You just can’t beat claypot chicken rice. It’s the ultimate hawker fare. The meal that’s all-in-one. The meal to end all meals. You know what I’m talking about here (but if you don’t, or if you’re not from Singapore, Malaysia or this part of the world, I invite you to read on!).
Visualise tender, juicy, succulent chicken chunks over freshly cooked rice, topped with slices of savoury Chinese sausages, shiitake mushrooms, fried salted fish, and drizzled with dark soy sauce and flavoured oils. And to complete this amazing combo, some fresh Chinese greens on the side for good measure, and crispy, deep-fried shallots, freshly chopped spring onions and coriander for garnish.
I know, it sounds like something being whipped up on a food cooking programme, right? Well, this is really show worthy too! Because claypot chicken rice is a smoking hot, sensationally delicious meal that can be made at home over the stove-top. While it’s so easy and convenient to order this at your local hawker centre, this is just as easy to prepare and cook at home – a perfect dish for your busy, crazy days, and for me, on my (somewhat) lazy days.
To really appreciate the authentic flavours of this dish, it’s best cooked in a clay pot. And yes, I’m going to have to tell you to expect the rice to cook till it slightly chars to a light brown-black crisp all around the sides of the clay pot. Actually, it probably can’t be avoided. But this will be really limited to the immediate layer of rice that’s in contact with the sides of the claypot. Believe it or not, it is this crisp, lightly charred (read: burnt) rice which avid claypot chicken rice lovers enthusiastically scrape off the sides and mix into the rest of the dish. It’s what makes claypot chicken rice so… well,… special!
That said, when you cook this at home, don’t be alarmed if you smell your rice burning as it cooks over the stove. It’s perfectly acceptable, and even desired by true lovers of claypot rice dishes. This dish should be eaten with liberal doses of dark soy sauce, shallot oil, and chilli sauce for that extra zing!
And if you’re thinking, “Oh! But I don’t have a claypot!”, don’t you worry. This can be cooked in any kind of pot that you can put over a stove, or even in your rice cooker. It will still be delicious, though the rice might not have that characteristic smoky flavour.
A SHORT WORD ON THE INGREDIENTS
Thanks to a wonderful base recipe to start with, from Chef Eric Teo in his cookbook, ‘Simply Singaporean’, this has been tweaked and adapted to the point where it’s gotten compliments for its flavour and texture. Hopefully, what works for me can help you create your own awesome claypot chicken rice dish for your family and guests! So while you might be tempted to jump ahead to the recipe, do spare a moment to read the material here. It might just make the difference between a good and really great meal!
Try to use good quality ingredients (including sauces and oils) when cooking claypot chicken rice – these really do make the dish. Wherever possible, opt for good quality long-grain rice (a note below on how to cook the rice) and flavourful Chinese sausages (which by the way, does not necessarily mean expensive!). I personally favour the Chinese sausages from Hong Kong which I get from my local dried goods vendor in Tiong Bahru market – these are stocked seasonally so when the supply comes in, I tend to stock these up. They’re terribly fatty though (ooops…), but wonderfully fragrant and so very flavourful.
When choosing dried salted fish, I find that it helps to ask your local dried goods supplier (at least here in Singapore) – he or she will likely recommend a good variety. The ones to use for claypot rice are the salted fishes which are softer and not quite as ‘dried out’ as the inexpensive variety. These have far superior flavours. The hard, dried variety is usually the kind used for fried rice or in stir-fry vegetable dishes, but this will do just fine if it’s what you have on hand. For mushrooms, dried shiitake are usually the standard – they soften and plump up nicely when re-hydrated, and absorb the marinade sauces excellently
In Chinese cooking, sauces, wines and oils are essentials that really shouldn’t be overlooked as well. Do not use Maggi soy sauce or terikayi light soy sauce – these flavours do not quite work for this dish. I am a great, loyal fan of the Kwong Cheong Thye brand of soy sauces, and when it comes to oyster sauce, my family has stubbornly stuck with the Lee Kum Kee brand (by the way, I’m not advocating any particular brands or products, just sharing what I found to be good quality ones). For claypot chicken rice, sesame oil is an absolute must – do not substitute with any other flavoured oil. If you do not have Chinese wine, sherry can be used as a substitute to good effect.
HOW TO COOK THE RICE
So, if you’ve tried cooking this dish before, have you had your rice turn out too dry, or even mushy? I realise there are numerous variations of the rice-water ratio in claypot chicken rice recipes you can find online. Without trying to add to the often confusing suggestions, suffice to say that claypot rice ideally shouldn’t be as moist or fluffy as regular cooked rice – it’s texture is somewhat similar to fried rice. The cooked rice grains are slimmer, loose and separate, as they are slow-cooked with less water but just enough to cook through.
For starters, Chef Eric Teo’s recipe lists rice and water by weight, and not volume. I follow this faithfully as it has yielded rice of the ideal and desired texture. I think that using weight measures also minimise the inconsistencies arising from using rice measuring cups (which again, are completely different from universal measuring cups).
Nonetheless, to make my life easier (and hopefully, yours as well) as I’m sure we all cook varying quantities of rice depending on the appetites at our tables (and simply because I’m not too fond of weighing stuff!), I’ve worked out that for every 1 rice measuring cup of uncooked rice grains, you add 80 ml of water. So if your’e cooking, say, 3 cups of rice, you add 80 ml x 3 = 240 ml of water, or simply, just round it up to 1 regular cup of water (250 ml). Because this is cooking after all, and not baking, so you can probably pull it off with a little pluses or minuses. The few extra millilitres are not going to upset your dish terribly, I should hope!
Whatever you do, just don’t be tempted to add more water as the rice cooks. When you add the chicken pieces, more juices (and oils) will be released into the rice as these cook, and your rice should turn out just nice!
That’s it! My apologies for the long post… enjoy!