“Hey! Cheh! Are you finished with the kitchen yet?”
It’s a common question in this household – particularly come late Saturday morning.
Turns out, I wasn’t.
Turns out, she was bored and in need of something to rest her itchy fingers on while she waited for her hair colour to take.
Luckily for me, it turns out the object of her itchy fingers happened to be a recipe I’d been trying to get off her for years.
I ran to get my camera.
Hainanese chicken rice is a staple in our family.
We eat it on good days. We eat it on really (really) bad days.
We get to a point, collectively, where we each crave it so badly that we’ll head out and try to find something that will come close to the chicken rice we eat at home.
We are inevitably disappointed.
(And, strangely enough, we always tend to get to that point on the very day my mother decides to cook it. Meaning that we eat one version for lunch and another for dinner. Mum has since taken to sending us texts informnig us of impending chicken rice so we don’t make that mistake too often.)
I’ve showed you how to make the chicken and soup before on the blog (albeit in the form of a cleansing soup) and I love that recipe to pieces.
If you want to make the rice, its a simple matter of adding ginger, garlic and stock to your rice pot.
And if you want to make the black soy-based sauce that sits underneath the chicken (and in our family’s case, spread all over the rice too) it’s a mere matter of mixing up some light soy, dark soy, sesame oil and chicken stock to taste.
But the chilli.
Oh that’s a whole ‘nother story.
Firey from the chilli and the garlic and the ginger.
But subtle and sweet and sour and nuanced all the same.
We eat it, scraped from the frozen jar and doused with a shot of hot stock.
Smear it all over our rice and our chicken (and sneak a bit into our bowls of soup).
It’s the chilli we taste on our breaths when we burp our way through the night, over full from stuffing ourselves with twice our normal portion (and tucking some away for lunch the next day), fearing the wait before we eat our mother’s chicken rice next.
Chicken rice is one of the few meals I can eat twice as much as normal of. It’s frightening. For me and my dining companions.
I watched as my mother minced the aromatics. Laughed as the Bean was told to pour the vinegar into the saucepan (“Do I stop now?” “No. Keep pouring.” “Now?” “Pour lah!”) Sniffed at the jar in a happy reverie when it was done.
As with all of my mother’s recipes, the key phrases here are “agar agar” (the hokkien equivalent of guesstimating your volumes) and “chin chai la!” (the hokkien equivalent of anything goes). Meaning that every batch is slightly different and any attempts at replicating the recipe are somewhat stymied by her wariness at me holding measuring spoons under her free pours of vinegar.
I’ve done my best to represent the recipe here as it was made and having watched her make it again since, am pretty sure it hits close to the mark.
hainanese chicken rice chilli
makes about 1 cup of chilli base
you will need:
1/2C finely chopped chilli
1/3C finely chopped garlic
2tbsp finely chopped ginger
2tsp vegetable oil
2tbsp white sugar
white vinegar (you’ll see the measure for that later)
how to do it:
1. To prepare your chilli, cut the tops off and chop them roughly. Pop them into a food processor and whiz away until it is chopped into bits about half to a quarter the size of a chocolate chip.
2. To prepare the garlic, pull the cloves off the bulb and skin them. Cut them in half lengthwise and pull out the thin core going down the centre. Pop them into a food processor and whiz away until it is chopped into bits about half to a quarter the size of a chocolate chip.
3. To prepare the ginger, peel the skin off with a teaspoon and chop into chunks. Pop them into a food processor and whiz away until it is a stringy paste.
4. Add the vegetable oil to a saucepan. Put the garlic, ginger and chilli in and, over a medium heat, fry until they are fragrant and your eyes are watering from the fumes.
5. Add the sugar and salt and keep cooking over a medium heat until it is stirred through. Lower the heat and press the mixture down with your spoon to achieve a flattish surface.
6. Grab your bottle of vinegar and slowly pour it in until the level of liquid is just below the surface of the chilli mixture. Cook for about two minutes, stirring until the vinegar has evaporated slightly and the mixture has dried up to a loose paste (think pesto).
7. Taste a little bit of it. If it feels too sour, add a bit more sugar until the flavour feels right to you.
8. Transfer the chilli into a clean jar and store in the fridge or freezer. If you want to use it for chicken rice, put a tablespoon or so into a small bowl and top with hot stock to thin it out until it is a slurry.