Thai Style Chicken and Rice, Khao Man Gai

Thai Style Chicken and Rice, Khao Man Gai by The High Heel Gourmet 16

I bet at least once in your life you’ve eaten scrambled eggs for dinner, or maybe even a whole stack of pancakes with sausage and eggs, right? You may ask, what am I leading you to? How does this relate to the rice thing in the picture above?

I was just trying to give you a rationale for eating this dish, Khao Man Gai or Chicken Rice, that appeared to most Westerners as a dinner course, (with less intensity), as a morning meal. Yes, we eat Khao Man Gai for breakfast, with garlic and all! (No one is French kissing during the day, right?)

What you see in the above picture has many different names, but it is best known among Westerners by the name “Hainanese chicken rice”. The name Khao Man Gai wasn’t well-known by the chicken rice name until “Nong’s Khao Man Gai” food cart opened in Portland, Oregon. I’ve heard that nowadays she has three locations around the city, proving how popular this dish is.

It of course originates from China, from the smallest province of the PRC, Hainan island. But don’t look at the island as tiny. Hainan province is a big island about the size of Maryland, still 5-6 times larger than Rhode Island, the smallest state in the US. They’re famous for their chickens: the coconut-fed, small but fleshy, free-range chicken with oily skin called Wenchang chicken.

Hainanese cuisine in general isn’t as popular as other mainland or other tribe cuisines, but just this chicken rice dish alone makes the island well-known among Southeast Asians. You will find this dish in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong, too. If you know any other country that also serves this dish, please let me know.

Since it’s served in so many countries, of course each cuisine will add their own twist to it. Most of the twist will be in the sauce, because the chicken itself is already delicious on its own. The dressing is what makes it perfect. The Thais would add (Couldn’t you guess?)…chilies to the sauce. (And yes, we eat chilies for breakfast! That’s why I had to leave the country, before my digestive system collapsed!)

The sauce for Khao Man Gai in Thailand has very strong Teochew influence and uses salted soy bean, or เต้าเจี้ยว, in the ingredients, together with many others, instead of just ginger, garlic, salt and sesame oil, like the original.

This is a simple dish, but you need some time to prep the chicken. I used half a chicken breast with the bones and skin, because I want all the chicken essence and flavor. This is a portion for two people. If you want to cook half or a whole chicken, just follow the whole process with a bigger piece of bird. I would roughly estimate a whole chicken (4-5lb.) is enough for 6 people, but you can save it for the next meal, too.

Ingredients (for 2)

Organic chicken breast with bones and skin on, or quarter leg if you want dark meat (see note #1)

Coarse salt 2 teaspoons

Garlic 3-4 cloves

Ginger (optional) peeled and sliced 1 tablespoon or more (I didn’t use it)

Water

Ingredients for rice

Chicken fat, cut from the piece of chicken above

Olive oil 1 tablespoon

Ginger, peeled and chopped 1 tablespoon

Garlic, chopped  1-1/2 teaspoons

Long grain jasmine rice 1 cup (see note #2)

chicken stock 1 cup, from the water that we used to boil the chicken

Ingredients for sauce (approximate)

Ginger, peeled and chopped  2 tablespoons

Garlic, chopped  1 tablespoon

Salted soy bean paste (or whole) 1 teaspoon, preferably dark in color, but I didn’t have it so I used the light (called yellow) one

Sweet soy sauce 1-2 tablespoons

Soy sauce 1 tablespoon

Black vinegar 1 tablespoon

Lime juice 1 tablespoon

Cilantro, chopped  2 tablespoons

Jalapeno or Serrano chilies, sliced  1 pod (see note #3)

Thai Style Chicken and Rice, Khao Man Gai by The High Heel Gourmet

From left: Light soy sauce, black vinegar (use vinegar if you can find it), sweet soy sauce, salted soy bean.

Garnishes

Cucumber slices

Cilantro sprigs

Green onion slices

Method for Chicken (Do this the very first thing)

1) Give the chicken a good spa day by rinsing it quickly and then rubbing the skin with coarse salt. Rub all the dirty stuff off, plucking the hairs out if you see them. Rub every square inch of the chicken that you can touch, inside and outside. If the chicken knew that it would get this good a spa treatment in the afterlife, it would have made a beeline to get an appointment with the butcher.

Thai Style Chicken and Rice, Khao Man Gai by The High Heel Gourmet 1

2) Trim the fat out of the chicken. You can find them under the skin mostly, and a big chunk here and there.

Thai Style Chicken and Rice, Khao Man Gai by The High Heel Gourmet 2

3) Put the chicken in a pot the size of the chicken piece–not too big, because you need all the essence. You don’t want it to be diluted with too much water.

