I can't remember when I first ate chicken rice. I do, however, recall my parents and relatives preparing it as a sort of family ritual. My mother and relatives picked through a mountain of red chillies for the sauce. My sister and I usually picked, cleaned and rinsed the rice. I have fond memories of the morsels of choice, luscious meat over the bowls of heavenly rice.
1.8 kg free-range chicken
3 tsp salt
4 litres water
15g ginger, about the size of a walnut, bashed with the side of a knife
1 bunch watercress from Asian grocers, picked
1 small cucumber, sliced
Light soy sauce
For the rice
Reserve chicken fat or 2 tbsp vegetable oil
5 shallots, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups rice, washed and drained in a colander
2 pandan leaves, tied into a knot
For the chilli sauce
6-8 large red chillies, chopped
20g ginger, sliced
4 cloves garlic
Juice of 2 limes
Remove the pads of chicken fat from the cavity and set aside. Rub chicken inside and out with 1 teaspoon of salt. Make a loop by slipping a cotton twine between the wings and breast, then set aside for 30 minutes - not chilled. Meanwhile, make the chilli sauce. Except for the lime juice, combine all the ingredients in a mortar and pound or grind to a paste - making sure it is still slightly granular and not too fine. Add lime juice and stir well. Set aside.
In a large stock pot, bring water, ginger and the rest of the salt to the boil. Using the string, lift chicken into boiling water. Submerge for 30-60 seconds, then lift the chicken, draining the water from the cavity. Repeat this process a couple of times. This is to make sure the water in the bird is hot enough for even cooking. Adjust heat and cook in the slowly boiling water for 8 minutes. Put lid on, turn off heat and steep the chicken for 40 minutes. Lift chicken carefully, making sure no skin is broken. Drain stock from cavity and then plunge into cold water to stop the cooking. Lift, pat dry gently and set aside. Reserve the chicken stock.
To cook the rice, first either render the chicken fat down and discard the solids or heat the vegetable oil in a wok. Add the shallots to fry until golden, then add the garlic to fry for another minute. Add the rinsed rice. Fry until the rice begins to pop slightly from the wok. Transfer to a rice cooker or saucepan. Add the pandan leaves and pour hot stock over the rice to about just below the first joint of your index finger. Cook using the absorption method.
In the meantime, make the soup by putting 2 litres of reserved chicken stock into a saucepan. Bring to the boil and add the watercress. Adjust seasoning.
To serve, cut up the chicken Chinese-style and arrange over a plate of sliced cucumber. Add a dash of soy sauce mixed with a touch of sesame oil over the chicken. Garnish with coriander leaves.
Serve chicken with individual bowls of rice accompanied by the watercress broth and offer chilli dipping sauce on the side.
Tony Tan will host a food tour of China in September, 2012. See tonytan.com.au.