Three Cup Chicken

Three Cup Chicken

Cook time: 25 minutes  |  Total time: 45 min  |  Serves: 4

Three Cup Chicken (三杯鸡 *Sānbēijī*) is a popular Taiwanese dish that my friend Belinda's mother from Kaoshiung first introduced to me at a joint dinner party back in San Francisco. The name derives from the use of chicken braised till dry with a cup of light soy sauce, sesame oil, and Chinese rice wine. As I've learned from trial and error, if you actually use three full cups of the aforementioned liquids, you will be in big trouble. I've found that the three liquids need to vary in quantity with slightly more wine, slightly less sesame oil and the light soy sauce goes somewhere in between. If used too much, light soy sauce can ruin a dish making it unpalatably salty. Be careful with sesame oil too as it has a very strong flavour and if overused has the potential to overpower everything. And do not, I repeat DO NOT use an actual full cup of each liquid unless you want to experiment and make Three Cup Turkey using the entire bird.

In my recipe, I use my usual trick of first briefly marinating the meat with rice vinegar and sugar to tendorise the flesh. I also add a little dark soy sauce, which adds a rich dark colour and lends a tangy sweetness—dark soy is sweet, not salty. Speaking of aromatics, don't be alarmed by the amount of garlic and ginger listed in the recipe, you really need it. I prefer to use chicken thighs with the bone and skin removed, however, you really can use legs and breasts or even a whole bird cut up with or without the skin and bones. It's up to you.

Lastly, in this recipe I've detailed the cooking process of quick frying at a high heat, followed by a brief steaming (lowering of the cover), and ending with a braising at medium heat. I find this process seals in the flavour with a carmelised outside while making the meat inside juicier. The trick is to let the meat absorb all of the juices until the sauce consistency or lack-thereof meets your preferred taste.

What you'll need and how much:

— 12 whole cloves of peeled garlic
— 12 slices of ginger
— 5 chicken thighs
— 1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
— 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar
— 1 teaspoon of sugar
— 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
— 1/3 cup (2.5oz)  of light soy sauce
— 1/2 cup (4oz) of shaoxing rice wine (red wine can do as well)
— 1/4 cup (2oz) of sesame oil
— 1 bunch of fresh basil leaves
— 8 fresh or dried red chilli peppers optional

See and read

Or skip to abridged recipe


Strip the skin from the chicken thighs. Cut around the bone with a smaller knife and lift the bone up. At this point you have a butterflied thigh, which I'll use in a later recipe for fried Mauritian chicken cutlets. Sever the bone from the meat and cut off the excess chicken fat. Cut the chicken thighs into 5 bite sized pieces.

Douse with the dark soy sauce, rice vinegar and sugar and set aside to marinate for 10 to 15 minutes. Smash the garlic cloves with a knife to remove the skin but not slice. Slice the ginger into 12 slices.

Heat oil in a wok to high heat and fry the chicken pieces for 2 minutes. Then add the garlic and ginger and fry for an additional 3 minutes. This allows the meat to quickly brown before being enhanced by the aromatics.

Add the light soy, shaoxing wine and sesame oil. While stirring the mixture, wait until it comes back to a boil and then cover and reduce the heat to low. Allow to braise while covered for 5 minutes. Pump the heat up to medium high and remove cover allowing for the braising liquids to reduce and the chicken to further brown for an additional 10 minutes.

Add the chilli peppers and fresh basil leaves and stir constantly for additional 3 to 5 minutes until fragrant and the chicken mixture becomes less liquidy.

You'll notice at this stage the sauce will reduce and the oil will become more apparent. I prefer to have my chicken in between a state of dry and saucy, but with minimal oil. It's really a personal preference; I've had Three Cup Chicken at Taiwanese restaurants where it's very dry. When removing to a serving plate, it's easiest to use a slotted spoon when removing to drain out any remaining oil. Garnish with a bit a coriander and/or spring onions.

 

Abridged Recipe

Ingredients

— 12 whole cloves of peeled garlic
— 12 slices of ginger
— 5 chicken thighs
— 1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
— 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar
— 1 teaspoon of sugar
— 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
— 1/3 cup (2.5oz)  of light soy sauce
— 1/2 cup (4oz) of shaoxing rice wine (red wine can do as well)
— 1/4 cup (2oz) of sesame oil
— 1 bunch of fresh basil leaves
— 8 fresh or dried red chilli peppers optional

Recipe

  1. Strip the skin from the chicken thighs, remove the bone and excess chicken fat. Cut the chicken thighs into 5 bite sized pieces. Douse with the dark soy sauce, rice vinegar and sugar and set aside to marinate for 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Smash the garlic cloves with a knife to remove the skin but not slice. Slice the ginger into 12 slices.
  3. Heat oil in a wok to high and fry the chicken pieces for 2 minutes. Then add the garlic and ginger and fry for an additional 3 minutes.
  4. Add the light soy, shaoxing wine and sesame oil. While stirring the mixture, wait until it comes back to a boil and then cover and reduce the heat to low. Allow to braise while covered for 5 minutes.
  5. Pump the heat up to medium high and remove cover allowing for the braising liquids to reduce and the chicken to brown (about 10 minutes). Add the chilli peppers and fresh basil leaves and stir constantly for additional 3 to 5 minutes until fragrant.
  6. Remove to a serving plate. It's easiest to use a slotted spoon when removing to drain out any remaining oil.

Photo Credits: Jenny Smart

Mapo Tofu

Mapo Tofu

Lionhead Meatballs

Lionhead Meatballs