Roasted chicken rice may be widely found at food stalls and restaurants alike as it is a favourite dish among the locals. The scrumptious roasted chicken is served with fragrant rice cooked with chicken oil and lots of aromatics like ginger and shallots. Despite being a rice dish, it is enjoyed for breakfast, brunch and even dinner. This proves its deliciousness and popularity. Before we get into the details of the recipe, there's a fact to be straightened first.
The biggest misunderstanding about the dish
Many may not have guessed but the ‘roasted’ chicken is actually fried! The dish may not deliver the crunch you’d expect of fried chicken as it is fried with a 2 step technique which makes the skin smooth and tastes honey-like. In fact, I love this more than the boiled version, the Hainanese chicken rice which is much easier to prepare.
Can I bake the chicken pieces instead?
Of course! That would save you from lots of cleaning up but personally, I feel frying makes the skin browns quicker and is tastier. Baking the chicken takes a long time for the skin to turn brown. Besides, it might pose a problem as the chicken has to be boiled before being baked. Leaving it in the oven for a long time causes the chicken to be overcooked and results in the meat being dry.
Never boil chicken for too long
This brings me to the next point. When cooking the chicken thighs (step 3), do not over-boil. Remove the chicken immediately once the water begins to boil. Don't worry about under-cooking it as it would be fried later on.
Importance of vinegar mixture
The vinegar mixture is crucial for the appearance, crispy texture and flavour of the skin. While the chicken thighs are still hot, dip them into the vinegar mixture. Do not wait until the chicken cools down as the pores on the skin would not be able to effectively absorb the mixture then. Vinegar also helps in tenderizing the meat.
Maltose is required in the vinegar mixture. You may replace it with honey to replicate the sweetness. However, it will not be able to provide one of the core purposes of maltose which is to make the skin crispy. It’s obvious from the natural consistency of maltose as it is much thicker than honey. This is the secret used by most Chinese restaurants if you’d ever wondered how the ‘roasted’ chicken skin is always light and crispy.
Using a whole chicken
In this recipe, it is recommended to use two chicken thighs. If you prefer to use a whole chicken, simply double the amount of ingredients mentioned in the recipe except for the vinegar mixture as it is enough to be used for a whole chicken.
Non-alcoholic substitute for 'Shaoxing' wine
Unfortunately, there is no non-alcoholic substitute for Shaoxing wine which is added for its sweetness. While most suggested using apple juice as a substitute, I would highly advise against it as it will spoil the taste of the dish making it slightly tart.
If you do not want to add alcohol, simply omit it as the flavour of the gravy comes from the soy sauce and chicken broth. However, a teaspoon of oyster sauce may be added to better the flavour of the sauce.
Very important to dry chicken before frying
Leave chicken pieces out on the counter to allow it to dry for at least 3 hours. Either use a baking rack or place a saucer on a plate to lift the chicken to allow better draining.
For extra precaution, use some kitchen paper to pat dry any excess water. Otherwise, oil may splatter during the frying process. It is advisable to use a splatter screen for protection.
Frying chicken at a lower temperature initially will help to prevent the sudden popping of moisture trapped in the chicken fats which may result in oil splattering. Therefore, start with a lower temperature of 130 C/ 265 F and increase the heat to 176 C/350 F as the frying progress.
The soup is one of the key side dishes to a complete chicken rice meal. Since the chicken broth is mildly flavoured, I'd suggest adding a drumstick along with other ingredients like radish or carrots to the broth and allow it to simmer for at least 45 minutes. This will enhance the sweetness of the soup. Adding a dash of white pepper and salt would make it tastier.
Chicken rice sauces
For this dish, the usual soy sauce mix and chilli sauce are served together. These sauces are the same as those in the Hainanese chicken rice recipe. The salty sauce is a mix of soy sauce, sesame oil, Shaoxing wine, sugar and chicken broth. As for the chilli sauce, it uses a blend of chillies and aromatics that are the mixed with chicken broth.
A plate of delicious chicken rice is so satisfying especially when the skin is done perfectly.