Would you pay $30 for a chicken?
Normally I wouldn’t, not even for a live layer hen, let alone an eating bird, but in this case, I made an exception. My friend Ella Dee recently ordered a Burrawong Gaian chook, grown by the lovely Beth McMillan whom I chat with occasionally on Twitter.
ED’s post sent me to Beth’s website, where I was happy to discover that her products are available in the Inner West. A visit to George at Dulwich Hill Gourmet Meats netted us a magnificent organic and free range 1.9kg bird. The first thing I noticed was the colour – Beth’s chooks are both pasture and corn fed, resulting in a rosy bird tinged with gold. Quite different to the white free range chickens we normally buy…
As you’d expect, there was quite a lot of discussion on how to prepare this bird, with both Pete and George adamant that roasting wouldn’t do it justice. We finally decided to gently poach it, and to use the fat and stock to make Hainanese Chicken Rice.
I’ve been making this dish for years, and have resisted posting my recipe in the past because it’s neither authentic nor consistent. Nevertheless, here’s a rough outline of how we make it at our place…
Step 1: Poach the chicken
Chicken and Stock:
- 1 large free range chicken
- 2 slices ginger
- 2 spring onions, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
- a mix of vegetable oil, sesame oil and fine salt, for brushing
1. Wash the chicken, removing any loose fat and setting it aside for later. Place the bird, breast up, in a stock pot “just large enough to hold it snugly”, as per Mr Durack instructions. Add enough cold water to just cover.
2. Add the ginger, spring onions and salt and bring to a boil. Simmer for five minutes, then turn the chicken over and cook for a further five minutes. Now cover the pot, turn off the heat, and allow the chicken to continue steeping for 40 minutes. Check the chicken by inserting a skewer through the thickest part of the thigh – if the juices run clear without any hint of pink, then the chicken is cooked.
3. Remove the chicken from the stock and sit it on a rimmed plate (to catch the juices). Brush over the oil mixture, and allow to rest.
Step 2: Preparing the Rice
- long grain rice, washed and drained
- vegetable oil
- reserved chicken fat
- 2 – 3 garlic cloves
- stock from poaching the chicken (see above)
- fine sea salt, to taste
1. Add a little vegetable oil to a wok, and then add the reserved chicken fat, and cook over a medium heat until rendered and crisp. Add the sliced garlic cloves and fry until lightly brown…
2. Add the rice and fry over a medium heat until well coated with the oil and fat…
3. Scrape it all into your rice cooker (we use the microwave) and add the appropriate quantity of stock. Here’s my mother’s tip: taste the stock after you’ve added it to the rice, and add a little bit more salt if needed – you want it to be just slightly too salty to drink as a broth. Cook your rice by the absorption method until fluffy.
Step 3: Plating Up
1. With a sharp knife or scissors, cut the chicken into serving sized pieces. I can never manage with a cleaver, so my pieces are usually quite large – I remove the thighs, wings and drumsticks, then hack the remainder up as best I can. If you’ve never done this before, a pair of kitchen scissors makes the job easy.
2. We make a simple sauce to accompany this dish by blitzing a few cloves of garlic, some peeled ginger and a couple of spring onions in a small food processor, and then cooking the mixture briefly in a little vegetable oil. Season with salt to taste.
3. Serve the rice with the chicken, ginger sauce and soy. Enjoy!
So…would I buy a $30 chicken again?
Not on a weekly basis, but for a regular once a month treat, definitely. This was, hands down, the best chicken rice we’ve ever made. The minute I tasted the poaching stock, I knew the dish was going to be a hit. I was so happy to have five containers’ worth leftover for the freezer…
Beth’s chicken was very special – the meat was tender and richly flavoured, and the rice was aromatic and delicious. Big Boy wasn’t home that night, but Small Man declared it to be the best he’d ever tasted, and asked if we could save some for dinner the following night. Definitely a big hit!