Recipes of China: Hainan Chicken from Side Chick
Clarissa Wei learns how to make Hainan Chicken
Foodie Clarissa Wei learns the intricacies of making the perfect Hainan chicken.
Hainan chicken is a dish that originated in Wenchang City in the southern Chinese province of Hainan. Like wildfire, it quickly spread well past its Chinese sphere of influence and made a splash in Southeast Asia. Today, it's the national dish of Singapore.
Angelenos have come to embrace it, as well. Hainan chicken has always been one of the most acclaimed Chinese dishes in Los Angeles, so much so that for the longest time, Savoy Kitchen in Alhambra had a cultish following for their rendition of Hainan chicken; when Green Zone opened up in San Gabriel, it quickly became a worthwhile contender.
Side Chick, located inside the Westfield Santa Anita Mall in Arcadia, is the latest to tackle this classic Chinese dish. Helmed by chef Johnny Lee, the restaurant is an ode to Hainan chicken in a fast-casual concept.
Side Chick at the Westfield Santa Anita Mall in Arcadia
Johnny and I have been friends for quite a few years now. We met when I wrote a feature on him. Once, before Side Chick was even an idea, he made me Hainan chicken in his apartment; I exclaimed, gleefully, that it was delicious and I couldn’t wait until the day it became the anchor dish of his future restaurant.
Conceptually speaking, it’s a remarkably simple dish: just boiled chicken over rice. It’s the technicality of the creation that sets it apart. One must get the texture just right and concoct a dressing that frames the chicken well. Traditionally, that sauce is composed of finely minced ginger and scallion. The rice is integral to the dish, as well; it must retain the flavors of the chicken, which is usually accomplished by boiling it with chicken stock and the appropriate aromatics.
Lee, of course, does all of the above.
Chef Johnny Lee from Side Chick
Lately, he’s also rolled out roasted chicken, a nod to his Cantonese roots, where barbecued poultry is a mainstay on traditional street food markets.
He’s not a traditionalist, by any means, and simply uses his Chinese roots as reference points. To the delight of regulars, the restaurant has become a space where he can flex his creativity. If you’re lucky, you might even find five-spiced roasted duck leg served with plum sauce over egg noodle soup as the special of the day.
A variety of dishes from Side Chick
Lee was kind enough to divulge his recipe for Hainan chicken, modified here for the home cook:
Cooking time: 2 hours
Serves: 3 Ingredients:
- 1 whole chicken preferably head on, around 5lb, preferably of high quality (organic, free range, or heritage)
- 1 bunch of green onion
- 150 g ginger sliced
For ginger scallion sauce:
- 100 g minced ginger
- 50 g thinly sliced green onion
- Salt to taste
- White pepper to taste
- Canola oil to cover ginger
- 1 qt of rice
- 50 g minced ginger
- 50 g minced garlic
- 2 pandan leaves tied in a knot (optional)
- Salt to taste
- Bring a pot of water to boil with just enough water to cover the entire chicken. Add in the green onions and ginger, and then season with the salt to the point of it being considered barely salty to taste.
- While holding the neck of the bird, dip the chicken into the boiling water 3 times to flush the interior for even cooking.
- Allow water to return to a boil, then lower chicken into pot and keep the heat on high until the pot comes to a boil again. Turn off the heat and cover the pot with a lid.
- While the chicken is cooking, you can make the ginger scallion sauce. Take minced ginger and squeeze out all the excess liquid and set aside or discard.
- Transfer to a sauce pot and cover with just enough oil to allow it to stir easily. Turn on the heat to high and occasionally scrape the bottom of pot to prevent burning.
- Once oil starts bubbling rapidly, and before the ginger starts to discolor, turn off the heat and add in green onions.
- Season with a lot of salt. It should taste salty with a hint of white pepper.
- Allow the sauce to cool to room temperature.
- Have an ice bath ready for the chicken. The chicken in the pot needs to register 145 degrees Fahrenheit in the breast and 165 degrees Fahrenheit in the thighs; a kitchen thermometer is the best and most accurate way to gauge. I recommend cooking it to the doneness you are most comfortable eating chicken at, but if it is slightly pink it should be fine to eat if you used a high-quality, organic chicken.
- Once the chicken reaches the desired temperature, lift the chicken out of the pot and immediately transfer to the ice bath to stop it from cooking. When you lift the chicken, use a spider skimmer or a hook, and make sure to insert the tool right under the wishbone. If you attempt to pick it up from the legs, wings or neck, there is a good chance it will break and fall back into the hot pot, splashing you with scalding chicken stock.
- During the ice bath make sure to flush the chicken cavity with the ice water several times for even cooling distribution.
- To prepare the rice, add it to the pot using the chicken stock with the liquid ratio that is appropriate for the type of rice you are using. Add ginger, garlic, pandan leaves and salt, and taste the cooking liquid before cooking—it should be slightly salty. Cook the rice using your preferred method.
- Slice chicken in your preferred manner, bone-in or boneless. Serve with your choice of soy sauce (some people prefer a sweet one, some a light, or a dark) and your choice of chili sauce. I recommend Yeo’s sambal oelek.
Chicken may be served cold, but if you wish to warm it up a bit, you can ladle the leftover poaching liquid over the chicken until it reaches desired temperature.
Side Chick: 400 S Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007
Hungry for more? Follow Clarissa’s journey through China as she uncovers authentic dishes and cultural insight.