Hainan Chicken and Rice

By Lee Jackson ↣ Published on: February 4, 2024

Last Updated: February 4th, 20240 Comments on Hainan Chicken and Rice

This Malaysian version of a classic Chinese Hainan Chicken and Rice is one of my all time favourite dishes. Light, bright and tasty it’s a juicy, healthy, hearty meal in one – with so much flavour!

A plate of Hainan Chicken Rice with chopsticks. Featuring poached chicken, rice with specks of chicken skin, chopped cucumber and a sprig of cilantro. A small bowl of soup and an asian spoon sits to the side along with two condiments of chilli sauce and a ginger scallion sauce.

If ever a dish filled me with nostalgia and joy in equal measure it's the fabulous Hainan Chicken and Rice. I fell in love with this amazing combination of flavour over 20 years ago upon moving to Sydney, Australia. Of the many amazing Asian restaurants there, many of my favourites were the Malaysian restaurants.

So many of my all time favourite flavours come from Malay cuisine like the fabulous Malaysian Chicken Curry, Roti Canai, Nasi Lemak, Nasi Goreng, Curry Laksa and Babi Pongteh to name only the tip of the iceberg. But there's one dish that has a firm hold on my heart - Hainan Chicken and Rice.

If ever I craved for a clean, light but filling plate of food, I opted for this delicious dish. Juicy poached chicken is served alongside flavourful rice, cooked in chicken stock with crunchy cucumber and a bowl of yummy fragrant chicken broth. The little side condiments of spicy chilli sauce and life-changing ginger scallion sauce complete this all-you-need combination of flavour. This dish is Chinese in origin, but eaten widely across Southeast Asia and this Malay/Singaporean version is the one I am most familiar with, so the version I share with you. I just know you're going to love it as much as I do.

What's Ahead?

A plate of Hainan Chicken Rice with chopsticks. Featuring poached chicken, rice with specks of chicken skin, chopped cucumber and a sprig of cilantro. A small bowl of soup and an asian spoon sits to the side along with two condiments of chilli sauce and a ginger scallion sauce.

What is Hainan Chicken Rice?

Hainanese Chicken and Rice, Hainan Chicken Rice or simply Hainan Chicken, is a popular dish that originated in Hainan, a southern province of China. The dish has evolved over time and has become a staple in the culinary traditions of Southeast Asia, particularly in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia.

The history of Hainan Chicken can be traced back to the early Chinese diaspora when Hainanese immigrants brought their culinary skills and recipes to different parts of Southeast Asia. The dish is believed to have originated from Wenchang chicken, a breed native to Hainan, known for its tender meat and rich flavour.

The basic preparation involves poaching a whole chicken in a broth made with ginger, garlic, and other aromatics. After cooking, the chicken is immediately placed in an ice bath to stop the cooking process, resulting in a tender and succulent texture. The broth used for poaching is then seasoned and often served as a soup on the side.

Hainan Chicken is typically served with fragrant rice cooked in the chicken broth, creating a flavourful and aromatic base for the dish. It is accompanied by dipping sauces, commonly a fragrant ginger scallion sauce or ginger and garlic sauce and a hot chilli sauce.

Over time, as the dish spread across different regions, local variations emerged. In Singapore and Malaysia, for example, the rice is often cooked with chicken fat and crisp chicken skin and sometimes pandan or kaffir lime leaves. In Thailand, the dish is known as Khao Man Gai, and served with a spicy dipping sauce such as Nam Jim Jaew.

Hainan Chicken has become a beloved and iconic dish in many parts of the world, reflecting the rich culinary heritage of Hainanese immigrants and their influence on Southeast Asian cuisine.

Why it works?

It's comforting, filling and packed with flavour - this dish truly uses one simple cut of chicken to the fullest and creates a whole meal in one that is super tasty. Poached chicken, chicken flavoured rice and chicken soup - a three-for-one special!

The ingredients for Hainan Chicken and Rice: Chicken portions, spring onion, ginger, garlic, rice, star anise, chillies, cucumber and salt

Stuff You'll Need

Hainan Chicken and Rice won't call for a huge roll-call of ingredients, it's very simple and made with few easy to find items. The ginger scallion sauce that I always serve with this dish isn't included here, you can find the recipe by clicking the link. That can be made in advance and kept in the fridge.

