Three-cup chicken derives its name from the three liquid ingredients in which it is cooked — a cup each of sesame seed oil, Shaoxing rice wine and soy sauce. A whole cup of oil? Yes, I know, that sounds excessive. That’s why modern recipes of three cup chicken don’t follow the old ratio. The Shaoxing rice wine is sometimes replaced with sweet rice wine like mirin or sake which gives the dish a flavor reminiscent of Japanese teriyaki.The garnish of Thai basil leaves toward the end of cooking gives the chicken dish a lovely floral flavor and aroma. I’ll repeat that — Thai basil — and not the sweet basil used for Italian cooking. Thai basil can be cooked without losing its flavor.What is the ideal cut of chicken for this dish? Fillets are convenient but they won’t give you the deep and rich flavor of bone-in chicken. I prefer chicken wings, minus the wing tips, because they cook faster and the meat is not so thick which makes it able to soak up the flavors better during braising.
- 700 grams chicken wings
- 3 tablespoons sesame seed oil
- 1 one-inch knob ginger peeled and thinly sliced
- 6 cloves garlic peeled and lightly pounded
- 2 bird’s eye chilies or one teaspoon dried chili flakes
- 6 tablespoons soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons sweet rice wine a combination of sake and mirin was used here
- 1 large handful Thai basil leaves
- Pat the chicken wings dry with paper towels.
- Cut the chicken wings through the joints to separate the drumettes from the wingettes; discard the wing tips.
- Heat the sesame seed oil in a large frying pan.
- Saute the ginger and garlic.
- Turn up the heat to medium-high.
- Lay the chicken pieces, skin side down, in a single layer, on the hot oil.
- Sprinkle in the chilies.
- Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is no longer pink.
- Pour in the soy sauce and rice wine.
- Turn the heat to low, cover the pan and braise the chicken for about 20 minutes. Taste the sauce occasionally; you may need to add more soy sauce.
- Turn up the heat. Stir in half of the Thai basil.
- Continue cooking the chicken, uncovered, until the sauce is thickened and reduced. At this point, there will appear to be more oil than sauce.
- Add the rest of the basil leaves. Cook for another minute.
- Serve the three-cup chicken hot with rice.
This lovely chicken dish is considered a classic Taiwanese dish but, like many Taiwanese food, three-cup chicken, or sanbeiji, originated in China. Where exactly is a matter of debate. There are many stories that range from peasants making use of puny chickens to a prison guard cooking with limited ingredients the last meal of Wen Tianxiang, a hero of the Song dynasty. This is an updated version of a recipe originally published in November, 2017.