Chicken, Rice or Chilli Sauce?

Singapore’s signature Hainanese chicken rice got many locals and foreigners hooked with its flavours. The chicken rice chefs in Singapore also hold extreme pride in their own versions of this cuisine. Huge fights have resulted when it comes down to the debate on the best chicken rice in the country. The arguments never come to a conclusion as chefs constantly improve their recipe to outmatch their competitors. Today, we will not be involved in the century debate of who makes the best dish but to explore another aspect of this cuisine.

What is the most important part of a serving of Singapore’s national dish? The chicken, rice or chilli sauce?

The method used to prepare the chicken in Hainanese chicken rice has been revised and improved since its inception in the 1950s. The meat found in stores today has been prepared carefully to reach a smooth consistency with the skin in a gelatinous texture. The chicken is first boiled for about an hour, and then plunged into an ice bath to trap its flavours and preserve its skin. After sitting in the ice for 30 minutes, it is then hung dry for another half an hour. The tedious process retains the flavour within the meat while cooking it to a juicy and tender perfection.

Anthony Michael Bourdain, an American chef, author, and television personality once praised Tian Tian’s version of chicken rice as being “ fragrant & delicious that it can be eaten on its own”. Chicken rice chefs place an equal, if not more, amount of effort into the seasoning of the rice as compared to the chicken itself. Most chicken rice is seasoned with garlic, salt, ginger, chicken fat, lemongrass, chicken stock and pandan leaves. The ingredients must be a perfect balance to make the rice aromatic but not overly greasy.

Nonetheless, the meal wouldn’t be complete without good garlic chilli sauce. The chilli sauce that accompanies a Hainanese chicken rice dish is usually hot, tangy and garlicky. The sauce is sometimes accompanied with ginger sauce, which adds extra spiciness for those who wants to give their meal an extra kick.

It is hard to imagine a chicken rice meal without any of these components. The majority would agree that all three parts of the cuisine are equally important. While the stores in Singapore may vary in quality for all the three ingredients, the best chicken rice store is undeniably the one who mastered the making of all three ingredients in the meal.