Hainanese chicken rice seems to have had a legendary status in Singapore. Every single person that I’ve met who is planning a trip to Singapore, all talk about that heavenly fragrant rice with smooth, succulent chicken. Coming from Singapore, I must admit that I am extremely fond of the dish myself. Back home, a place of rice and chicken can cost you as little as $3, and it’s quick, simple, and delicious. While I wouldn’t say that it’s a quintessential Singaporean dish, it is definitely something that I miss and that reminds me of home.

So after a bout of missing Singapore – yes, it does happen – I decided to attempt making chicken rice myself! Surely something that seems that simple cannot be that hard to make. (By the way, this dish does not originate from Hainan, China. Rather, it is named for the Hainanese chefs who migrated to Singapore, and came up with this dish.)

A quick google search gave me this website, and since it was in line with everything that I knew about chicken rice, I decided to give it a shot! (Together with some changes of course, I like to use what I’ve already got in my cupboards)

The Chicken

You’ll need:

1 Whole Chicken
Coarse Salt for washing the chicken
2 large thumbs of ginger
2-3 spring onion stalks
2tbsp honey
1/2 tbsp golden syrup
Some ground white pepper
1/2 tsp Chinese Five Spice
2 tbsp light soy sauce

First, get yourself a nice plump, fresh chicken. cut off all the excess skin and fat.

trimming the excess fat off the chicken

DO NOT DISCARD this though, this will come in handy later. Put the fat aside.

Next, wash the chicken thoroughly – inside and out! – with coarse salt.

Cleaning the chicken with coarse salt

Rub energetically and push it into every nook and crevice. If you – like me – have watched Yan Can Cook growing up, then you know to MASSAGE THAT CHICKEN!

After you are satisfied that the chicken has been thoroughly rubbed down and every inch has been covered, then rinse it through with cold water and pat dry with a paper towel.

patting the chicken dry with a paper towel

Next, peel your ginger. I find that the easiest way to peel it is to use a teaspoon and scrap away all that skin. Alternatively, you can also use a vegetable peeler if you prefer.

peeling ginger with a teaspoon

You’ll need 5 -6 pieces of 1-2 mm thick slices of ginger. Stuff the ginger and spring onion into the chicken. These pieces, together with the spring onion, is just there to perfume the chicken from the inside out.

‘Inner Beauty’, of course, is not enough in the world of food. I always like to order the roast version of Hainanese Chicken Rice, because of a killer glaze on the skin. Grate a large thumb of ginger and squeeze out that juice, and that will give you the 1 tbsp of ginger juice that’s needed for the marinate/glaze.

Add the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. The original recipe actually asks for the use of molasses and maltose, but those aren’t the kind of things that I have handy in my cupboards, and I don’t believe in going out of my way to get ingredients that I can only think of using in one dish at the moment. But, if you do have those ingredients handy, please feel free to go all out!

Rub the mixture all over the chicken.

rubbing the marinade all over the chicken

Make sure that you get it ALL over the chicken – there is nothing worse than digging into a roast chicken and finding a bare patch with no glaze!

When you’re done, truss the chicken, making sure that the ginger pieces and spring onion is kept securely in the cavity.

Trussing the chicken

Leave the chicken, uncovered, in the fridge to air dry for 8 hrs, or overnight. If doing it during the day – I did mine over the course of a Saturday – then you might want to turn the chicken half way through as the glaze sometimes succumbs to gravity and pools slightly in the bottom of the plate.

Preheat the oven to 220C. After the marination/drying out process is complete, place the chicken (on a rack) into the hot oven and turn the heat down to 200C for about 15 minutes. Then turn the oven down further to 180C and cook for about 30-40 min (depending on the size of your chicken), until the chicken is nice and golden brown. Don’t be put off by the smell of burning, the glaze might drip and the glaze that pools in the bottom of the roasting tray has a tendency to burn. When the chicken is a touch from being down, turn the oven off and leave the chicken in the hot oven to finish cooking in the residual heat while you prepare the rice.

The Sauces

If you ask any Singaporean what makes a good chicken rice, they will tell you that it’s in the chilli. The mandatory chilli and ginger sauce is a fundamental part to any plate of chicken rice – if a stall says that they have no chilli, please move on to the next one, preferably finding one with a long queue. There are few ingredients that you need – it’s more about investing that TLC to make sure that you have something delicious to go with your delicious chicken.

You’ll need:

Chilli Sauce:
4 whole large Red Chillies, finely chopped
2 cloves of Garlic
1 small thumb of ginger, finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 Tsp of Caster sugar
1 Tbsp of Chicken stock
1 tbsp rendered chicken fat
A pinch of Salt (to taste)

Ginger Sauce:
1 large thumb of Ginger
2 cloves of Garlic
1 Tbsp of Spring onion, finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 Tbsp of Chicken stock
1 tbsp rendered chicken fat
A pinch of Salt (to taste)

First of all, render the chicken fat by putting the chicken pieces in a wok/frypan and adding a few tablespoons of water. Preferably, you should have a tablespoon of fat each for the chilli sauce and the ginger sauce, with some left over for the rice. If you don’t manage to get that much oil – I’ve had that happen to me before – feel free to substitute with vegetable oil or animal fat of your choice. Needless to say, I’ve substituted with bacon fat before.

For the chilli, add the ingredients into either a mortar and pestle or a blender.

pounding the chilli into a fine paste using a mortar and pestle

Pound/blend into a paste, or as fine as you want it.

The finished chilli sauce

For the ginger sauce, finely chop up the ginger, garlic and spring onions.

Ginger, garlic and spring onions, all chopped up

Do the same to with the ingredients for the ginger sauce like you did with the chilli. Put both sauces aside to serve with the chicken and rice.

The Rice

One of the hallmarks of a good chicken rice is, well, the rice. Fragrant grains of rice are every bit as important as the chicken and the sauce. Why have a flavourful tasting chicken with killer condiments when your rice is blah?!

You’ll need:

2 cups of Long grain rice
2 tsp of Salt
5-6 slices of Ginger (2mm thick)
2 cloves of Garlic
3 cups of Chicken stock
1 Pandan leaf (knotted)
2-3 tbsp chicken fat

Using the chicken fat, sauté the garlic and ginger lightly in a pan till they have some colour. Then add the rice and give the rice a light fry till the rice is coated in the oil. If you have the crispy chicken pieces used to render the oil, then you might as well put them in there with the rice.

Frying the rice off in chicken fat

Add the chicken stock into the pan with the salt and pandan leaf and cover. Bring the stock to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer till all the stock has been absorbed and the rice is cooked and fragrant.

Serve the chicken on top of rice, with the chilli and ginger sauce on the side.

Finished roasted chicken

If you want you can add some slices of cucumber on the side, and add a drizzle of light soy sauce mixed with chicken stock and sesame seed oil.

Finished roasted chicken on rice

And don’t forget the dark soy sauce! If you can get the thick syrupy dark soy – not sweet soy! – then pour it on! I love my rice speckled with red, yellow, and black. YUM.


  1. Tina @ bitemeshowme November 26, 2012 at 12:51 am

    Wow this looks absolutely delicious. Can’t ever go wrong with hainan chicken. When it’s cooked in your own home, I think you’ll enjoy it even more 😉

  2. gaby @ lateraleating November 26, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Wow, it’s a lot of work for something that seems very simple. I’ve only tried it once and to be honest, didn’t find it that special. Perhaps I need to try yours 🙂


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