This precursor to the now-famous Hainanese chicken rice relies on having an exceptionally good quality chicken. On Hainan, chickens from Wenchang are the most prized. They’re fed on coconut, peanut bran, corn and sweet potato and their flavourful flesh and fat, and delicate skin make them one of Hainan’s four famous delicacies. Destination Flavour China 






Skill level

Average: 3.5 (23 votes)

Sailors from Hainan like my grandfather brought the legend of Wenchang chicken south to Southeast Asia and produced dishes like Thailand’s khao man gai, Vietnam’s com ga, and of course when it was combined with aromatic rice and the kampong (village) chickens of Malaysia and Singapore it produced Hainanese chicken rice. The rest is history.

Cooking two chickens at once ensures the poaching liquid will be strongly flavoured.


  • 2 whole free-range chickens, around 1.7 kg each (see Note)
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger

Salted chilli and calamansi

  • 3 cups calamansi limes, or substitute cumquats
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 1 cup small red bird’s eye chillies, stems removed (and sliced if long)

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


You will need to begin the salted chilli and calamansi recipe two weeks before cooking your chicken. 

Standing time 2 weeks

1. To make the salted chilli and calamansi, halve the calamansi or cumquats and squeeze them with your fingers to pass the juice through a small sieve. Discard the seeds but reserve the juice and skins. Toss the skins with the salt, massaging the salt into the inside of the skins.

2. Pack the skins tightly into a jar with layers of the chillies interspersed between the skins. Pour over the reserved juice and cover. Push down the top of the mixture with the back of a spoon (but do not stir) every day for the first week. Allow the mixture to stand at room temperature for at least 2 weeks before using. The juice will become thick and syrupy and the citrus and chillies will cure to a delicious condiment. Makes about 2 cups.

3. To cook the chickens, rub the chickens all over with the salt for about 10 minutes. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add the chickens. Dunk the chickens up and down a few times like a teabag to change the water in the chickens’ cavities.

4. Reduce the heat to maintain a bare simmer, cover the pan and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove the chickens from the simmering liquid and place them into a large bowl of iced water. Allow to stand for at least 15 minutes, then drain well and cut the chickens into pieces. On Hainan, the process of chilling the chicken is often skipped, so you can consider it optional. If you choose not to cool the chicken, then reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes.

5. To make the sauce, place the garlic and ginger into a heatproof bowl. Bring the stock back to the boil, then scoop about 250 ml (1 cup) of liquid from the top of the pan where the oil from the chickens is combined with the poaching liquid. Pour the hot liquid over the garlic and ginger. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.

6. Serve the chicken with the garlic and ginger sauce and the salted chilli and calamansi.



• Preferably Wenchang chickens but you can substitute corn-fed chickens here.


Photography by Adam Liaw.

Destination Flavour China with Adam Liaw airs 7.30pm, Wednesday on SBS and then on SBS On Demand. Visit the program page for recipes, videos and more.