As Leela notes, this example of well-loved Thai street food isn’t commonly found in Thai restaurants in the U.S., and I have to say that I’ve not really found it in restaurants in my corner of England, either. It’s a shame: I think it’s a marvellous example of Thai-Chinese cuisine that is accessible to a lot of non-Thai people. You’ve got tender boiled or steamed chicken, subtly flavoured rice cooked in fat-rich stock, a savoury-sweet chilli-hot ginger sauce to liven it up, and hot chicken broth to help it all go down. It is simple, delicious, balanced. People already enjoy Thai-Chinese dishes like noodle soups and stir-fries, so why not this chicken rice?
Thankfully, this dish is very easy to make at home. The only small issue is finding yellow soybean paste and perhaps Golden Mountain seasoning sauce, but both are easily found for a couple of quid in both brick and mortar and online Asian supermarkets. Once opened, the bean paste keeps for ever in the fridge so you can joyfully use it again for khao man gai and many other dishes. (You can, of course, use whatever dipping sauce you like, but if you want to experience a more Thai-style chicken rice then you might want to try it this way.)
I’ve eaten at what is purportedly the best khao man gai joint in Chiang Mai and also made it to Leela’s excellent recipe. Both were delicious. But they were not like the khao man gai I grew up eating at home that my parents would make for me. There was nothing wrong per se with either khao man gai; I just think this is partially a case of enjoying best what you hold fondly to your heart, even if it isn’t completely traditional.
Dad’s khao man gai is my absolute favourite, but if you’re new to this dish or are seeking the kind you ate in Thailand, please head on over to Leela’s definitive khao man gai post to get the recipe you want. I’ve made it to her recipe and it is unimprovable. (There is also a link to a vegetarian version in her post!)
If you’d like to try a slightly different khao man gai, then my father’s recipe is one possible variation. Last year I asked him to show me how he made this dish and he obliged. I asked him what ingredients went into it to make it so delicious, and while it would have been easy (and utterly corny) of him to say, ‘ใส่ใจ!’ he took me through each step and let me help him make the dish.
There are two things which make my dad’s khao man gai a little different: firstly, he adds a tiny sprinkle of Thai glutinous rice to the jasmine rice to help it become just that little bit more sticky, luxurious and satisfying, and secondly the dipping sauce he makes is a variation on the kind generally served in Thailand.
His khao man gai sauce sticks to most of the basic ingredients (fresh ginger, chilli, garlic, soy sauce, sugar) but adds a couple of others (chicken stock, lime juice, fresh coriander) so the end result holds back on the sweetness and is more like a fresh, tangy relish. Some people might understandably find it overpowering, but I still like it best.
What you can instead take away from my post is the reassurance that it’s also very much worth making khao man gai for one or two servings. Even if the sauce and the whole boiled chicken does keep well in the fridge and you can continually make fresh chicken rice with leftover stock, you don’t necessarily want to be eating khao man gai for days in a row every single time you make this dish. You might also just generally not want to deal with boiling an entire chicken.
Whatever your reasons, I just want to tell you that you don’t lose out on all that much fat and flavour if you choose to make khao man gai with a smaller amount of bone-in chicken pieces. It does look like a lot of work, and it is, but you can balance everything so it comes together without undue stress: the chicken, broth, and dipping sauce can be made in advance. This is a good dish to warm you during the cooler months but still won’t weigh you down when it’s hotter. I’m told that Thai people eat dishes like this to help them get through colds. It certainly had a restorative effect on me, there’s nothing quite like the sensation of soothing a chilli-stung palate with hot, plain chicken broth.
One last word: don’t fear the chicken fat. There’s only a small amount and it’s what makes the rice so delicious. But if you don’t want to use it, then my dad recommends a little spoonful of extra virgin olive oil for a good substitute.
DAD’S KHAO MAN GAI
Makes enough for 1 – 2 servings.
Everything keeps in the fridge for a day or two, but I’d really recommend making the chicken rice fresh–keep a little leftover fatty stock for this.
Chicken and Broth
About 500g – 600g bone-in chicken pieces, or a mix of bone-in and breast fillet if you must (allow 1 – 2 pieces per head)
3/4 teaspoon salt
A tiny speck of stock cube or concentrate, if liked
Rice (Use the rice:liquid ratio that works for you, these are guidlines only)
240ml (1 US cup) white Thai jasmine rice
1 lightly heaped tablespoon white Thai glutinous rice (optional)
1 small garlic clove, crushed
A few short lengths coriander stalks, roughly torn
1 – 2 slices fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
350ml skimmed chicken fat topped up with cold water (see recipe)
3 – 6 red or green bird’s eye chillies, depending on heat tolerance. (I think 3 is very mild)
4 medium cloves garlic, peeled
About 50g fresh ginger, peeled (3 tbsp finely chopped)
A few sprigs fresh coriander
2 tablespoons chicken broth
1 teaspoon brown or palm sugar
1 tablespoon yellow fermented soy bean paste
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce, preferably Golden Mountain seasoning sauce
2.5 tablespoons lime juice (from about 1/2 lime)
Fresh cucumber slices
Sprigs of coriander
Put the chicken pieces in a medium saucepan and barely cover with cold water. Add the salt, cover and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and let the chicken simmer for 20 – 25 minutes until completely cooked through but still very firm.
While the chicken is cooking, fill a large deep bowl or dish with cold water. When the chicken is done, lift the pieces out of the stock and place them in the cold water, leaving them there until they’ve cooled to room temperature. Drain and set aside, covered. Refrigerate the chicken if you’re not going to be eating soon.
Taste the stock and if necessary season it with salt, fish sauce, and maybe a bit of stock cube if you think it needs a boost. My family sometimes take the broth plain but you can simmer chunks of winter melon or de-seeded cucumber in it. Keep the broth warm and covered until needed, or cool and refrigerate to be re-heated later.
For the rice: Wash the jasmine rice and the glutinous rice (if using) in several changes of water until the water is as clear as possible. Transfer to your chosen cooking vessel. I used a very basic electric rice cooker. Roughly scatter the garlic, ginger, and coriander over the surface of the rice.
Skim all the fat off the surface of the chicken stock into a measuring jug or cup. There’s no strict measurement needed; I got just over 100ml fatty stock. Make it up to 350ml (or however much liquid you need) with very cold water, mix in 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pour over the rice and aromatics. Cook for 12 – 15 minutes in the manner you choose, until just done. Keep warm until needed.
Meanwhile, make the dipping sauce. Either bung all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it’s chopped fairly small, then pour into dipping sauce bowls. Alternatively, put the garlic, chilli, ginger, and coriander on a chopping board and work on them with a big knife until it’s all approaching a paste. Scrape into a bowl and mix with the chicken broth, sugar, yellow fermented soy bean paste, dark soy sauce, and lime juice. Taste: it should be fresh and tangy against a background of mellow saltiness, rounded off by a slightly sweet note. Add more of any ingredient until it pleases you.
To serve: Cut the cooled chicken into large chunks. You can cleave straight through the bone or remove the meat from the bone. Plate it with the chicken rice. Nestle fresh, crunchy cucumber slices around the rice and garnish with coriander leaves. You can either drizzle the sauce on top or pour it in a little bowl. The chicken broth should be served piping hot in a small bowl on the side. Enjoy everything with greedy gratitude.