Hainan Coconut Chicken Hotpot (Yeziji, 椰子鸡)
Published Jan 23, 2024, Updated Feb 10, 2024
Coconut Hotpot in the Tropics
You may know Hainan chicken rice, but have you heard of 椰子鸡火锅 (yēzǐjī huǒguō), Hainan coconut chicken hotpot? From the largest tropical island in China, Hainan’s local hotpot is a refreshing playground for the region’s revered Wenchang chickens and the fresh coconut water and meat it cooks in.
Elsewhere, you can find mala beef tallow broths and heavy garlic-sesame dips that flood the heart as much as the stomach with rich, sweat-inducing spice. Such is the hotpot that swaddles (sometimes smothers) you in a heavy, intoxicating food coma on a cold winter’s night. In Hainan, you’ll find instead a clean, sippable golden broth—minimal where mala is maximal—perfectly accented by tart, citrus-splashed soy sauce.
If you’ve eaten in southwest China during the summer, you may be familiar with the locals’ ceaseless warm-weather hotpot habit. There’s a saying that eating spicy hotpot in the hot, humid summers helps alleviate dampness through chili-fueled sweat. Of course, it all somehow feels less hot out when you’re burning up inside. But Hainan coconut chicken hotpot just proves Chinese people love hotpot in the summer regardless, since it’s not spicy at all.
It is the hotpot antithesis of Sichuan and Chongqing hotpot. And the best part: It’s stupid easy.
Sourcing Ingredients Outside Hainan
I once spent hours (north of 4-5) making a non-spicy broth from scratch for my last hotpot party. Then, I watched it disappear all the same as a packaged broth base. After that, I decided I’d never do it again. By comparison, the hardest prep for this soup involved cracking open four coconuts and pouring in a liter of store-bought pure coconut water to top things off.
The secret of Hainan cooks is using a mix of at least two young Thai coconuts and one mature local coconut. The young coconuts produce more water. Older coconuts provide thicker, tastier meat and flavor. Thai coconuts are favored for their sweetness; Hainan coconuts for their freshness. The coconut water makes up at least 50% and as much as 100% of the whole hotpot broth, with the remaining portion constituting a rich chicken stock. Those who don’t prefer sweet soup can split the broth 50/50.
To refill the hotpot broth as the meal goes on, top off with more coconut water and/or high quality chicken stock as needed.
In the U.S., you can find young and mature Thai coconuts easily at large supermarkets. The young coconuts are commonly dehusked, with a white shell; mature coconuts are always dehusked, with a hairy shell. For practicality, I also tested bottled, sugar-free, preservative-free, and GMO-free 100% pure young Thai coconut water.
You may have luck finding purer product in paper packaging (see photo above) rather than export-friendly cans. Cans are often heat-treated more aggressively to maximize shelf life (learned this from Pailin at Hot Thai Kitchen years ago!). However, the most important factor is single-ingredient coconut water—especially if your broth ratio of coconut water is higher. Bad, packaged coconut water with preservatives will be very obvious.
Harmless Harvest’s raw cold-pressed coconut water is tasty, but its naturally pink color won’t suit a clean hotpot broth. C2O and Amy & Brian are reliable alternatives distributed nationwide. The regional brand I used, Bogopa, is a family-owned distributor that runs Food Bazaars in NY, NJ and CT (founded by a Korean immigrant in Queens by way of Argentina!).
If you cannot find sugar-free, preservative-free, GMO-free, 100% pure young Thai coconut water, you’re better off sticking with real coconuts.
Hainan’s Wenchang chicken is known for “thin skin, tender meat, and a markedly sweet flavor that comes from the coconut and other tropical fruits added to its feed.” I’ve also heard it from more than one Singaporean (where Hainan chicken rice was made famous) that Hainan chicken should have a meaty bite. This is counter to the super-soft give of many a Stateside Hainan chicken rice. This is likely due to Wenchang being a free-roaming chicken, firmer than economy chicken, and why Hainanese chicken is poached and almost never boiled (to help retain juiciness). Every household has their own method—this blog features a good overview on the many practices of Wenchang chicken.
To get a nice chicken that will also hold up to hotpot cooking elsewhere in the world, your best bet is selecting organic, Animal Welfare Approved/”pasture-raised” chicken (or as close to it as possible—apparently this is less restrictive than the U.S.’s “cage-free” or “free-range” labeling).
A whole bird is useful for brewing up the good stock in advance, if you want a savory coconut-chicken stock mix. A close friend born in Hainan, whom by chance shared this hotpot with me, said her own mother’s broth was more strongly chicken stock. If you want to save yourself the trouble of butchering for a simple coconut water-forward broth, you can buy organic, pastured, bone-in, skin-on chicken legs and breasts. Then, preferably add a real (not boxed) chicken stock to top off, if desired.
I highly advise against making this coconut chicken hotpot with only breast or boneless, skinless chicken. The fat from the skin is essential for flavor. No fat, no flavor. Bone-in dark meat also keeps its juiciness over time while other items get added to and eaten from the hotpot.
On dipping sauce:
As any Hainan chicken rice connoisseur may know, the dipping sauce is as important as—sometimes more important than—the chicken. The local method submerges fresh 小米辣 (xiǎomǐlà) chilies and fresh sand ginger with a squeeze of calamansi juice in soy sauce. By preference, there are cilantro leaves to top, and sometimes garlic. The camphor-y, peppery aromatic sand ginger and sour, sweet calamansi set these flavors apart.
