Flavors of Singapore at Jade Court, Serai

CHICAGO (WLS) -- You wouldn't think the flavors of Singapore would be available in Chicago, but Steve Dolinsky said Singapore's most beloved dish - chicken rice - is now available at a couple of restaurants in town.

Hainanese chicken rice, to be exact, is all over Singapore. Simple on its face, but a lot more complex and difficult to recreate than you might think.

But after a visit overseas and a scouting trip in Chicago, Steve found two versions that manage to live up to the original.

Inside the busy Maxwell Food Hawker Centre, the sound of cleavers is unmistakable.

They are assembling Hainanese Chicken Rice, the most beloved dish here. Poached and tender, the birds are dressed in a flavorful oyster sauce alongside lemongrass-and-chicken-stock-scented rice; served with a few dipping sauces, including ginger-garlic, dark soy and fiery chili.

The dish is recreated magnificently back in the kitchen at Jade Court, on the UIC campus just South of Greektown.

"They moved to Singapore, the Chinese over there, they have used a local ingredient to make a little bit different than in Southern China," said Chi Cheung, the owner of Jade Court.

The cooks at Jade Court poach their chickens in broth infused with cinnamon, licorice, dried orange peel and sesame oil. The rice is similiarly aromatic - with loads of lemongrass, shallot and black garlic - and all three of the sauces are spot-on.
"That ginger and spring onion is very important. This goes well with the chicken," he said.

In Logan Square, Serai emphasizes Malaysian food, so the kitchen had to step-up its chicken rice game.

"It had to be on the menu because I lived in Singapore for three years; it's a staple dish there and I missed the taste as well. It's a taste of home," said owner Victor Low.

The chicken is gently poached and then rinsed in cold water, which renders the skin soft and supple - as juicy and tender as the meat is beneath it. To make the rice, first fresh garlic and ginger are tossed in a hot wok, then washed rice is added and cooked briefly, before being transferred to a steamer to cook through.

Homemade dipping sauces are a given, each one offering a different punch of flavor for the already tender chicken and aromatic rice.

"The chili which is spicy, the soy sauce a bit more on the sweet side, and then the ginger which is a bit more ginger spicy," said Low.

In this week's Extra Course, Steve goes back to Serai in Logan Square to try another dish he had in Singapore that the restaurant reproduces faithfully, laska.

Jade Court
626 S Racine Ave
(312) 929-4828

2169 N Milwaukee Ave
(872) 206-8368
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