Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Food Revelations: Chicken Rice
Jessie has been horribly ill for the last couple of weeks with high fevers and such. So we have been staying close to our hotel here in Bangkok and I've only been stepping out within a block or two for food. She is actually much better at the moment, the fever broke two days ago and she has finally started eating again after 2 weeks of not having an appetite, which I take to be a very good sign.
But since I've been staying so close the food options are rather limited, there is an incredible place for Pad Thai a block away, which is far and away the best Pad Thai I have ever had, but you can only eat so many noodles. I became hooked on fried chicken on top of rice with a sweet chili sauce on top for awhile. Different food carts all make it slightly differently, some better some worse but all over I think it helped cure a bit of homesickness.
While I was ordering fried chicken over rice, every single local almost exclusively was ordering boiled chicken over rice at the exact same carts.
Finally out of desire for a little change of pace I started ordering the boiled chicken over rice. It was pretty much what you would expect, boiled chicken with a tasty black sauce on the side which you drizzle over the meat and rice, served with a bowl of chicken stock.
What grew from this has become a full blown obsession. Boiled chicken, the lowest common denominator of low rent, geriatric food... and I love it. Perfectly boiled, chilled in ice water, served cold over rice. How could that be haute cuisine? But it is amazing, delicate, and nuanced. The harmony of texture and flavor is immensely difficult to perfect. Too long in the water and the meat starts to turn slightly gummy and loses the intramuscular fats. If you don't drop it into cold water the thin layer of fat between the skin and meat doesn't shrink and hug the meat but becomes loose and soggy
This was most evident in Singapore at a chicken and rice stand called Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice. The line for this little hawker stall wrapped around the stall and out towards the street. Our friend joked that queuing up for the best food was the national sport of Singapore.
How could this most overlooked preparation of the most common meat in America, be so mindblowing? It's not flashy, it's not fancy, but it's the best chicken I've ever had.