Monday, September 8, 2008

Poultry & Grain

There are many dishes that local Singaporeans claim to be the proud national dish. Personally - I think that Hainanese chicken rice is the perfect mascot dish for this little island. There are thousands of variations of this fantastic dish all over Singapore - with some serving embarrassing examples and others creating magic with the basic ingredients of chicken and rice.

But just what makes a fantastic chicken rice? My assessment is based on some key fundamental traits, which while seemingly basic, is something that few get right altogether:

1. The Poultry - the chicken has to be still moist (ie. not overcooked till the meat becomes dry and tasteless) with a smooth, almost slippery skin that is achieved through careful poaching and submersion of the chook in iced water after the cooking process.

2. The Grain - The rice has to be packed full of flavour from a well seasoned chicken stock with noticeable but not overpowering notes of garlic and ginger. The rice grains should also have good bite (ie. not mushy overcooked gunk) without being too oily (which is an indication of way too much rendered chicken fat being used.

3. The Condiments - Thick black sauce which is only slightly sweet should be balanced against a ginger sauce that is not overly spicy or salty. Of course, there is the crucial chilli dipping sauce which should have a definite kick (from a blend of chilli padi) with a fine balance of garlic and my preference of lime juice - to cut through the fat in the poached chicken.

Sin Kee located on the second floor of the Margaret Drive Food Centre is a legend in the competitive local chicken rice scene. It has been around for yonks and is a great example of a chicken rice that gets a big tick in most of the elements highlighted.
Digression - This is a photo of one of the experienced cooks at this eatery preparing the chickens for cooking. Some may think it is a little morbid - but I actually think its pretty cool.

Anyways - back to the chicken rice. The chooks used here are huge - we ordered a whole chicken and it was a challenge finishing it amongst the four of us. The chicken skin here is exceptionally smooth and almost too tempting not to eat. The meat is perfectly cooked and very succulent. My only complaint is that Sin Kee uses a type of chicken which is quite high in fat content. The condiments were very competent and the chilli dipping sauce definitely had a good kick from the fiery chilli padi.
And of course... the rice - oh the rice! The rice here is very good - it is fragrant, aromatic, flavoursome. Exactly what good chicken rice should taste like. In fact I was so taken by the rice that I managed to scoff down two large bowls... which was more than I really should have eaten (refer to previous entry on the yin & yang).

I love Hainanese chicken rice - and the version here gives you a taste of history and a unique sense of warmth that is hard to put a finger on. More importantly, there is a strong sense of identity in this dish that is unmistakeably Singaporean. And whilst I only spent the earlier part of my life here, I identify with this dish - and in my books, that's a connection that I am extremely proud of.


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