By: Revanche

Hainan chicken and poor family’s porridge

August 28, 2012

I’ve used Steamy Kitchen’s Hainanese Chicken Recipe in the past, but returning to it this week, I realized that the way the recipe was organized had me running back and forth so much that I was wasting a lot of time in the kitchen. I’ve reorganized it with some of my own tweaks. (I actually never make the chili sauce. Sriracha and I are not friends.)

While I was cooking tonight, as is usual at the end of a few recipes, we ended up with a scoop and a half of leftover rice and I borrowed the broth from the recipe below to reconstitute it. Figured I had enough green onions to jazz it up a little bit as well. As I was mincing, it occurred to me that the paltry scoop of rice wasn’t going to do much for either of us, so I tripled the broth and brought it all up to a boil.  My mind drifted back to a story my parents told me, of days more than thirty years gone.

Facing grinding poverty once the war was over, all the economic opportunities diverted to the hands of the Communists leaders and those who fought on the “wrong” side jailed, my family fled the country to build a better life for their children.  The journey was terrible, every step of it. A forced stop in Malaysia, beached in the open air while the pirates and what passed for government at the time traded fire over their heads, sometimes as a game with the captive humans as their target practice. They were provided food in the form of a tiny sack of rice, perhaps a few pounds’ worth, per family once in a while, and a family unit was considered any size from three to ten people at the whims of the distributors.

To make the rice stretch, they cooked rice porridge.  Not like I cooked tonight, not like my parents cooked when they sometimes told this story, a nice thick fat grained rice porridge. It started the same way, with cooked rice, thinned it out with water, and cooked down further so that the rice would puff up and “grow” as the colloquialism goes.

But then they would thin it out even further than that, and the added water would take on the taste of the rice. The porridge would become a gruel after enough cooking, a small bowl of rice would stretch to a pot, and feed a family with the rice portion going to those who had to truly eat something and the watery portions going to those who didn’t truly need as much.

It’s been a while since I cooked a porridge but I always remember that story.

It was just a memory for them, but I can’t take food for granted and my parents never chided about starving children anywhere. I just think about all those months they waited and did without to survive until they regained right of safe passage.

Hainanese Chicken Recipe


Whole chicken
kosher salt to clean the chicken
1 teaspoon kosher salt for the rice
4” section of fresh ginger, in 1/4” slices
1” section of ginger, finely minced
2 stalks green onions, cut into 1″ sections (both the green and white parts)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoon chicken fat or 2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 cups long-grain uncooked rice
2 cups chicken broth, reserved from cooking chicken
1/4 cup dark soy sauce
Few sprigs cilantro
1 cucumber, thinly sliced or cut into bite-sized chunks

Chili sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoon reserved chicken poaching broth
2 teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoon sriracha chili sauce
4 cloves garlic
1” ginger
a generous pinch of salt, to taste


Prep the ginger and garlic: peel 5 inches of ginger. Take 4 inches and slice in 1/4″ slices. Mince remaining inch of ginger. Mince ginger. Slice green onions in 1″ pieces.

Rinse rice and set aside to soak.

Prep the chicken: Clean the chicken with a small handful of kosher salt. Rub the chicken all over, getting rid of any loose skin and dirt. Rinse chicken well, inside and outside. Season generously with salt inside and outside. Stuff the chicken with the ginger slices and the green onion.

Cooking the Chicken

Place the chicken in a large stockpot and cover chicken w/1 inch of water. If the chicken is smaller than the width of the pot, fill with less water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn down to simmer.

Cook for about 30 minutes or less if you’re using a smaller chicken.

To check chicken: See if the juices run clear or check temperature (170 F) when the time is up.

Prep ice bath for the chicken.

When the chicken is cooked, turn off the heat. Transfer the chicken into a bath of ice water to stop the chicken’s cooking and throw out ginger and green onion.

Reserve the broth for your rice, your sauce, and the accompanying soup. There should be at least six or seven cups of broth reserved for soup.

Cooking the Rice

Drain the rice. Heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil over medium-high heat. Add the ginger and the garlic and add in your drained rice and stir to coat, cook for 2 minutes. Add the sesame oil, mix well.

Stovetop: Add 2 cups of the reserved chicken broth, add salt and bring to a boil. Immediately turn the heat down to low, cover the pot and cook for ~ 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for 5-10 minutes.

Rice cooker: Combine fried rice, ginger and garlic with 2.5 cups of chicken broth and salt in rice cooker. Follow rice cooker instructions.

Chili Sauce

Blend all chili sauce ingredients in a blender until smooth and bright red.


Remove from the ice bath and rub the outside of the chicken with the sesame oil.  Carve the chicken and slice tomatoes and cucumbers for serving. Heat up the broth and season with salt to taste.

Serve the chicken rice with chili sauce, soy sauce, tomato and cucumber slices, and a bowl of hot broth garnished with scallions.

7 Responses to “Hainan chicken and poor family’s porridge”

  1. ms k russ says:

    Cannot wait to try this recipe. It sounds so yummy. But best of all is the story that goes with it. That’s what makes it comfort food.

  2. You and I must have had the same brainwaves last night, because I made shrimp congee…. exactly the same way — 3x the water, one cup of cooked rice.

    It was delicious, filling and most of all.. cheap 😛 All that starch coming out of the rice really made a difference in making it smoother and creamier without any butter or oil needed.

  3. Kris says:

    Agree – the story is the best part of this. 🙂

  4. Shelley says:

    Looks and sounds delicious. What an amazing story – reminds me to be very grateful for all the necessities I take for granted.

  5. Mmm. Hainan chicken. We make this at home too. So delicious.

  6. Looks delicious but yes, the story is the best. We definitely take our lives for granted, including the yummy food we get to eat all of the time!

  7. […] I’ve written about my mom as my motivation more than once. I realized that my dad hasn’t gotten as much airtime. Where Mom was the tower of strength and capability in all things, teaching us language in her “spare time, and demonstrating work ethic alongside Dad, Dad was the storyteller in the family, the one who made the past live again for us, linking us to the family and cultural histories. […]

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