  • Chicken - typically Hainan chicken is made with a whole chicken, but I pretty much always make mine using leg portions or a couple of bone in thigh portions per person. It's quicker and easier. You can also make it with bone in breast - the bone is important as that's where all the flavour for the broth will come from, so boneless breast won't cut it I'm afraid.
  • Aromatics - to help flavour the broth we use ginger, garlic, spring onion and star anise, I'll often add a few black peppercorns too. It's amazing how much flavour this will create!
  • Cucumber - traditionally cucumber accompanies Hainanese chicken, its crisp and refreshing texture is perfect alongside the juicy chicken.
  • Chillies - I whizz these up with a little water and a touch of rice vinegar to make a simple chilli sauce. You can skip this stage if you like and just squeeze a little sriracha sauce into a small dish for dipping.
  • Ginger Scallion Sauce - it's essential! And it's one of the tastiest little condiments you'll ever taste.
Chopping chicken skin and fat into small pieces
Poaching the chicken portions in a small pan with spring onion, ginger, garlic and star anise.
Plunging the cooked chicken portions into a bowl of ice-cold water.
Draining the chicken poaching liquid over a metal sieve into a jug.
Frying small pieces of chicken skin and fat in a small pan.
Pouring over chicken broth into a pan of rice.
Cooked rice, dotted with small pieces of chicken skin in a small pan.
A small bowl of chicken broth with a few chopped pieces of spring onion.
A plate of Hainan Chicken Rice with chopsticks. Featuring poached chicken, rice with specks of chicken skin, chopped cucumber and a sprig of cilantro. A small bowl of soup and an asian spoon sits to the side along with two condiments of chilli sauce and a ginger scallion sauce.

Step by Step

Here's how the magic happens - it may seem like a complex dish, but honestly it's one of the simplest dishes to put together at home.

  1. Step 1 - Trim the chicken portions of excess fat and chop into small pieces and set aside.
  2. Step 2 - Place the chicken leg/thighs into a medium saucepan along with the spring onion, ginger, garlic and star anise. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat but leave in the pan for 15 minutes.
  3. Step 3 - Plunge the chicken into a bowl of ice cold water and leave for a few minutes.
  4. Step 4 - Drain the poaching liquid through a sieve into a jug and set aide. Discard the ginger, garlic and star anise.
  5. Step 5 - Drop the chicken skin into a small saucepan over a medium heat and cook for 5-10 minutes to render out the fat and crisp up the skin.
  6. Step 6 - Add the rice and stir briefly before adding twice the amount of chicken poaching liquid to the amount of rice you added.
  7. Step 7 - Cook for 12-14 minutes over a low heat (covered) until all the liquid is gone. Remove from the heat and cover the pan with a clean tea towel then put on a lid. Leave for 15 minutes then fluff up with a fork.
  8. Step 8 - When you're ready to serve, heat the remaining broth and scatter in a little chopped spring onion and pour into small bowls.
  9. Step 9 - Using a cleaver, chop the chicken portion into thick pieces, through the bone (or you can simple strip the chicken off the bone by hand and serve that way. Arrange the chicken with the rice and cucumber pieces and garnish with a little fresh coriander.

Serve alongside some fragrant ginger scallion sauce and the chilli sauce. To make the chilli sauce, simple blend together the chillies with 1/4 cup water and 1tbsp rice vinegar and a little salt until smooth.

A plate of Hainan Chicken Rice with chopsticks. Featuring poached chicken, rice with specks of chicken skin, chopped cucumber and a sprig of cilantro. A small bowl of soup and an asian spoon sits to the side along with two condiments of chilli sauce and a ginger scallion sauce.

Pro Tips

  • Chicken portions - The traditional recipe uses a whole poached chicken and guests are given either white meat, dark meat or a combination of both. I like to save time and use chicken portions. There's no change to the flavour.
  • Chicken fat rice - The chicken skin trimmings from the portions are put to use in rendering out the fat and using it alongside the crisp skin to make the flavourful rice element of the meal. This is not essential so you can save yourself a few steps and skip this part and use only the poaching broth to cook the rice.
  • Ice cold - By plunging the chicken into cold or ice water, you stop the cooking process which results in a juicy, tender texture to the meat.
Two small bowls of Chinese Ginger Scallion Sauce with a small serving spoon

Serving & Storage Suggestions

Serving - Hainan Chicken Rice is pretty much always served the way it's presented to you here. The chicken and rice with crunchy vegetables, a side bowl of broth and the ginger sauce and chilli sauce as condiments.

  • Skin on/Skin off? - Traditionally, the chicken is served cold and with the skin on, but some may find the soft, jelly-like texture off-putting. You can remove if you like.
  • Cook in advance - You can cook all the elements in advance and bring them together when you're ready. The chicken is typically served cold, the rice can be reheated in the microwave, as can the broth. You can make these up to 3 days in advance and keep refrigerated.
  • Meal prep - you can serve the chicken and rice + salad & condiments (minus the soup) as a meal prep meal at room temperature.
  • Leftovers - Store leftovers in the fridge well covered for up to 5 days.
  • Freezing - It's not really a dish for freezing in my opinion as it will lose a lot of its freshness.
A plate of Hainan Chicken Rice with chopsticks. Featuring poached chicken, rice with specks of chicken skin, chopped cucumber and a sprig of cilantro. A small bowl of soup and an asian spoon sits to the side along with two condiments of chilli sauce and a ginger scallion sauce.

