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Monday, November 5, 2012

Claypot Chicken Rice 瓦煲鸡饭

I may not be a big fan of the claypot chicken rice, but this being one of the many popular local delights is something that I do enjoy having every now and then. I probably could have counted the few little times that I had ordered and had a personal pot all to myself dining out. This has always been more of a family affair with our family sharing a good pot or two for a meal at times. Dad and brother on the other hand, loved this like none others. This claypot chicken rice had even been a reason we would be exploring some cities or towns hunting for some renowned stalls specializing in claypot chicken rice, heard, recommended or seen advertised anywhere when we happened to be out of town. Nope, not at all exaggerating here. So despite me not particularly loving it, I grew up having plenty of it nonetheless. And good ones they sure are.

When you have two claypot chicken rice enthusiasts at home, over time you will find that you actually do learn and pick up some stuff from them subconsciously. For one, I have learned that it all starts with a queue and a long waiting time. Making a pot of claypot chicken rice traditionally involved the use of the charcoal flame as the main source of heat giving it an earthy flavor. That method of fueling is certainly getting less and less seen these days, largely replaced with the gas burners saving plenty of time and effort. Regardless of which is used, I do know that the basic to a good pot of this goodie starts with the rice. It should be cooked using the claypot itself rather than having it pre-cooked and assembled in a claypot simply after. With that slow and steady rule #1, that explained the wait. Thinking back, it was amazing how a good pot of this could actually test and tame the two men at home with the least patience back then lol.

Chinese sausage, shiitake mushroom and a good piece of salted fish
- the essentials to a good pot of claypot chicken rice
With the waiting over, a pot of smoky and aromatic chicken rice is what you should be anticipating - the aroma especially coming from the salted fish and the Chinese sausage or lap cheong 腊肠 , the pleasant sight of the color given by a good quality of dark soy sauce, grains of rice nicely separated looking firm and the steam seen as soon as the lid is removed suggesting a piping hot content right to the core of each grain of rice. Giving it a stir prior to serving, a good layer of crust should already be noticeable. "The best part" as how dad would describe the slightly burnt crust, he would always be the first one to claim that piece of treasure totally ignoring mom's disapproving look lol. With all those criteria scored, the result will be somewhat indescribable - lets just put it as "satisfaction in every spoonsful guaranteed".

fried salted fish broken down and sprinkled over rice prior to serving

Claypot Chicken Rice 瓦煲鸡饭
Serves 2
1 cup of brown jasmine rice, rinsed until water runs clear
1 cup of water + 1/2 cup more from the water reserved from soaking the mushrooms 
4 chicken thighs, washed and excess fat trimmed and each chopped into 4 smaller pieces
2 Chinese sausage, thinly sliced diagonally
6 shiitake mushroom, rinsed and soaked to soften with the water used retained
1 small piece of salted fish measuring about 2" (I used salted mackerel fish 梅香咸鱼)
3" ginger, skin peeled and sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic, minced
a pinch of salt
1 tsp light soy sauce  
3½ tbsps cooking oil 
1 stalk spring onion, chopped

Meat marinade
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1½ tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
1/4 tsp sugar   
a few dashes of white pepper powder
1/2 tsp corn starch

Rice seasoning
1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tsps fried garlic oil

1. Begin with marinating the chicken slightly ahead of time. I usually get them started early in the day and leave refrigerated until cooking time.
2. Prepare the fried garlic oil by first heating about 2 tbsps of cooking oil in a sauce pan. Once well heated, turn the heat down to medium-low and add in 1/2 of the minced garlic. Stir regularly to ensure even heat distribution. Once it shows a tinge of browning, stir for another minute until they turn golden on the whole. Remove from heat and transfer to a heat-proof bowl.  

3. Put the claypot on high heat. Add in 1/2 tbsp of cooking oil and bring the piece of salted fish in to fry, turning once or twice with a spoon. Once fragrant and appearing brownish, dish up the salted fish, leaving the oil behind. 

4. Add in the sliced Chinese sausage next. Let fry until they are slightly curled and shrunk a little, browned evenly smelling fragrant. Dish up and set aside. 
5. Pour in the rice next, lightly stirring to coat with the remaining oil in the claypot. Add in the water needed to cook the rice. Cover with the lid, turn the heat down to medium-low and let the rice simmer away.
6. Meanwhile, heat up a wok with the remaining cooking oil. Add in the minced garlic and the sliced ginger and stir fry until fragrant. Bring in the mushrooms next. Add in a pinch of salt along with 1 tsp of light soy sauce and stir well. Add in the chicken pieces and stir fry until about 70% done. Dish up and set aside.
7. The rice in the claypot should be looking ready about 15 minutes later with the water level significantly dropped. Arrange the chicken, mushroom and the Chinese sausage on top of the bed of rice. Replace the lid and let simmer for another 20 to 25 minutes. At this stage, the steam formed within the pot will take over the responsibility of getting its content thoroughly cooked. 
8. Reserving the fried garlic oil, drizzle in the rest of the rice seasoning slowly throghout the pot. Cover and let cook for another 5 minutes.
9. Drip in the fried garlic oil slowly around the inner rim of the pot and let undisturbed for a minute or two to get the bottom lightly crusted.
10. Have the piece of salted fish lightly crumbled, and scatter them around the top. 
11. Garnish with the chopped spring onion. Prior to serving, give a good stir mixing them up before portioning out.

I have got to say that I am quite a brown rice freak myself, thus explaining the absence of white rice in my blog this far. Have the brown rice substituted with any other kinds of your personal preference. The amount of water needed and the time spent cooking are relatively more with brown rice so should the white rice be used instead, the amount of water to be used will have to adjusted accordingly (white rice:water = 1:1 maybe). Likewise the time needed will undeniably be shorter too although I have little idea by how much, something probably worth experimenting with someday. 

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