CHICAGO - The Chinese New Year is underway, which means the restaurants in Chinatown are probably full...but our Hungry Hound is looking beyond those borders this weekend, to a Chinatown veteran who has moved his business closer to the University of Illinois at Chicago campus. He said they're now making a southern Chinese dish that has become a hit in Southeast Asia.
The regulars can certainly get their Szechuan and Cantonese fix at Jade Court, a second effort by the team behind the legendary Phoenix in Chinatown, now occupying a sleepy corner near the UIC pavilion. But look past the eggrolls toward Singapore, for their incomparable Hainanese chicken rice.
"It's always served, this type of chicken, steamed chicken, or any type of chicken in the southern part of China," said Chi Cheung the owner of Jade Court. "But if you go to Singapore, the Chinese over there have used the local ingredients to make a little bit different than in southern China."
Chicken is salted overnight, then rinsed and placed into hot water, where it gently poaches. Meanwhile, rice is soaked in chicken broth, then drained and gets another bath of chicken broth, as well as aromatics like fresh ginger, sugar and ginger powder, plus chicken fat and corn oil. Dried bay leaves and fresh lemongrass are scattered across the top, and then it's steamed for about an hour. Once it's fully cooked, the bay and lemongrass are removed, and a dark, fried knob of shallots and garlic are incorporated to season the rice even more.
The cooked chicken, meanwhile, has been removed, and spices like dried licorice, orange peel, cinnamon and star anise are added to the broth. The chicken goes back in, and after 45 minutes, the skin turns a beautiful amber, while the meat is as juicy as can be. It's cleaned and sliced, plated with crunchy, pickled daikon and carrots, and a heaping mound of the chicken-scented rice.
At the table, take some rice, top with chicken, and choose a sauce -- either chili, fresh ginger and scallion, or a slightly sweetened dark soy.
"That ginger and spring onion is very important. This goes well with the chicken and it's easy to make," Cheung said.
So this Chinese new year, try something a little bit different, outside of Chinatown. The national dish of Singapore, also known as chicken rice.
EXTRA COURSE: Toronto fried rice at Jade Court
626 S. Racine Ave