The tantalising claypot rice at New Lucky Claypot Chicken Rice | Photo: Julia Khoo
This is probably the only place in Singapore you can still find claypot rice cooked using charcoal fire from start to end. Choong Yee Hong, 57, has remained faithful to his craft since he opened New Lucky Claypot Chicken Rice in 1979.
Choong Yee Hong watches over his 24 stoves carefully | Photo: Julia Khoo
He began honing his skills in cooking claypot rice eight years before, in 1971. "Compared to gas fire, charcoal fire won’t dry up the rice grains as fast. The rice will be more evenly cooked, and will have better fragrance even though it is much harder to control the fire," he explains.
When asked about his cooking methods, he reveals: "We use tongs to transfer pieces of burning charcoal in and out of the stoves. Imagine having to do that for 24 stoves!"
Choong cooks each pot (from $10 for two persons, $25 for five persons) to order. On top of the labour-intensive cooking process, he also adds a specific salted vegetable to his rice – the da tou cai (Chinese for "bighead vegetable"). This preserved vegetable is pricey, and difficult to clean, but Choong uses it for its distinctive sweet and salty flavour and subtle scent.
The vegetable is similar to the mei cai (preserved mustard greens), but crunchier because the stalks of the vegetables are used.
The rice is fluffy and al dente. It’s lightly smoky from charred bits of the rice crust, and is further enhanced by the aroma and flavours of waxed meats, salted fish, marinated chicken, and, of course, the preserved vegetables.
A quick and thorough mix of the rice and meats with lashings of black soy sauce and spring onion oil complete this complex dish. That is why long queues form at the stall and the wait can be 20 to 30 minutes during off-peak times, and 45 minutes to 90 minutes during peak periods.
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New Lucky Claypot Chicken Rice is one of Singapore's 12 hawker heroes who could be pitted against celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay in SingTel's Hawker Heroes challenge. Vote for themhere.
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New Lucky Claypot Chicken Rice | Address: 31 Commonwealth Crescent (temporary location, will move back to 44 Holland Drive Food Centre 1st quarter 2014) | Tel: 67787808 | Opening hours: Thu-Tue 11.30am-1.30pm, 5-8.30pm
Food writer Julia Khoo has been a regular contributor to inSing.com since its launch in 2009. Her obsession for writing and photographing all things epicurean is lovingly documented in her long-running food blog, AromaCookery, making her one of the most established food bloggers in Singapore.