We’re in the dregs of February now and slowly but surely the light is returning. But I have to say, spring still feels pretty far away. It certainly felt far away at 6:30 this morning as Sunny and I were shoveling our way out of our home. So yeah, you could say February still has its bleak hold on me and that means comfort food, the more carb-heavy, the better. And if I can eat two comfort foods simultaneously, so much the better, or at least that’s what I thought when I dreamed up this Hainanese Chicken Risotto.
A Love Letter to Hainanese Chicken & Risotto
Now, before we get into my latest, and potentially ill-advised, piece of fusion, let me assure you I hold both risotto and Hainanese chicken rice in high-esteem. They do not need to be improved upon. Honestly, risotto is my go-to when I feel like death warmed over. Not only because risotto is comforting but the cooking process allows me to steam my sinuses while still accomplishing something. And while I have only recently fallen for the charms of Hainanese Chicken, I think it might be the most comforting dish of all time. I even made it, unadulterated, for my mom while she was recovering from surgery this past December. I got nothing but love for these two dishes.
But when you cook as often as I do, and overload your senses with as much food media as I do, your brain tends to make connections. Connections between techniques or ingredients that don’t seem to recognize international borders. What I couldn’t get out of my head while I was making Hainanese chicken for the first time, was risotto. When you make Hainanese chicken, you poach a whole chicken and then use the poaching liquid to cook the rice. Does that remind you of any other rice dish? Sure, there’s a lot more stirring involved, but the idea of cooking rice in a flavorful stock is the definition of risotto.
I also thought there’s a beautiful efficiency to something like a Hainanese Chicken Risotto. Sure, Hainanese chicken is already a hyper-efficient dish. You start with chicken, rice, water, and a few aromatics and you wind up with a main, soup and side. But the thought of using the Hainanese chicken soup to cook a nice pot of risotto just seems thrifty. Like, you’re a lot of mileage out of that chicken and water. Anyway, the thought of Hainanese Chicken Risotto wouldn’t leave me. And when my brain refuses to evict an idea, I figure there must be a good reason.
Hainanese Chicken Risotto – Untraditionally Traditional
Now, given my untraditional approach to two beloved dishes, I thought it best to go traditional in terms of technique and ingredients. You will find, listed below, most of the ingredients you would find in Hainanese Chicken. I could not, for the life of me, find pandan leaf. So, forgive me for that misstep. But otherwise, I tried to stay true to the dish in terms of the flavor profile. As for technique, that was all Italian. I used arborio rice, toasted it until it crackled, and slowly stirred in my broth, ladle by ladle, bringing it to al dente perfection.
Meditations on Food and Human Nature
Even though I have my qualms about messing with dishes as beloved as these two, I do see a certain warmth to this type of mashup. A dish like this Hainanese Chicken Risotto highlights our similarities. How easily two dishes from two very different parts of the world can come together so seamlessly is very telling. The desire to comfort through endless variations of chicken soup is nearly universal. We all find solace in rice and broth and simple protein. We attach our fuzziest memories to these foods and the people who made them for us.
In some ways, my hesitation and drive to create a dish like this Hainanese Chicken Risotto are one and the same. I hesitate because these dishes are lived in. They have an identity and culture that belongs to the eaters and makers. But on the other hand, the combining of the two unveils something so beautiful and unifying that I can’t help but want to make it.
All this is to say, I made this Hainanese Chicken Risotto in peace and respect and I serve it to you with the same spirit in mind. We make food to take care of ourselves and each other and I believe that to be a truth that transcends borders, gender, and generation. In a word, it is human.
So, that is everything you need to know about this Hainanese Chicken Risotto. Make it for someone you love, someone who needs a boost, someone in need of comfort.
Hainanese Chicken Risotto with Crispy Garlic Chips
- 1 whole chicken patted dry
- 1 tbsp salt
- 5 scallions divided
- 1 (2-inch) knob ginger sliced, divided
- 8 cloves garlic divided
- 12 cups water
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 stalk lemongrass pounded, outer leaves removed
- 2 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp neutral oil I used canola
- 3 shallots thinly sliced
- 100g (3.5oz) shiitake mushrooms stems removed, sliced
- 1 1/2 cups aborio rice
- 1/4 cup Shaoxing wine optional
- 1 (200 mL, 6.7 fl oz) can bamboo shoots drained
- 1/4 cup cilantro finely chopped
- Season the chicken all over the outside and inside the cavity with salt. Trim the fat around the cavity and reserve the fat. Stuff the chicken 3 of the scallions, cut into thirds, half of the ginger, and 3 of the garlic cloves, smashed and peeled.
- Fill a large heavy bottom pot with the water and bring it to an aggressive boil. Season the water liberally with salt and add the chicken, breast-side-up. Make sure it's fully immersed. You may have to add more water to achieve this.
- Let the chicken boil for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat, rotate the chicken to breast-side-down and cover. Let stand for 30 minutes or until the chicken registers 165° F on a meat thermometer when inserted in the thickest part of the thigh.
- Transfer the chicken to an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Let stand in the ice bath for 10 minutes.
- When the ten minutes are up, transfer the chicken to a cutting board and rub with the sesame oil. Crave the breast and legs, including the thighs, from the chicken and set aside. Pick the rest of the meat from the carcass and set aside. Discard the chicken bones.
- Remove any solids from the chicken poaching liquid and return to the heat. Add 3 more smashed cloves of garlic, the remaining ginger, lemongrass, and honey to the broth. Bring back up to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
- Once the broth is simmering, place a large, heavy and deep skillet over medium-low heat. Add the reserved chicken fat and slowly saute to render out the fat. Once the fat is well-browned and crispy, remove it with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Add the oil to the skillet and heat until shimmering. Peel and thinly slice the remaining garlic cloves and add them to the skillet. Fry until golden. Remove quickly, using a slotted spoon and set aside with the fried chicken fat.
- Add the shallots to the skillet along with a pinch of salt. Sweat the shallots until just translucent. Add the mushrooms and increase the heat. Saute until the mushrooms are well browned. Transfer the shallots and mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.
- Add the rice to the skillet and saute until lightly golden, nutty in fragrance and crackling. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the wine, if using. Stir until the wine is absorbed. Add two ladlesful of the simmering broth and stir until the liquid is absorbed. Repeat this step until the rice is al dente. Taste and season with salt accordingly.
- Add the chicken picked from the carcass, the shallots and mushrooms, the bamboo shoots and the cilantro to the risotto. Stir to combine and until all the ingredients are heated through. If at any time the risotto starts to get too stiff, stir in a little more broth.
- Divide the risotto amongst four bowls. Slice the reserved chicken breast and separate the drumsticks from the thighs. Top each bowl with the desired chicken pieces and top with the garlic chips and crumbled fried chicken fat. Finish with a drizzle of soy sauce, slices of the remaining and additional sesame oil and fresh cilantro. Serve immediately.