Scorching charcoal fire that fragrant up a distinctive smoky flavour, claypot chicken rice is probably one of the few hawker foods that is cooked and eaten direct from the receptacle it is cooked in claypots.
The old-style cooking of chicken rice in claypots as opposed to simply cooking it in shiny new rice cookers has withstood the test of time.
The authentic smoky earthy flavours from boiling the rice, sauce and chicken all within the claypot. The claypot is slow-cooked over the fire. The best part about using claypots is that the porous earthernware absorbs the flavours of the spices and sauces used when cooking the dish over time, effectively “seasoning” it.
These “seasoned” earthernware are probably the “secret” behind the distinctive flavours that give each stall’s version of the claypot chicken rice its own unique “signature.” A new claypot chicken rice stall using brand new claypots can be easily sniffed out because somehow, the resulting rice will not have the layers of flavours that come from seasoned, blackened claypots.
Many existing claypot chicken rice stalls in Penang have been around for a long time, some handed down from father to son, so it would be interesting to note that the claypots they used were probably handed down all grimy and blackened.
A single portion of claypot chicken rice is often served in the smallest sized claypot and it contains rice cooked with chunks of chicken, sliced mushrooms, Chinese sausages and smothered generously by a medley of sauces. This is then garnished with spring onions.
Those who want egg added in, they will break an egg right on top of the cooked concoction before removing the claypot from the fire, letting it slowly cook in the bubbling hot mixture. The egg will add a slight creamy richness from its runny yolk especially when it is stirred into the whole concoction.
The resulting flavours of plain, fluffy white rice cooked in the seasoned claypot along with spices and sauces are deep and smoky with slightly charred rice on the sides and bottom. The sweetness of the Chinese sausages not only add a contrasting flavour to the savoury dish, but actually keeps it from being too overpowering.
Sometimes, the whole claypot will be served as is with a pair of cutlery so you can eat out of it but nowadays, the hawkers have added some finesse to it by accompanying the pot with a plate, a rice scoop and cutlery so that customers can scoop out the steaming hot rice onto the plate to savour it slowly.
If you like to add some kick to the flavourful dish, it is usually accompanied by some chopped cili padi in soya sauce or samba belacan.
Just add some of the chillies into the rice and you are set for a flavourful adventure of various textures with a kick to it. Claypot chicken rice is quite a heavy meal so it is available during lunch and dinner time at coffee shops and hawker centres.
Here are some of the stalls to try out in George Town,
Burmah Food Paradise @ Jalan Burmah (12noon – 9pm)
Sungai Pinang Food Court @ Jalan Sungai Pinang (6pm – 11pm)