Hainan Chicken recipe

We recently began giving customers the option to add chicken to their salads, rice and beans, etc.  Customers have been asking how we  make our chicken, esp. how we keep the white meat so juicy, smooth, soft, and flavorful.

We cook our chicken Hainanese style.  Hainan chicken is a dish of Chinese origins and is popular in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore (national dish).  It’s chicken that’s either delicately poached or steamed, then placed in a ice water to lock in the flavors in the meat and give skin a jelly like texture.

Hainan chicken, good shit.

We do something similar.  We first brine the chicken in soy sauce, garlic and onion juice mixture for 24 hours.  We then gently poach it in a crock pot.  Never let the water boil, let it cook slowly at 170, 180 degrees.  The higher the temperature, the less tender the meat.  A five pound chicken should be ready in two hours. Chicken is transferred to ice water for 20-30 minutes, yada yada, it’s ready.  Hack into pieces with a big ass butcher knife. Leave bones on.  For instruction on how to hack chicken, go to a Chinese butcher and observe.

Bad ass knives

You’ll notice that the bones will be bloody.  Here’s why they’re bloody (from http://www.thermoworks.com).

According to a study conducted by Iowa State University, today’s marketed chickens are considerably younger and far more tender than they were years ago. Their bones have not yet matured and are still somewhat soft and porous. As the internal temperature of the bird heats up, marrow can – and quite often does – seep through the soft bone into the surrounding meat. The result is bloody and/or red meat.

When a young chicken is deep chilled, ice crystals form inside the bone. They expand and force the heme out of the marrow through the soft, porous bones. During the cooking process, the tissue will darken in color. Although the appearance can be off-putting, the meat is not harmed when this happens.

To combat this occurrence, restauranteurs are being forced to sell over cooked chicken to address the red blood color in the meat and around the bones. As a result, chicken is often dry, unappealing and tasteless. By and large, consumers are being duped into believing that bloody chicken is dangerous.

Dr. O. Peter Snyder, Jr., Ph.D. of the Hospitality Institue of Technology and Management says, “If consumers were taught to eat safely prepared, bloody chicken, as they want to do with beef, they would be able to enjoy juicier chicken.” The trick is to learn how to prepare safe-to-eat chicken and get over our fear of a little blood in our birds.”

So it’s not a big deal as long as internal temperature has been brought to 165 for 15 seconds.  But for a restaurant, it is a big deal because customer perception is reality.  So we get rid of the blood by poaching the cut pieces again for just under a minute, or until blood is gone.  We’re basically overcooking it, but as little as possible.  We then strip the meat from the bones and cut them into cubes.  (Hainan chicken is served with bones on for reasons we won’t get into now).  The skin and gizzards are used to make either chicken pate or quiche, the chilled ice water and broth are used as stock.

As in other recipes, we emphasize gentle cooking, low heat cooking.  I don’t get the obsession with 350 degrees, when we seldom cook anything above 200 degrees.  Low heat means more room for error and juicier and more tender meat,  which in turn means eating fewer calories because one is satisfied with less.  Dry meat means more gravy, more teriyaki sauce, more of everything to reach satisfaction.  Eating less isn’t about denial, it’s about eating better.


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