Com Ga: Vietnamese style Haianese Chicken Rice

img_0934 copyLast year, in a cab in Hanoi, my family and I saw a sign for Com Ga (chicken rice) and asked our cab driver if he could recommend a good place for us to try it.  Up until this point, the driver had been rather dour and unengaged, but upon hearing about com ga, his face brightened and we embarked on a lively conversation about how the best com ga has to be homemade; how to get the chicken skin to be unctuous and a mellow yellow; the best kinds of chickens; the importance of chicken fat; etc. By the end of the short cross town trip, we had learned the Vietnamese term for free-range chickens (ga di bo, which translates to “walking chicken”) as well as a secret ingredient: turmeric.

The Vietnamese com ga, is a close cousin of Haianese chicken rice, a well-known and well-loved dish throughout most of Southeast Asia. It also happens to be one of the national dishes of Singapore, where it is served in the ubiquitous hawker centers throughout the city nation.  It is essentially a dish composed of a poached whole chicken and rice made from the poaching liquid.

Today, I share with you my version of this famous dish, where I’ve put my own spin on it, adding fish sauce to the soup and turmeric to the chicken.

Chicken:
4 lb young chicken, trim the fat around the bottom cavity and set aside
2 tbs coarse sea salt
2 scallions, tied in knots
1 garlic clove, smashed
3 inch piece of ginger, washed and smashed
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs shaoxing cooking wine
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbs fish sauce
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp canola oil

– Rub chicken vigorously with coarse sea salt to “polish” the chicken. Rinse and place butt-up in a stock pot that fits snugly around the chicken but is tall enough for the chicken to be entirely submerged.  If you use a pot that is too big then you will need a lot of water and that will result in a very diluted stock.  I recommend a 6-8 qt pot.
– Place in chicken cavity: scallions, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, shaoxing wine, sesame oil, fish sauce, and salt.
– Fill pot with just enough water to submerge chicken.  Bring to a boil and then cover and cook on lowest possible heat for about 25-30 minutes.
– Remove chicken and place on plate breast up. With a damp paper towel, gently wipe off the chicken, being careful not to break the skin. Continue to boil leftover stock to reduce it.
– Mix turmeric with oil and then rub onto chicken–use a brush because the chicken will be very hot. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and leave to cool.
– When ready to serve, carve chicken by removing the legs and wings first. Then carve out each breast and slice them against the grain into 1/2 inch slices. Arrange on a plate.

Rice:
1 tbs canola oil
reserved chicken fat
3 inch piece ginger, cleaned and smashed
1 garlic clove, smashed
2 cups jasmine rice, rinsed and drained
a couple dashes of turmeric
1/4 tsp salt
2-3 cups reserved chicken stock

– In a hot pan, add oil and reserved chicken fat and saute on medium until fat dissolves.  Add ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant.
– Add rice and cook for about 1-2 minutes, stirring.  Add turmeric and salt and stir to combine.
– Transfer rice to rice cooker and add stock according to your rice cooker’s instructions.

Sauce:
4 scallions, thinly sliced
2 inch piece of ginger, smashed and then minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup canola oil

– Combine scallions, ginger and salt in a heat proof bowl. Make sure the bowl is big enough that it is only 1/2 full.
– Heat oil until HOT, then pour over scallions, being careful that the oil doesn’t bubble over in the bowl.  Mix well and set aside.
* This scallion/ginger oil is super addictive and can be made in bulk and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. Drizzle on vegetables, eggs, sandwiches–it’s AMAZING!

Soup:
3 cups reserved stock, add salt to taste
1.5 cups sliced bok choy, or cubed butternut squash (dice size), cubed tofu, or spinach
1 scallion, chopped

– Heat stock in a pot until simmering, then add vegetables or tofu.  Simmer for another 3-5 minutes.  Ladle into small bowls and garnish with a dash of black pepper and a sprinkle of chopped scallions.

Serve chicken on a platter, rice in a big communal bow, and inidividual soup bowls and dipping bowls for scallion/ginger sauce.  A dash of soy sauce on the rice is super nice.  I also like to chop some fresh chilis and pop them into a small bowl of say sauce for dipping. Pairs well with a chilled Sauvignon Blanc.

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