I guess you could say I am Hawaiian by marriage. My brother-in-law John was born and raised on Oahu and over the years he has shared his love for traditional Hawaiian dishes, including haupia (coconut) cake and spam musubi.
My absolute favorite Hawaiian dish, though, is chicken long rice. It was John’s friend Patty, who also grew up on Oahu, who taught me how to make this soupy, ginger-spiked noodle dish a few years ago. I make it often for dinner around this time of year, when the evenings are cooler but it’s not yet cold enough for, say, a hearty lentil soup or a stew.
Chicken long rice is one of those dishes that Hawaiian home cooks know how to make without thinking about it, the way Italians know how to make good tomato sauce or pasta dough without measurements or instructions. The recipe has Cantonese origins and made its way to Hawaii with Chinese immigrants in the 18th century. “Long rice” refers to the noodles in the dish. Somewhat confusingly (to me), they are not rice noodles, but rather cellophane ones, which are made from mung bean starch; they are also known as bean thread noodles, stretchy and glassy with an appealing chewy texture. The noodles are softened in hot water and then simmered together with shredded chicken in broth flavored with ginger and scallions.
Everyone adds his or her personal touch to the basic recipe. Patty simmers chicken thighs and lots of ginger in a mixture of chicken broth and water. She adds dried baby shrimp, known by their Japanese name, opai, to impart a salty, briny flavor. She also adds dried shiitake mushrooms, which contribute earthiness and depth. The scallions, tossed in at the end, add a splash of green and brighten the flavor of the finished soup.
While some of these ingredients — particularly the cellophane noodles and the opai — might not be familiar to all cooks, they are readily available at Asian supermarkets.
See the recipe after the jump.
Domenica Marchetti is the author of “The Glorious Pasta of Italy” (Chronicle, June 2011) as well as “The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy” (Chronicle, 2006) and “Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style” (Chronicle 2008). She blogs at DomenicaCooks.com.
Serve with a simple side of stir-fried bok choy.
To drink: a balanced, not-too-oaky California chardonnay.
3 pounds skinless, bone-in chicken thighs
1 cup thickly sliced coins peeled fresh ginger root
1/4 cup packed opai (dried baby shrimp), available at Asian supermarkets
4 to 6 cups best-quality, low-sodium chicken broth
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
4 large dried shiitake mushrooms
8 ounces dried mung beans (bean thread) noodles
1 bunch scallions (ends trimmed), white, light- and dark-green parts cut on the diagonal into 1-inch slices (1 1/4 cups)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil or chili oil, for garnish
Soy sauce, for serving
Arrange the chicken thighs in the bottom of a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Scatter 3/4 cup of the ginger slices and all the opai over them.
Pour 4 cups of the broth and all the water over the ingredients in the pot. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, skimming any scum that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to low so the broth barely bubbles at the edges. Cook uncovered for 2 hours, or until the dark meat is fall-off-the-bone tender and the broth has developed a good depth of flavor. Taste the broth for seasoning and stir in the salt. Remove from the heat.
Use a large slotted spoon or skimmer to transfer the chicken to a large bowl to cool. Strain the broth through damp cheesecloth into a clean pot. Discard the ginger. You may either retrieve the shrimp and return them to the broth or discard them. (At this point they have little flavor left, but they do have a pleasant chewy texture so I leave them in the soup.)
Put the shiitake mushrooms in a bowl and pour 1 cup of boiling water over them. Soak for 20 to 30 minutes, until the mushrooms have completely softened. Drain and trim off the stems. Cut the caps into thin slices.
Use your fingers to pull the cooked chicken meat into shreds; discard the bones.
Return the pot of broth to the stove over medium-low heat. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of ginger slices, the shredded chicken and the sliced shiitakes. Cook so the broth is barely bubbling.
Place the mung bean noodles in a separate bowl and pour enough boiling water over them to cover. Soak for 7 minutes, then drain in a colander set in the sink. Use kitchen shears to cut the long rice into spaghetti-length strands. Add the noodles and 1 cup of the scallions to the broth; increase the heat to medium. Cook the noodles for 3 minutes (close to a boil). If you want a soupier dish, add 1 to 2 cups of the remaining broth; cook at a very low boil. Turn off the heat, cover and let sit for 5 minutes.
Ladle into bowls and garnish each serving with the remaining 1/4 cup of scallions and a few drops of the toasted sesame or chili oil and the soy sauce, if desired.