(Moved from December 8, 2006)
First, here's the outline of the ***secret*** recipe of the proper Singaporean Hainanese chicken rice.
Bring a big pot of chicken stock to a boil. (~212F) Don't add any salt or seasoning. Turn off the heat, lay a 3-pound whole chicken (or just chicken breast if you want) in the stock, and cover the pan. After about 15 minutes (or until the stock cools to about 130F) plunge the chicken in ice bath to stop cooking it. Bring the stock back (close) to boil, while the chicken sits and waits. Repeat the process for a total of about 40 minutes steeping time (there IS a mathematical formula for each different volume or thickness - a fascinating topic.)
Cut it up, Enjoy with chili ginger sauce, cucumbers, rice cooked in chicken stock, and a simply seasoned broth made with the remaining stock.
Q: The temperature seems awfully low, considering we bring it up to something like 375F for oven roasting.
A: Once the chicken is exposed to the initially boiling water, the surface bacteria are destroyed. Then it is cooked at an average of 180F, which is exactly the internal temperature we want to achieve (check your meat thermometer). It could be a lot lower, but overcompensate so you don't scare cautious American cooks.
Q: Steeping it below boiling temperature does sound dangerous. Will it cook through in 40 minutes at only half the temperature of oven roasting?
A: You are basically equalizing the water temperature and the meat temperature. Water is a much more effective heat transmitter as opposed to hot oven air - many many more molecules at work in a dense medium. If you happen to have a cooker that can keep the water temperature constant at 140F - 180F, that'll do, too, but make sure you kill the bacteria.
Q: Why does it taste better?
A: The ideal texture of some meat, poultry or fish is achieved by cooking it at around 140F within the ideal cooking time window (when it's just cooked through). Overcooked chicken is just about the worst thing, yet most people are used to it. Adding salt to the broth raises the boiling temperature, and that's not ideal. Boiling temperature of water is just a marker, like a $100 bill. It doesn't mean anything to the chicken!
image from taken by pat2bach at Chatterbox, hotel Meritus Mandarin, Singapore
Q and A by Sharon Hahn Darlin
(Moved from December 8, 2006)
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