Ready to get cooking?

As you can see, this Hainan Chicken and Rice is something very special indeed. The great news is that it's really easy to make at home yourself, a splendid option for lunch or dinner and will leave any hunger completely satisfied without feeling too rich or heavy. It's one of my top 10 all-time favourite meals for a reason and I'm hoping you'll feel the same way too when you try it at home yourself. Hope you enjoy!

A plate of Hainan Chicken Rice with chopsticks. Featuring poached chicken, rice with specks of chicken skin, chopped cucumber and a sprig of cilantro. A small bowl of soup and an asian spoon sits to the side along with two condiments of chilli sauce and a ginger scallion sauce.
A plate of Hainan Chicken Rice with chopsticks. Featuring poached chicken, rice with specks of chicken skin, chopped cucumber and a sprig of cilantro. A small bowl of soup and an asian spoon sits to the side along with two condiments of chilli sauce and a ginger scallion sauce.

Any Questions? (FAQ)

Have a question about Hainan Chicken and Rice? Let me know in the comments.

What is Hainanese Chicken Rice

Hainanese or Hainan Chicken Rice is a renowned dish from Hainan, China, featuring poached chicken served with fragrant rice. The dish is renowned for its tender meat, aromatic rice, and flavourful condiments.

How is Hainan Chicken and Rice made?

Chicken is gently poached, creating succulent meat, while rice is cooked with chicken broth, ginger, and garlic for a fragrant base. It's served with chilli sauce and ginger scallion sauce or simple ginger paste.

What makes Hainan Chicken Rice unique?

Hainan Chicken Rice stands out for its simplicity and emphasis on quality ingredients. The poached chicken and fragrant rice showcase the dish's subtlety, while condiments elevate the overall dining experience.

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A plate of Hainan Chicken Rice with chopsticks. Featuring poached chicken, rice with specks of chicken skin, chopped cucumber and a sprig of cilantro. A small bowl of soup and an asian spoon sits to the side along with two condiments of chilli sauce and a ginger scallion sauce.

Hainan Chicken and Rice

Rate this recipe

5 from 1 vote
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Recipe by Lee
Course Main Course
Cuisine Chinese, Malaysian
Diet Gluten Free
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time50 minutes
Total Time1 hour
Servings (adjustable) 2
Calories (per serving) | 636

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken thigh/leg portions
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 spring onion cut in half lengthways
  • 4 slices fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic clove
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup jasmine rice
  • 1/2 English cucumber cut into slices or batons
  • Ginger scallion sauce see recipe

Instructions

  • Trim excess fat and skin from chicken pieces. Chop into small pieces.
  • Simmer chicken with spring onion, ginger, garlic, and star anise for 10 mins. Let it rest for 15 mins.
  • Cool chicken in ice water.
  • Drain the poaching liquid, discard ginger, garlic, and star anise.
  • Crisp up chicken skin in a pan over a moderate heat for about 5-10 minutes.
  • Add rice to the pan, stir, and pour in 2 cups of the chicken poaching liquid. Cook on low heat, covered for 12-14 mins.
  • Rest covered with a tea towel and the lid back on for 15 mins, then fluff with a fork.
  • Heat remaining broth, add chopped spring onion, and pour into bowls.
  • Cleaver the chicken through the bone or strip by hand. Serve with rice, cucumber, and garnish with fresh coriander. Serve the soup on the side.

Notes

Serving & Storage Recommendations

  • Serving - Hainan Chicken Rice is usually presented as shown above. Enjoy chicken, rice, crunchy vegetables, accompanied by a side bowl of broth, ginger sauce, and chilli sauce as condiments.
  • Skin on/Skin off? - Traditionally, chicken is served cold with skin on, but some may dislike its soft, jelly-like texture. Feel free to remove it.
  • Cook in advance - Prepare all elements ahead; refrigerate for up to 3 days. Chicken is served cold, while rice and broth can be reheated in the microwave.
  • Meal prep - Serve chicken, rice, salad & condiments (excluding soup) at room temperature for a convenient meal prep option.
  • Leftovers - Store well-covered leftovers in the fridge for up to 5 days.
  • Freezing - Not ideal for freezing due to potential loss of freshness.

Nutrition

Calories: 636kcal (32%) | Carbohydrates: 79g (26%) | Protein: 29g (58%) | Fat: 21g (32%) | Saturated Fat: 6g (38%) | Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 120mg (40%) | Sodium: 1291mg (56%) | Potassium: 531mg (15%) | Fiber: 2g (8%) | Sugar: 2g (2%) | Vitamin A: 259IU (5%) | Vitamin C: 5mg (6%) |