—competing against each other to “transform an ordinary home into an instant restaurant complete with theme and table decorations for one pressure-cooker night.”  Each episode focused on one team’s day of cooking, setting up their instant restaurant and serving a three-course dinner—(entrée, main, and dessert)—for the judges and their opposing teams. Teams could only start cooking three hours before the other teams and judges arrived at their house. After the team served all three meals to the judges and their opposition, each opposing team had to rate the total meal out of ten, then each main judge had to rate each of the three courses separately out of ten. The lowest scoring team would be then at risk of elimination. After the instant restaurant topic, the remaining teams compete in a four-round format such as: People’s choice challenge- Food truck- Rapid cook off- Show down- Sudden death. Then in the finals round consists of three rounds: two sets of semifinals, and a grand final. All follow a sudden death cook-off format where in teams will produce a three-course meal for the main judges and for the four guest judges. Teams will be scored their total meal out of ten by the judges and the lower scoring team will be eliminated.

The Hainanese chicken

In 2013 my fav cooking personalities were the childhood best friends Sophia Pou, 30, and Ashlee Pham 29, of Cabramatta, who made such a turbulence when they appeared in the first show saying that: we joined the cast as “gate crashers”, and we promise to take the cooking competition by storm”. And they did! But although their big egos and bitchiness had proven controversial, much of the entertainment of the fourth season had come from Sophia’s and Ashlee’s withering put downs. Pou, who was a communications student, had Cambodian heritage and Pham, a blogger and photographer, was of Vietnamese descent, but they said their cooking were “distinctly Australian”.

What I really enjoyed among the hot-tempered duo’s presented dishes were the number of Vietnamese-inspired meals: for instance the Hainanese chicken rice. And since my husband’s favorite soup is the Pho Bo I was really curious how would they prepare it. It was very useful that meanwhile they were cooking the Hainanese chicken with rice, Ashlee gave some explanation saying that that the Hainanese chicken is originated from the Hainan province in southern China. It is considered one of the national dishes of Singapore but very popular in Malaysian, Hainanese and Singaporean cuisines, although it is also the main dish in Thailand and Vietnam. It is based on a well-known Hainanese dish called Wenchang chicken, due to its adoption by the Hainanese overseas Chinese population in the Nanyang area (present-day Southeast Asia).

The chicken was prepared in traditional Hainanese methods which involved steeping the entire chicken at sub-boiling temperatures in a pork and chicken bone stock, reusing the broth over and over and only topping it up with water when needed, in accordance with the Chinese preferences for creating master stocks. This stock was not used for rice preparation, which instead involves chicken stock created specifically for that purpose, producing an oily, flavourful rice sometimes known as “oily rice” with Southeast Asian pandan leaves added sometimes. Some cooks may add coconut milk to the rice, reminiscent of the Malay dish nasi lemak-said Sophia but we didn’t.

The Hainanese prefers using older, plumper birds to maximize the amount of oil extracted, thus creating a more flavorful dish. Over time, however, the dish began adopting elements of Cantonese cooking styles, such as using younger birds to produce more tender meats. In another variation, the bird is dipped in ice after cooking to produce a jelly-like skin finishing, commonly referred to as Báijī for “white chicken”, in contrast to the more traditional Lǔjī (stock chicken) or Shāojī  (roasted chicken). In Singapore, the meat is cooked by steeping in water flavored with garlic and ginger instead, with the resulting stock used in the preparation of the rice and also in the accompanying soup.

They are authentically served with a hot chilli sauce dip (made up of freshly minced red chilli and garlic). The dip is usually topped with dark soy sauce and a heap of freshly pounded ginger. Fresh cucumber in chicken broth and light soy sauce are served with the chicken. They are now served mostly boneless in Singapore or Malaysia.

Catherine Ling of CNN described Hainanese chicken rice as one of the “40 Singapore foods we can’t live without” and it is also listed at number 45 on World’s 50 most delicious foods (complied by CNN Go in 2011)

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