Taiwanese 3-cup chicken recipe packs a punch

The name ‘three-cup chicken’ comes from the three key ingredients in the recipe – sesame oil, Chinese rice wine and soy sauce.

This easy and authentic three-cup chicken (san bei ji) recipe is a dish just about anybody can make at home and takes only 20 minutes from pot to table.

Taiwanese cuisine is essentially Chinese food with local influences and slightly different cooking methods.

Many Taiwanese dishes are similar to Chinese-Malaysian food as both originate from the Fujian province in China as early immigrants settled in Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore.

The name three-cup chicken comes from the three key ingredients in the recipe – sesame oil, Chinese rice wine and soy sauce.

“Cups” refer to the equal ratio instead of the literal cup measurement.

The authentic Taiwanese three-cup chicken recipe calls for basil leaves, the soul of the dish that lends an exotic aroma and minty nuance to the flavours.

Taiwanese also love all sorts of “three cup” recipes, for example three cup squid, tofu, mushrooms or eggplant, all of which are delicious.

Ingredients

  • 450 g chicken drumsticks, chicken thighs or a combination of chicken parts
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda to tenderise the chicken, optional
  • 2 tablespoons dark sesame oil or toasted sesame oil
  • 5 cm piece of old ginger, peeled and cut into thin pieces
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dark sweet soy sauce, kicap manis
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
  • 1 bunch Thai basil leaves

Method

  • Cut the chicken into pieces and rub them with the baking soda. Set aside for 10 minutes before rinsing the chicken off with water. Make sure the baking soda is completely rinsed off. Pat dry the chicken pieces and set aside. This is an optional step.
  • Heat up a clay pot on high heat and add the sesame oil. Add the ginger, garlic, and stir-fry until aromatic. Add in the chicken and do a few quick stirs.
  • Add the soy sauce, dark sweet soy sauce, Shaoxing wine and continue to stir-fry the chicken. Cover the lid, lower the heat and simmer for five to 10 minutes.
  • Add the basil leaves and stir well with the chicken, dish out and serve immediately.

Tips

  • This recipe calls for dark sesame oil or toasted sesame oil, which is different from regular sesame oil. Dark sesame oil is a lot more expensive but the flavour is more intense and with a stronger toasted sesame fragrance.
  • If you don’t have sweet soy sauce or kicap manis, you may use one tablespoon of dark soy sauce and add one teaspoon of sugar.
  • If you like crispy three-cup chicken, you may deep-fry the chicken quickly until the outer part of the chicken is fried, but not cooked through inside. Drain excess oil with paper towels and follow the remaining cooking steps.
  • You can skip the first step of tenderising the chicken with baking soda. If you don’t have a clay pot, you can use a regular wok or pan to make this dish.

For the original recipe go to Rasa Malaysia.

Low Bee Yinn is a food blogger and cookbook author.