While my sister was in Thailand for two months this past summer, doing thesis research and visiting friends and family, she also ate her fair share of Hainanese Chicken, a chicken and rice dish, from the many food vendor stalls that lined the streets of Bangkok. The chicken and rice are delicately flavored with aromatic ginger and garlic and the sauce served with the dish gives a salty, spicy and sweet edge, with some smokiness. And no one does it as well as the cooks who run the food stalls in Bangkok.
But, I have this semi-annoying habit of saying “I could totally make this!” when we’re eating out, and when Victoria told me how good the Khao Man Gai (its Thai name) was in Thailand, and how much she loved it, I made a mental note to give it a go.
Victoria also warned me that it was a super difficult dish to make. That the delicate flavors are easy to mess up, and the chicken can come out totally flavorless and wrong. I also warned myself that Victoria is a stickler when it comes to getting food right. She has her taco and salsa recipes down to a science. She hates when anyone gets them wrong, and she’s a perfect baker – pretty much the polar opposite to my experimental, no-recipe-following self. But I knew that if I made khao man gai for her, she could tell me if it tasted like the holy grail of chicken that she’d had in Bangkok.
At first, it did not.
I followed a recipe from a much loved Thai food blogger based out of Bangkok, with the hopes that she must know how to make this correctly. She hadn’t lead me astray before, but while she may have written a delicious recipe, Victoria’s beloved khao man gai it was not. So I set out to poll my Thai and Laotian family members for their khao man gai recipes, and their tips were exactly what Victoria and I agreed the chicken dish needed.
Below is the tweaked recipe for khao man gai. It calls for a lot of ginger. Like, more ginger than you’ve probably ever bought at once if you aren’t Asian. And it’s gotta be fresh.
Another note about this recipe - it is a labor of love. While it’s pretty easy technically speaking, it does take some time to get right. I’d recommend making this for a weekend dinner, rather than a weeknight when you’re starving and just got back from the gym and you want to eat RIGHT FREAKING NOW. Because you experience that most weeknights too, ...right?
Make this, eat and be transported to the streets of Bangkok, save $1600.00 on a plane ticket. You're welcome.
Khao Man Gai, Thai Chicken and Rice
For the Chicken
1 3 to 5 pound chicken
1 tablespoon salt
2 cilantro roots, bruised
2 cups of chicken broth
2 large slices of ginger
For the Rice
2 cups of jasmine rice, rinsed until the water runs clear
5 large slices of ginger, at least 1’’
2 cilantro roots, bruised
2 tablespoons of fresh chopped garlic
Skimmed portion of chicken broth
3 cups of the broth from which the chicken was cooked in
For the Sauce
¼ cup of fermented soybean sauce
1 tablespoon palm sugar or regular sugar
2 tablespoons dark soy
2 tablespoons thin or light soy
2 tablespoons white vinegar – not rice vinegar!!
2-4 Thai chilis, also known as birds eye chilis, depending on your level of heat tolerance
¼ cup of chopped ginger
1 tablespoon of chopped garlic
2 tablespoons of water
A few sprigs of cilantro, roughly chopped
1 cucumber, sliced
- In a large pot combine salt, bruised cilantro roots, ginger, chicken stock and whole chicken. Add enough water until the chicken is almost covered and bring to a boil. Boil on high heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to a rolling simmer.
- Simmer the chicken until the chicken is cooked through, but before the meat falls from the bone. The chicken meat should be bouncy rather than super tender. Take the chicken out and set aside, covered, to rest before deboneing and slicing it into pieces, with the delicious skin left on.
- Strain the chicken broth to remove any large debris and then skim the top layer of fat from the broth. Add this to a measuring cup. Then, add enough broth to the measuring cup to equal three cups.
- Combine broth, fat, bruised cilantro roots, ginger, garlic and rice in a rice cooker and set the rice to cook.
- While the rice is cooking and the chicken is resting, make your sauce. Combine all ingredients and heat over high heat until bubbling. Leave to bubble for approximately 30 seconds then remove from the heat. Adjust to your tastes, if needed.
- To serve traditionally, place a large scoop of the ginger rice in the center of your plate and arrange the sliced chicken around it. Garnish with sliced cucumber and cilantro. Serve with a side of the sauce and remaining broth.
This recipe calls for a lot of things that most people don’t have in their pantries, so that makes it a little more expensive. The upside to this is, if you love to cook and explore new cuisines, you’ll have the ingredients you need to make many more Thai dishes. The sauces can be found at most Asian groceries. All in all, the total for this dinner for four rings up at around $24.00 – which can’t be compared to Bangkok street stall prices, but isn’t bad compared to eating out in NYC or other cities. That breaks down to $6.00 per person. The cheapest I’ve ever seen Hainanese Chicken/Khao Man Gai on a menu in NYC was $9.00 for a single person serving. So, this recipe is a hack for getting restaurant style food for way less.