Cover the chicken with water, just enough to cover it, then take the chicken out of the pot. Smash the garlic cloves with the flat side of a knife and add to the water, and bring to a high boil. I happened to have the bones from another piece of chicken breast so I left it in the pot while I boiled the water. I did it just to get extra flavor.

Thai Style Chicken and Rice, Khao Man Gai by The High Heel Gourmet 3

4) Once the water is at rolling boil, put the chicken in, wait until the water is back to a rolling boil again, then close the lid. Now we have two different methods for you to choose.

Thai Style Chicken and Rice, Khao Man Gai by The High Heel Gourmet 4

This is the chicken in the pot with water at a rolling boil, right before I closed the lid.

This is the chicken in the pot with water at a rolling boil, right before I closed the lid.

4.1) My favorite method: After closing the lid, I let it boil at high heat for another 1-2 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave the chicken in the hot water for another 40-45 minutes. The hot water still continues cooking the chicken until it is perfectly done inside. This way I will never overcook the chicken.

After 40 minutes, take the chicken out of the pot and use a sharp knife to pierce the thickest part of the chicken, pull the knife out and watch the juice that runs out. If the juice runs clear, the chicken is cooked. Maybe the inside is slightly pink, but it’s ok. If the chicken isn’t completely cooked, the juice will be pink (If it is bloody, you need to let it boil a little longer before turning off the heat next time). If this happens, bring the water back to a boil, drop the chicken in, wait until it boils again, then turn off the heat and leave the chicken in for another 10 minutes.

4.2) If you are afraid to use the first method due to a fear of Salmonella contamination, use this method. After it boiling and closing the lid, lower the heat to medium low and simmer the chicken for another 20-30 minutes. Make sure that the water isn’t bubbling.

Put ice in a bowl that’s big enough to fit the whole piece of chicken with the ice, then add water just to cover the ice.

You can measure the temperature of the chicken breast. Federal food safety information says the safe temperature to make sure that the chicken is cooked is 165ºF. Once the chicken reaches that temperature, take it out of the pot and give it an ice water bath right away to stop the cooking process, so the chicken will not be overcooked.

This method give the chicken skin a gel-like texture. The chicken surely didn’t expect an exfoliating spa, hot jacuzzi bath then cold plunge to tighten the skin…proving that being a dead chicken is better than being a live one.

5) DO NOT DISCARD THE CHICKEN STOCK. We will be using all of it.

Method for the Rice

1) Remember the chicken fat I told you to cut out? Put it in a pot. (This is optional. If you want to opt out from the chicken fat and extra flavor, you can just use vegetable oil.)

Thai Style Chicken and Rice, Khao Man Gai by The High Heel Gourmet 10

and add olive oil and fry over medium high heat until the fat releases all its oil and shrinks down. This will take a few minutes. Then scoop out the crispy fat pieces once it’s drained of all its liquid oil. The pieces are a yummy treat to the cook.

Thai Style Chicken and Rice, Khao Man Gai by The High Heel Gourmet 11

2) Add the rice to the oil contents in the pot and stir-fry.

3) Once all the rice grains are hot, add chopped garlic and ginger, then stir-fry until half of the grains change from translucent to opaque and the garlic and ginger release their fragrance.

Thai Style Chicken and Rice, Khao Man Gai by The High Heel Gourmet 12

4) Add one cup of chicken stock to the rice. Let it reach a boil.

5) Close the lid and reduce the heat to the lowest level. I simmer it for 15 more minutes, or until the rice is cooked.

Method for the sauce

1) I use a mini food processor. I add everything except the chopped cilantro and sliced chilies to the food processor, processing it until well-blended. It doesn’t need to be fine or smooth. If you want it to be extra hot, then add the chilies to the food processor now too.

This is the "Salted Soy Bean", เต้าเจี้ยว.

This is the “Salted Soy Bean”, เต้าเจี้ยว.

I told you EVERYTHING is in the food processor except the cilantro and chiles. (If you like your sauce very hot, you can add chilies in the food processor too)

I told you EVERYTHING is in the food processor except the cilantro and chiles. (If you like your sauce very hot, you can add chilies in the food processor too)

2) Taste it to see if you like the balance of everything. If not, adjust it. All the ingredient levels are just guidelines.

Thai Style Chicken and Rice, Khao Man Gai by The High Heel Gourmet 8

3) Mix the cilantro and sliced Jalapeno chilies in.

Thai Style Chicken and Rice, Khao Man Gai by The High Heel Gourmet 9

Breakfast is ready! Or you can have it for lunch. When I was living in Bangkok we never ate this for dinner but I’ve start seeing vendors selling Khao Man Gai for dinner now.

