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Friday, October 19, 2012

Ipoh Bean Sprouts Chicken 芽菜鸡

I have to say that I have little personal history with this. There was once when dad's work had brought us to Ipoh, the very city where this originates from. Having traveled long hours from our hometown and gone long enough without food, growling stomach got the better of me and dad knew he had better stopped by for our late lunch soon. Obviously unfamiliar with the roads around, we took turns here and there and ended up in an old, low-key restaurant or restaurants more like it. Plural because if I actually do remember anything about this restaurant, it would be the two shops side by side, linked by a small walkway at the back. And yes, you can be seated in a shop and order from another - not at all a problem. 

Charmingly old with a historical feel, this is one of the few shops that I know has done really well in preserving their heritage. Not forgetting the aged huge long mirror lining the wall right beside where we were seated and the slightly chipped antique marbled round tables and chairs they were using still. Surprisingly, this very mirror was what I used as my keyword in an attempt to search and relocate this restaurant online earlier today and finally getting to know it like never before. And so it is the Thien Chun Coffee Shop in Ipoh old town that I have been talking about. 

Reading about it, many have cited that they have the best shredded chicken rice noodle soup 鸡丝河粉 in town. And this was what we had back then - with extra servings of poached chicken and bean sprouts served separately. Not the conventional bean sprouts chicken posted here, the differences being:-
  •  the noodle soup base is made using chicken and additional shells of shrimps to give an extra favor compared to just the chicken used here
  • having made the soup with shrimps, each bowl then is served with a couple of fresh, plump juicy shrimps which will not be seen here
  • the chicken is shredded and usually served with the noodle as one in a single bowl, but of course you can request for additional servings which will then be served chopped up on a separate plate - just like how it is with that posted here 
  • the rice noodle soup won't be seen served with meatballs on the side, but bowls of meatballs (or even plates of sliced up chicken gizzard sometimes) will be a common sight when it comes to the bean sprouts chicken
But other than those, they both are pretty much the same having the same kind of smooth and juicy poached chicken, fresh and crunchy bean sprouts and the velvety smooth flat rice noodles. Having this close to 1½ decades ago and recalling this now - nostalgic? Yes, it is for me indeed.

Ipoh Bean Sprouts Chicken 芽菜鸡
Serves 4-6

Poached chicken
1 whole chicken (about 3-3.5lb), cleaned and excess fat trimmed
4 stalks spring onion, just the white parts cut into 2½" sections, green parts retained for garnishing later
5 cloves of garlic, skin and hard parts removed, crushed 
1 handful goji berries, briefly rinsed
2½ tbsps whole white peppercorns, lightly crushed
1 big pot of water for poaching (depending on size of chicken)
1 big bowl of iced cold water
enough light soy sauce and sesame oil for rubbing and coating 
1/3 seedless cucumber, skin peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly 
extra light soy sauce, sesame oil and white pepper powder for drizzling at the end 

1. In a pot, bring to boil enough water to submerge the whole chicken. Meanwhile, line the cavity of the chicken with the spring onions, and stuffed in the garlic cloves, goji berries and peppercorns. 

Once the water is ready, bring in the whole chicken, neck first into the pot. Put the lid on, and remove the whole pot from heat. Leave undisturbed for 1 hour. Carefully lift up the chicken and set aside.
2. Put the pot of water back to boil. Remove any scums or impurities formed. Bring the chicken back in into the pot. Again cover, remove from heat and let poach for another 30 minutes.
3. Get a bowl of iced cold water ready. Removing the chicken from the pot of water, transfer the chicken into the bowl of iced cold water to halt cooking and set the texture of the chicken. Leave on for 15 minutes.
4. Clear the chicken cavity, and rub light soy sauce and sesame oil generously all over the chicken, in and out. 
5. Reserving one half of the chicken breasts, cut up the rest of the chicken and serve on a bed of sliced cucumber. Drizzle with light soy sauce, sesame oil and add on a dash or two of white pepper powder. Garnish prior to serving.

Flat rice noodles 沙河粉
1 pack of flat rice noodles (1lb pack)
1 handful dried anchovies, rinsed with heads and intestines removed
400ml of chicken stock
1/2 tbsp rock sugar
salt to taste   
1 half chicken breast (reserved from poaching earlier on), shredded thickly

1. With the remaining pot of water used for poaching the chicken, bring to boil on high heat until the volume halves. This makes the basic to the soup base used for the rice noodle and meatballs soup later.
2. When the water level drops to an acceptable level, add in the anchovies and the chicken stock and bring to boil for 15 minutes. With a sieve, remove the anchovies within. Finish by adding in the rock sugar and salt to taste.
3. With the rice noodles, set up a steamer and bring the noodles to steam until soft. Let the noodles cool down for a while before separating them.
4. When ready to cook, heat up a small pot of water. Working on a single portion at a time, add in the rice noodle to the boiling water for about 15 seconds. Drain, and set in a bowl. Repeat with the rest.
5.  Pour in just enough soup base to cover the noodles. Top each bowl with the shredded chicken breast and garnish.

Meatballs soup
4 frozen pork meatballs, thawed
4 frozen fish balls, thawed

1. Bring the pork meatballs and fish balls into the pot of soup base. Let boil until cook - they will appear floating on the surface when ready.
2. Serve in a small bowl of soup and garnish. 
Blanched bean sprouts
0.6lb bean sprouts, ends trimmed and rinsed 
light soy sauce and sesame oil to taste
a dash or two of white pepper powder

1. Boil a new pot of water. Once ready, blanch the bean sprouts in batches for just 15 seconds. 
2. Drain well and serve on a plate. Drizzle with light soy sauce, sesame oil and add on a dash or two of white pepper powder. Garnish prior to serving.
4 stalks spring onion (remaining green parts from poaching chicken), chopped
fried shallots  
red chillies, sliced (optional)

This is best served with fiery hot birds eye chilies in soy sauce.

With one whole chicken served with plenty other side dishes, this sure is one of those big meals with plenty of leftovers for the next couple of days to come. Not necessarily having the same dish for a couple more meals, with some imaginations more dinners can be improvised from these leftovers.
We had barely half of the chicken for this meal, the rest of which we had for another dinner of ours served with the Chinese Cilantro Scallion Dipping Sauce 芫茜姜葱油


  1. Thanks for these instructions...we never took the chix out of the pot when bringing the water back to boil. And didn't do the ice bath after cooking. Thanks! Please post more recipes... You have the best site on the internet where the food tastes great exactly as you have listed the ingredients...

  2. Just made this last night. Something is missing? Does not have the flavoring like the restaurant/like the Hakka stand? Is it missing more salt? Or more soy Sauce? The chicken was very tender until we tried to get rid of the blood in the joints.... So method was excellent. Any advice on flavor? My wife is from Penang and she said it was quite bland.

    1. I'm sorry it didn't turn out as good for you. I can't really tell what is missing from the description alone, but I guess you could try rubbing the chicken with more soy sauce and sesame oil, and then drizzle with even more perhaps?


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