Pearl River Deli chef Johnny Lee never asked to be the Prince of Poultry. But then again, no one gets to choose which gifts they’re blessed with.
Like, did anyone ask Jason Bateman if he wanted to be Hollywood’s straight man (or Teen Wolf’s cousin)? Probably not. Was JP The Bee Man even consulted before we started depending on his videos as a source of serotonin? Not in the slightest. Shakespeare once said “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” And in the case of Pearl River Deli, it’s the latter.
“My staff and I definitely feel bad about the Hainan chicken,” Lee says. “Even when we’re not serving it, we’ll get up to ten calls a day asking to order it.”
And rightfully so - this dish is clearly PRD’s pièce de résistance. Juicy cuts of poached chicken sit upon a bed of savory rice that’s been fluffed with chicken fat and simmered in a rich broth made from garlic, ginger, basil, lemongrass, and galangal, a Thai ginger with a strong, astringent flavor. It’s a dish that’s comforting, nourishing, and more aromatic than an Aesop showroom.
But it wasn’t supposed to be like this. Fresh off of a two-year stint at his other restaurant, Hainanese specialist Side Chick, Lee was ready to leave his days of exfoliating raw chicken carcasses and mass poultry poaching in the past.
“Sometimes, the most popular dishes end up being the ones that you didn’t expect.” he says. “Honestly, I never planned for Hainan chicken to be a focus. One of my cooks, who’s worked with me before, jokes with me that this is turning into Side Chick all over again. Which, you know, isn’t what we were trying to do.”
As of now, Lee’s reputation as the Prince of Poultry isn’t going anywhere - but if you happen to call up Pearl River Deli on a day they’re not serving Hainan chicken, don’t worry. The menu here changes often - one week you might get siu mai the size of softballs, then Hong Kong-style soup noodles the next. But what stays consistent is their innovative approach to Cantonese food, seamlessly pulling inspiration from places like Japan, Sichuan Province, and Macau. Traditional plates of char siu and noodles live on the same menu as bone-in pork chop sandwiches. Their silky shrimp scramble takes a familiar runny-egg dish and turns it into something tasting like deconstructed siu mai.
In short, there’s a lot more than just Hainan chicken happening at Pearl River Deli - although, it probably wouldn’t hurt to throw in an order or two, just in case. Even if it means a little extra work for the Prince.
What else can we possibly say about this dish? It cured our depression? Cleared up our moderate-to-severe adult acne? Saved us 15% or more on our car insurance? Because we will - seriously, it cannot be understated how monumental this dish is.
Both sweet and salty, this hefty sandwich combines all of our favorite things: Deep-fried pork chops, sofrito mayonnaise, fluffy pineapple buns, and unwrapping things as soon as we get into the car.
Served warm and runny, like the best kinds of scrambled eggs, this velvety scramble contains gigantic pieces of shrimp, finely diced scallions, plus a dash of sesame seed oil and soy sauce - which makes for a dish that tastes exactly like a basket of siu mai on a Sunday morning.
Nothing fancy going on here, just incredibly cooked, saucy pieces of barbecue pork, served with a side of greens and a bed of pan-fried egg noodles. Much like this shot-for-shot remake of Lost in Translation starring Lulu Wang and Barry Jenkins, there’s nothing we would change about this dish.