Recipe: Singapore’s Beloved “Chicken Rice”

The minute Anthony Bourdain said he got boo’d in Singapore over Chicken Rice, I knew the recipe had edged out all other contenders for a place on our Singaporean Global Table.

It’s true – when the world-renowned food star admitted that, after 7 visits, not only did he not have a favorite Chicken Rice joint, but that he’d never even taken a bite of this national favorite, the apparent transgression was enough to send the crowd in an uproar.

I can’t even imagine.

Talk about food love. Unexpected and pure.



Food for Thought:

All this hoopla made me wonder what about my culture’s food is this way – what dish must a visitor try to have truly experienced American culture?

Pizza? Chowder? I have to say, I was stumped.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, if anything comes to mind.

For, now, back to business… let’s talk Chicken Rice. This is a deceptively simple dish – one that could be summed up as room temperature chicken over rice. But that summary would do the dish a great disservice.

There’s a whole lot more going on.

The chicken is gently poached in a ginger, garlic, and green onion broth. The rice is a bit bolder, smacking of sauteed shallot, garlic, and ginger… and is plumped up with the very broth created by poaching the chicken. Some of the broth even gets used to make the chili sauce.

Nothing good wasted.

The real surprise of this dish comes with the ice bath. Plunking chicken in ice is an old Chinese method used to tighten and smooth the skin, making for a much more enjoyable mouthfeel that plain ol’ boiled chicken skin.

Let’s be honest, flabby chicken skin isn’t appealing.

So thanks for the ice trick, China!

The finishing touch is an incredible arsenal of garnishes. Anything from sliced cucumbers or tomatoes, to rich sesame oil, dark soy sauce, and chili sauce. Locals love to argue about the best way to sauce your chicken rice – dip or drizzle.

I’ll leave the logistics of that up to you.


Inspired by Christine’s RecipesThe World Cookbook for Students &, of course, Mr. Bourdain who has  a pretty neat tumblr.

Serves 4


For the chicken:

4 whole chicken legs
4 cloves garlic, quartered
2 inches of ginger, sliced in coins
4 green onions, halved
boiling water, to cover

Bowl of ice & water

For the rice:

2 cups white rice
1 quart chicken broth
1-2 small shallot, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp grated ginger

Accompaniments (as desired):

sliced cucumber
sliced tomato
green onion
fried shallots
dark soy sauce
homemade chili sauce (recipe coming)
sesame oil


There are four stages in making Chicken Rice.

1. Find somewhere beautiful to cook.

Sunrise in Singapore, photo by Mohd Kamal.

Sunrise in Singapore, photo by Mohd Kamal.


2. Poach the Chicken

Add all chicken ingredients to a large pot. Cover with boiling water (1-2 quarts). Return to a gentle simmer (barely a bubble), cover, and cook until the chicken’s juices run clear when pierced – about 30 minutes.

Beware: the entire house will fill with the simple, purifying fragrance of green onion, ginger, and garlic.


Then, remove the chicken and plunge it directly into an ice bath until chilled through. Set aside.


3. Make the Seasoned Rice

Saute the shallot in oil until softened. Toss in the crushed garlic and ginger, cooking a few moments until their fragrance bursts from the pot.

Finally, toss on the rice and cook a few minutes until heated through.

Ladle on some of the hot stock from poaching the chicken and a smattering of salt. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer. Cook about 16 minutes. Remove from heat, remove lid, and let steam off about five minutes before fluffing.

4. Assembly

If you have one, use a cleaver to cut the chicken legs into pieces. Gather your accompaniments.

On every plate, spoon a happy mountain of rice, one whole chicken leg, and …

… any goodies you’d like.

Because, as any Singaporean will tell you, the toppings are most of the fun.

Enjoy with a side of beautiful, unbridled joy.


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  1. Because it’s room temperature, this seems like it would be a good picnic or potluck dish. (Not that I’m going on any picnics in the current cold that’s going on now in Febraury.)

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Yes, that’s a great idea Ann… we’ve actually had a few 70f days lately which is when we took the photos of Ava barefoot outside… it’d be great to do something like this!

  2. Interesting recipe… I am not sure it would be a “hubby-pleaser”, he absolutely hates chicken skin unless it is VERY crispy. I also think he would prefer the chicken hot… what to do? what to do? I am quite intrigued by the recipe, though. Would it be a huge crime to serve the chicken warm? ;-)

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Hmmm I’m a fan of converting picky eaters in small steps, so I think in the grand scheme of things it’d be a step in the right direction – at least he’d be trying something new!

  3. cooking methods sound interesting… as a fan of Cooks Illustrated we’re open to testing cooking techniques.
    I’ll get the ice cubes ready and start boiling water.

  4. Anything with ginger has to be good :)
    This ice bath sounds really interesting, I wonder how the meat tastes after such temperature shock.
    And I love pictures of Ava with those blocks, you captured such joyful moments!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      The meat seems a bit firmer to me… but that might be because it’s not hot… those blocks.. I can’t believe they didn’t tip over. She was so excited :)

  5. Oh my favorite!!!! I’ve had it in Singapore and it really is so delicious!!

  6. annaclarice says:

    Your comment about American food made me think that your next project should be “Cooking America; state by state”.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      I’ve heard of someone out there doing it… I did a quick search and can’t find it now… it would definitely be a fun project :)

  7. Your national dish question is a fun one to think about. Is our country too large to have a national dish? I think it’s fair to say that even Russia, with its huge land mass, would name borscht or cabbage rolls as a national dish. (Or maybe your beloved caviar!) I think the beauty of our country is its rich mix of cultures. Even back to pre-Columbian times the indigenous peoples cooked such diverse foods. Here in the Northwest I wouldn’t think of having people visit without serving Northwest salmon and wild huckleberries, two staples of the coastal Indians. But I suppose barbeque, in all of its forms, is what can be found most easily throughout the whole country. Maybe chili or chowder would be a close second because, like barbeque, they can be adapted to regional ingredients.

  8. I love chicken rice!! I ran across it in Hong Kong and came to love it in New York, where Malayan-Chinese restaurants serve it and call it “Hainan Chicken Rice”, named after the Chinese island where it probably originated. My favorite came from Nonya restaurant near Chinatown, NYC. I don’t think it’s simple. The most famous maker in Singapore has had 40 years experience. I am sure Bourdain, who lived in NYC, was familiar with this dish. Here is Bourdain’s Chicken Rice video, worth watching.

    • And I guess it is really big in Singapore. In 2008 the New York Times posted a recipe for chicken rice on their website. Within a few hours, someone in Singapore had left this comment for them: “The receipe is terrible and inauthentic. I live in Singapore and it is a religion here – every 10th store in a chicken rice store. It is the equivalent of Pizza Hut hut going to Rome and telling a pizzeria – ‘you have no idea how to make Pizza’.”

  9. When I first thought about the question of whether there is an American dish I was certain there wasn’t. Such a dish would have to be quintessentially American (therefore it’s not pizza or burritos), inspire mad devotion, and be available throughout the U.S. I think there is one: hamburgers! Also BBQ, except you can’t get it in the Northeast.

    • Kebby Jones says:

      Yep, I was thinking that hamburgers might be our “very American food” too…even though they’re named after a place in Germany. :) We’re a melting pot too!

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