The soup you see is just the chicken stock. Traditionally I should have green onion in the soup but I didn't have them in the house this time so I used cilantro.

The soup you see is just the chicken stock. Traditionally I should have green onion in the soup but I didn’t have them in the house this time so I used cilantro.

NOTE

1) I would prefer to use a non-previously-frozen chicken, which you can find in the Chinatown in your city, but I’m afraid of the antibiotics and hormones they used in the chickens, so I opt for organic free-range chicken instead.

This dish relies heavily on the chicken, so get the best-tasting chicken you can find in your area. If you ever taste a chicken that was just “killed” (Ewwwww, cruelty talk!) that morning, that would be a good gauge for the taste of the chicken required for this dish. WARNING: If fresh chicken like that isn’t easily accessible to you, then DON’T drive 30 miles to get it. It’s addictive!

I used to have a client in Pasadena that I had to provide consulting to for three months. The trip  from my house in West Los Angeles required me to drive past Chinatown. So when I wanted to eat chicken, I just stopped there and bought fresh chicken. The net result was I couldn’t eat chicken from the regular market for months after that. The previously-frozen chicken seems to have no taste left in it.

Truly fresh chicken tastes the best. I wish the Chinese would eat organic chicken someday. You can use whatever is the best choice for you but YOU NEED THE BONES ATTACHED AND THE SKIN.

WHY? (husband drama—he hates chicken skin) This dish needs the essence of chicken. The rice is supposed to smell like the farmer had used chicken soup to grow it instead of water. So you need to extract ALL of the chicken flavors. How can you do that with the chicken breast alone?

To tell you the truth, if I have to use the chicken breast meat without bones or skin, just give me a block of tofu instead!

2) You can use short grain rice if you don’t have long grain rice, but fry it with oil a little longer to eliminate the stickiness of the short grain. You can also use the basmati rice and fry it slightly less time, because basmati is already loose.

3) The original chilies in Khao Man Gai are the spicy Phrik Chee Fah AND Phrik Kee Noo. If you’ve been following me long enough, you know that I can’t eat chilies, especially Thai chilies! So I change the chili in the recipe to the milder degree. If I make it just for myself, I wouldn’t even put them in.

Originally the chilies would be CHOPPED just to get all the heat in the sauce. (Just writing about it gives me goosebumps…Aiya…full heat…) So, this is all up to you. If you like your dishes hot, add more chilies, switch the Jalapeno slice to chopped Serrano or, if you can find the bird eyes chilies (Phrik Kee Noo), go for it

You can also eliminate them completely, too. I put them in because my big boy husband loves chilies. He was probably Thai in a past life. He eats much spicier foods than me these days. He also spices his food with chilies so I can’t touch them!

Sometimes I just serve it this way. Three different sauces, (from left) traditional Hainanese sauce (sesame oil, ginger, garlic, green onion, salt), Singapore chili sauce (chilies, ginger, garlic, lime juice, sugar), and Thai style sauce with salted soy bean (ginger, garlic, sweet soy sauce, black vinegar, light soy sauce, lime juice, cilantro)

Sometimes I just serve it this way. Three different sauces, (from left) traditional Hainanese sauce (sesame oil, ginger, garlic, green onion, salt), Singapore chili sauce (chilies, ginger, garlic, lime juice, sugar), and Thai style sauce with salted soy bean (ginger, garlic, sweet soy sauce, black vinegar, light soy sauce, lime juice, cilantro)

57 thoughts on “Thai Style Chicken and Rice, Khao Man Gai

  1. Aaaaah yes this chicken dish is addictive, I eat it almost every day. I just love the entire process of selecting the perfect chicken from the butchers, the preparation and process of boiling the chicken to get the plumpest juiciest result, the aromas of the jasmine rice cooking and of course making the khao man gai sauce. The beauty of this dish is that there is no waste, except for the bare bones of the chicken carcass.

  2. Making it as I type. Very good recipe. The rice smells amazing! Chicken is still boiling and should come out perfect. I just need to zip off to the market to get the ingredients for the sauce. This was one of my favourite dishes when I lived in Bangkok. My wife is Chinese, but she has travelled with me to Thailand on a few trips. She also loves this dish. She’ll have a very nice surprise when she gets home from work tonight!!

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    • Great! I want to visit Buenos Aires some day. My friends LOVE the food scene there so much, grass fed beef, tasty chicken and yummy vegetables.

