“You need that chicken gras, that chicken flavour to glaze the rice. That is all about the cooking. Because they boil it literally for 30 minutes, and then leave it to cool down within 30 minutes as well. So it’s just absolutely right. You may snap the bone and see a little bit of blood in there, but it’s about the flavour." - Gordon Ramsay
When Gordon Ramsay arrived in Singapore last year, he was set three challenges, one of which was to learn how to cook and sell the iconic Hainanese chicken rice, then win the votes of the crowd deciding the winner. In a tiny kitchen of Maxwell food market, Ramsay caused a frenzy as he arrived and learnt from the tutelage of owner and chef of Tian Tian, an established chicken rice stall.
He lost the challenge.
Winning the crowd with his chilli crab, but losing in laksa and chicken rice - Ramsay was suitably awed as he worked with the three Singaporean chefs at their specialities; undoubtedly left Singapore with a new experience of cooking and a whole new outlook on the reinvention of cuisine.
My review today is on Good Year Hainanese Chicken Rice, a stall in Toa Payoh. A humble store with small beginnings, it has a large fan base and a good reason for this, with television appearances and television personalities frequenting the stall.
You don't mess with chicken rice in Singapore. Everyone has a different approach, some drench their rice and chicken combination in tangy spicy chilli sauce and gluggy dark soy sauce, some dip their spoons into the mixture, some pour it all into one saucer with pureed ginger and go at it with every bite.
However you choose to eat it, it only results in one delicious result.
So let's talk about the side dishes before we go into the focal point of this stall - essentially, no decent meal ever goes without its sides and a serving of basic soup.
Our sides for the night included a clear broth of chicken feet and peanuts, some par-boiled greens with oyster sauce and stewed cabbage. All delicious, all of which you should try if you ever visit this stall. (It's free refills for soup, just let the lady boss know and she'll happily pour more for you.)
By now one should be aware that I am from a family who eats a decent amount for their dinner, considering it's commonly the time we sit down and spend an hour or so chowing down while bickering about the day's events and proceedings.
So when the stall owner asked my parents whether we wanted roast chicken, white chicken (white meaning the steeped version), or roast meats - my dad made the wise decision of having half of each chicken and a small serving of roast meats. The owner was, of course, suitably pleased with the decision and quickly dished up our orders.
I especially love that the chicken is served with limes, and the addition of sharp citrus really brings out a sweetness in the chicken meat that makes me very, very happy. The chicken falls off the bone, and is tender, fatty just so and never, ever dry - absolutely amazing with slices of cucumber and light sauce.
Now we move to the second focal point of the meal - the rice. Chicken rice is an absolute force to be reckoned with when done right, fragrant and delicious with chicken stock, ginger and garlic. The rice serves to pair flawlessly with the chilli (which differs from store to store, make no mistake) and dark soy sauce with minced ginger, which then pairs flawlessly with the actual chicken meat itself.
It is especially adorable, and indulgent even, when the rice is served to you rolled like this:
Now, even though I mentioned that this is absolutely adorable, it serves a purpose. Chicken rice used to be served like this to preserve flavor and heat for customers, especially when it came to take out. Since stalls didn't use to have appliances (or even a stall), the chicken rice balls kept food hot and saved space as well, making food easier to transport and to eat.
Of course in modern times, we don't have to worry much about such issues, but a select few still serve rice like this as more of a novelty.
It's still a delight to see these now, and the fragrance is intensified when you break open one of these chicken rice balls and see that spiced, scented steam rise from the hot rice.
I'm sure that chicken rice is not a surprise to anyone - as Singaporeans we see it everywhere, and it's one of the only local dishes that have ever made it to being served on our very established Singapore Airlines. We may have variations in Thailand, Malaysia and many other parts of South East Asia, but nothing makes me smile like seeing a glossy photo of chicken rice in a food magazine.
Always remember your sauce combinations, and eat your chicken rice with pride!
Good Year Hainanese Chicken Rice can be located at:
#01-366, Cheng Cheng Mee Wah Restaurant,
111 Lorong 1 Toa Payoh