Of these four must-have sauce ingredients, everything but the high-quality dipping soy sauce is a tough find in the States. There are a few redeeming workarounds: fresh (or pickled) Thai bird’s eye chilies, my family’s usual replacement for fresh xiaomila; dried sand ginger, which could be soaked in the sauce (or ground, if you prefer); and key lime, still fragrant but more acidic and less sweet than calamansi, its cousin (both citrus are native to southeast Asia). Key lime is known as 酸柑 (suāngān) in China, and dayap in the Philippines.
Tips for Hosting a Hainan Hotpot Party
The Mala Market’s new gold hotpot is the perfect vessel for a 4-5 person affair. Hainan coconut chicken hotpot is also the perfect cooling 阴 (yīn) to mala’s warming 阳 (yáng). Pair this recipe with a packaged or DIY mala broth in The Mala Market’s gorgeous heavy-gauge, tri-ply magnetic steel yinyang pots for your next hotpot party and see for yourself. These large stainless steel yinyang pots serve 6 people easily.
If you don’t have a special hotpot, the next best options are a heat-keeping 砂锅 (shāguō) claypot or dutch oven! Using whatever you have at home is an especially good options for smaller gatherings. This way, you can control the size of the pot (and, therefore, cooking portions).
For bonus points, you can even make 椰子饭 (yēzǐfàn), sticky rice steamed in the leftover coconut shells.
For more DIY hotpot broth recipes, see Taylor’s from-scratch Sichuan beef tallow hotpot broth and Michelle Zhou (@nosweetsour)’s Yunnan mushroom hotpot broth! Or, consider my recipe for at-home Sichuan Malatang: DIY Personal Hotpot.
Hainan Coconut Chicken Hotpot
Hotpot for 4
- 4 pounds whole organic free-range chicken, or 2-3 pounds bone-in, skin-on, organic free-range chicken parts, broken down and sliced into parts* *see Notes for guidance
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- ½ teaspoon MSG
- splash Shaoxing rice wine or other unspiced rice wine/rice liquor (like sake) avoid generic liaojiu cooking wines with spices added
- 3-4 whole young Thai coconuts for smaller (divided/shallow) hotpot, <2 quart volume
- 1 liter 100% pure Thai coconut water (sugar-free, GMO-free, no preservatives or additional ingredients. I used Bogopa brand) recommended for helping fill larger/deeper hotpot as pictured, or optional for topping off divided/shallow hotpot
- 1 whole mature coconut
- 1 quart high quality chicken stock optional for topping off if needed, or if less sweet broth is desired, not to exceed 50% of broth
- 1 knob fresh ginger, washed and sliced
- 1-2 whole dried hongzao (jujubes), halved optional
- small handful dried goji berries optional
- 2-3 cups fresh mushrooms/fungi of choice e.g. enoki, baby oyster, shiitake, blanched wood ear, bamboo mushroom, cordycep flower
- 2-3 cups fresh veggies and greens of choice e.g. rehydrated tofu skins, baby bok choy leaves, yuchoy/other young tender tips, pea shoots, sweet corn, small taro/eddo, water chestnut, mountain yam, more coconut meat
- additional seafood and meats of choice optional, e.g. small abalone, fresh shrimp, cuttlefish balls, tilapia/white fish pieces, thinly sliced beef
- light soy sauce (Zhongba preferred)
- 2-3 whole calamansi, halved for juicing sub key lime if unavailable
- 1 thumb fresh sand ginger, minced sub sliced dried sand ginger and/or minced fresh ginger if unavailable
- 2-4 whole fresh xiaomila chili, finely chopped sub Thai bird's eye chili if unavailable
- 3-4 cloves fresh garlic, minced optional
- handful fresh cilantro leaves, washed and dried optional
Preparing the hotpot
- Break down the chicken and/or slice parts into similar-sized pieces. See Notes below for more guidance. Wash and soak in cold water for 30 minutes to draw out the blood and ensure a clean broth. This step is necessary since the chicken will not be parboiled separately.Scrub and rinse away the soaking water. Dry thoroughly. Rub 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon MSG and a splash of Shaoxing rice wine into the chicken. Set aside.
- Crack open the young coconuts and drain the coconut water into a large measuring glass or bowl. Strain the coconut water into a hotpot (or shaguo, dutch oven, etc.) to ensure any husk pieces are removed. 3 coconuts gave me 4 cups of coconut water. At this point, depending on the size of your pot, you can top off the liquid with more coconut water or high quality chicken stock, if desired, for a more savory broth. With a sturdy spoon, scoop out all the tender coconut flesh. Rinse and strain as needed to remove any husk pieces. Add to hotpot.
- In the hotpot, add the ginger slices and halved jujube. Bring to a boil. Add marinated chicken* and simmer 5 minutes on low heat, skimming any surface scum. At this point, do not stir. Stirring will break the skin and muddy the broth with more scum. For best results, turn off the heat after simmering 5 minutes and cover the pot, letting the chicken pieces poach in the hot broth through residual heat for 5-20 minutes, depending on size (see recommendations below). Add goji just before serving, if desired.*See note.
- Once all the meat is cooked through, enjoy the chicken with a little broth in each person's bowl, savoring the taste of the pure coconut chicken soup. To avoid overcooking, set aside any remaining smaller pieces before turning the heat back on and adding other hotpot ingredients as desired. Also remove bone-in chicken from broth if it is not being eaten, to avoid overcooking.
Dipping sauce and additional ingredients
- Combine dipping sauce ingredients as desired into individual dipping bowls.
- Add mushrooms/fungi and greens/veggies to cook first. Add seafood next, and heavier red meats last, if using. Enjoy!
- for small bone-in thighs (halve if larger) and drumsticks, allow 15-20 additional minutes
- for tenderloin-sized pieces, allow 5-10 additional minutes
- for 1-inch boneless chunks, chicken will cook through in as few as 3 minutes
Tried this recipe?