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  4. OMG! This dish reminds me of Hat Yai. I had Thai Chicken Rice there. It was so good that I ordered another portion after I finished the 1st one. 😀

      • There are many chicken rice dishes in Indonesia. The most famous ones are Hainanese Chicken Rice and Peranakan Chicken Rice.
        Hainan Chicken Rice looks similar to Thai Chicken Rice, but it tastes milder.
        The other types of Chicken Rice dish in Indonesia are… contemporary. I think that’s the best way to describe them. Some of them are good, but they are, super mixed-up. It is hard to categorize them into certain cooking style. I can’t tell if they are Chinese, Indonesian, Western or whatever it is. 😀
        The Chicken Rice I ate in Hat Yai was supa dupa delicious. I’m drooling right now, just typing about it. LOL

      • Thanks Hari! I was so curious about the Hainan Chicken because there are a lot of Chinese there In Indonesia too and Hainan chicken rice is so popular in the SEA (for some reason my friend in SG said it is SG national dish!)

        I love one kind of rice, yellow in color with fried shallot on top so fragrant with spice, turmeric, star anise, served with roasted chicken also marinaded in several spice turmeric, garlic, lemongrass and some other spice I can’t tell also a part of the marinade. The sauce for this is red spicy sauce that I didn’t use. I don’t know the name of the dish so I can’t even search for recipe. It was so super good. I wish I know what it is so I can make that here.

      • Singaporeans and Malaysians love claiming anything which belongs to the Peranakan Culture as their owns. LOL It is true! 😀
        Do you have any photo of the dish? The Peranakan folks living in SEA has their own versions of the dishes. The Hainanese Chicken rice in Indonesia might be different from the one in Singapore.
        Which is why it is very hard for me to guess the dish from your description. 😀
        My instinct said that it could be an Indian dish. My top guess right now is Biryani Rice with Tandoori Chicken.

  5. What a beautiful recipe. I raise a small number of backyard laying hens and slaughter them myself every fall. Perhaps I will try this recipe with a really fresh backyard chicken. You are absolutely right that a fresh chicken is so delicious it makes it hard to eat chicken from the regular grocery store. I find this to be true about their eggs as well.

    • I’m envy! So you can poach your eggs and they come out nice and round. (Not so fresh egg would come out sloppy) Yes, the taste of fresh chicken is the best for this dish. I wish I know how to slaughter the chicken myself (but you know I’m afraid if the reality hits, like I have the chick in my hands and he looks at me, I’m not sure if I can really do it though).

      • The eggs make my cakes and souffles very fluffy. Also, I use them for raw dipping sauce for Japanese dishes like sukiyaki. I can’t kill my chickens when the kids are watching. I make them go in a different part of the garden; and then afterwards they help with the plucking and cleaning. But I can’t slaughter in front of them. I don’t want them to see me do it for some reason.

      • You should teach them to at least know how to do it once they are a grown up, you know. I wish I know how. I’m such a pussy city girl and I don’t like that. I wish my dad (who also DON’T KNOW how to do it) would have taught me how to do it. I think it’s a good skill to learn. Call me barbaric and I will accept it with honor. It’s a skill that made human race survived until these days and we lose it! (Except you)

  6. Hi , delicious dish.worth the time to prepare it .You add a new flavors to your recipes.Thank you for reading my post ( When Memories Breath..) Have a nice day.Jalal

  7. Beautiful. Reminds me of the time I was living in Singapore in the early 80’s. Chicken rice was one of my favorite dishes, still do it t home sometimes. Thank you 🙂

  8. As always, UH-MAY-ZING post! I wish I had better markets around here. I have a very hard time finding the right ingredients. I want to make everything, and can’t. Oh well, I can drool over your stuff. Great pics too. You rock girl!

    • You can just make the chicken with the traditional sauce, chopped garlic 1 portion, chopped ginger 2 portion or 3 salt, greenonion (optional) sesame oil 1 portion, chicken stock 1 portion, lime juice (optional), chopped chilies (optional). It is as good as the Thai version sauce. Also you can buy sauce on line as well. I like Temple of Thai and Amazon for Asian ingredients.

    • For Thai cooking, i just observed the cooks, my aunts, my grandmother while they cooked and I went to a private school that was a finishing school in the past so they still teach basic cooking as an elective to students. Other than that I just cook a lot and learn from practice…Thanks!

      • Thanks for letting me know. The food looks really good. You are all glamorous. Kinda like Nigella Lawson in the UK. 🙂

      • Speechless…jaw drop almost drool (please, don’t cancel the former comment after this)…REALLY?!?! She’s so glamorous (I hope she doesn’t cry if she ever has a chance to see your comment). And you actually don’t want to see me while I’m working on my chocolate or croissant (messy hair, unwashed face, eyebrows tie a tight knot) or deep fried stuff (with mud pack on my face to protect my skin from the heat) in the kitchen…I’m going to save your comment, print it out and post it secretly on my kitchen board.

      • It’s very sweet that you are so modest. Perhaps it’s just that I find you really attractive but you seem extremely glamorous and elegant to me?

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