Wenchang (Hainanese) Chicken and Rice

Wenchang Chicken and Rice with Calamansi Dipping Sauce
Wenchang Chicken and Rice with Calamansi Dipping SauceJason Lang

To best replicate the taste of a Hainan-raised chicken, which is fed on a special tropical diet and kept small in size, use an organic, free-range bird, preferably no larger than three pounds. In this preparation, which most closely resembles stateside Hainan chicken rice, the bird is poached gently in a ginger-infused broth and served with rice dressed in the chicken's rendered fat and a bright dipping sauce made with calamansi, a native citrus hybrid.

What's calamansi? The thin peel of the calamansi, a citrus native to southern China, is sweet, while its juice is quite sour. The fruit is most often squeezed over cooked fish or in dipping sauces, such as the bright one served alongside Wenchang chicken. Also found in Florida and California, the citrus tastes like a cross between a lime and a kumquat, and, historically, has been puréed and turned into cakes and confections stateside. We love its floral, acidic juice showered over grilled chicken or mixed with sugar for a refreshing drink. You can also eat it raw, enjoying its sweet peel and tart flesh. When calamansi is in season (early winter to late spring), you can find it in farmers' markets in Florida or California or purchase it (under the name "calamondin") from melissas.com.

Wenchang (Hainanese) Chicken and Rice
The classic dish of deceptively simple ginger-poached chicken with flavorful rice and a unique calamansi lime dipping sauce.
Yield: serves 4
Time: 14 hours

For the Chicken

  • 1 3-lb. organic, free-range whole chicken
  • 2 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 2 scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 1 5-inch piece ginger, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. ground white pepper
  • 4 cups cooked white rice

For the Sauce

  • 1 tbsp. minced green chile
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 2 tsp. minced ginger
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 12 tsp. sugar
  • 2 calamansi (see note above)

Instructions

  1. The night before, rinse the chicken under cold running water and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels. Rub the salt all over the outside and inside the cavity of the chicken. Loosely wrap the chicken in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 12 hours or overnight.
  2. The next day, unwrap the chicken, stuff the cavity with the scallions and ginger, and tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Fill a pot large enough to fit the chicken three-quarters full with water and bring to a boil. Add the chicken, cover the pot, and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let stand, covered, for 1 hour.
  3. Uncover the pot and, using tongs, transfer the chicken to a bowl of ice water. Turn the chicken in the water for 10 seconds to stop its cooking, then drain and transfer the chicken to paper towels on a cutting board; do not pat the chicken dry. Using a brush, baste the outside of the chicken with the sesame oil. Cut the chicken into serving pieces, transfer to a serving platter, and sprinkle with the white pepper.
  4. Make the dipping sauce: In a small bowl, combine the chile with the garlic, ginger, salt, and sugar. Juice the calamansi into the bowl and remove the seeds. Scrape any pulp from the rind, finely chop it, and add it to the bowl. Skim off all the fat from the top of the chicken's cooking broth and stir 1 tablespoon into the bowl along with 5 tablespoons of the cooking broth; reserve the remaining cooking broth for another use. Stir the remaining fat into the rice until evenly combined and serve alongside the chicken and dipping sauce.