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Taiwanese Three Cup Chicken (aka Sanbeiji)

Taiwanese Three Cup Chicken (aka Sanbeiji)

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Taiwanese Three Cup Chicken (aka Sanbeiji) – chicken simmered in a delicious sauce made with soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil, along with ginger and basil.

As some of you might already know, I’m a Taiwanese-American. Growing up around these parts, my mom enrolled me in Chinese School.  It’s not like normal school – all it is is it’s a 2 hour class on Saturday where a teacher taught you Mandarin Chinese and Chinese Literature.  

One of my fondest memories from back then was my mom and I would always grab dinner at the local Taiwanese restaurant and I would always demanded for Taiwanese Three Cup Chicken (aka Sanbeiji or 三杯鷄).

What is Three Cup Chicken?

Three Cup Chicken is called ‘Three cup’ because it’s main ingredients are three ‘cups’ of sauces – Soy Sauce, Rice Wine, and Sesame Oil. The ‘cup’ is figurative, so we will not actually add full 3 cups of each of those sauces.

This dish also calls for basil to be added to the dish, and the additional aromatic flavors are amazing!

Here’s more information on some of the ingredients:

Soy Sauce

There are different types of soy sauce:

Light soy sauce (aka 生抽, sheng chou) is the most common type used in Chinese cooking. It’s used to enhance the flavors by adding a salty flavor.

Dark soy sauce (老抽, lao chou) is, well, darker than light soy sauce, and it’s also a bit more thick. However, it’s actually a bit less salty compared to light soy sauce. It’s often used to darken a dish too (ex: Red Braised Pork Belly.)

For this dish, traditionally at my house we use light soy sauce, but dark soy sauce can also be used too, or even a mix of both.

Rice Wine

Michiu is also known as Rice cooking wine. It contains about 20% alcohol, and is very popular in Taiwanese cooking. Many folks get this cooking wine confused with another cooking wine – Shaoxing.

The difference is that Shaoxing is lower in alcohol and darker. Michiu is more dry and has a higher alcohol content.

If you’re hunting down some michiu at your local Asian supermarket, you can sub with shaoxing, or you can also find michiu on amazon.

Sesame Oil

There are also different types of sesame oil:

Light sesame oil (or aka pure sesame oil) can be used as a cooking oil, similar to vegetable oil, except of course it gives off a delicious sesame flavor. (ex: our sesame oil chicken!)

Dark Sesame oil (aka black sesame oil) is actually made from toasted sesame. It has a lower smoke point so it is not recommended for deep frying, or cooking too long. They’re great to be used as a condiment. For example, for making Asian salads such as my Chinese Cucumber Salad!

For this dish, we use light sesame oil usually, however, you can also use dark sesame oil too.

Brown Rock Sugar

Chinese rock sugar are basically sugar that looks like rocks. (That makes sense, right?) They’re refined, crystalized sugar and sometimes they’re in cubes, and sometimes they’re in random lumps. They can be white or yellow in color.

Rock sugar is a less sweet than your normal white sugar. Which is one reason it is used in cooking, so that it doesn’t over power the taste of other things. It is also often added to hot beverages (such as chrysanthemum tea) to add another sweetness.

If you do not have this ingredient, you can substitute with brown sugar, you can also find it brown rock sugar on amazon.

Basil Leaves

The type of basil leaves used in this dish is Thai Basil Leaves. A popular basil substitute for Thai basil is the Italian basil. This will give you the most similar basil flavor.

How to make Three Cup Chicken?

First gather your ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup sesame oil
  • 2 inch of ginger, sliced
  • 1 lb chicken drumsticks – Traditionally, it’s bone in drumsticks, chopped in to smaller chunks.  
  • 1 cup rice wine
  • 3 scallions, cut up to about 2 inches
  • 5-10 cloves garlic (depending on their size), peeled
  • 1 tbsp brown rock sugar
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • Salt, as desired
  • 1 bunch of basil leaves, stems removed

If you choose the traditional route and are using drumsticks, with a butcher knife, chop the drumsticks in to 3 segments (or 2 if they are smaller). If you are not using drumsticks, just cut the chicken in to smaller pieces.

Heat a wok or large cooking pan over medium high heat and add sesame oil.

Add the sliced ginger first and cook until slightly browned.

Add the chicken, and cook stirring occasionally, until it is browned at the edges, approximately 5 to 7 minutes.  Then add rice wine, garlic, and scallions.

If you have a clay pot, transfer it over to the clay pot.  If not, either continue using the current skillet.

Add the rock sugar and stir to combine, then add the soy sauce, and bring just to a boil. Lower the heat, then simmer until the sauce has reduced and started to thicken, approximately 15 minutes.

You can give it a taste and if it’s not as salty as you like, add salt as desired.

Add the basil and stir to combine and then turn off the heat.  

Serve!

Taiwanese Three Cup Chicken (aka 三杯鷄)

Taiwanese Three Cup Chicken (aka 三杯鷄)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sesame oil
  • 2 inch of ginger, sliced
  • 1 lb chicken drumsticks – Traditionally, it’s bone in drumsticks, chopped in to smaller chunks.
  • 1 cup rice wine
  • 3 scallions, cut up to about 2 inches
  • 5-10 cloves garlic (depending on their size), peeled
  • 1 tbsp brown rock sugar
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • Salt, as desired
  • 1 bunch of basil leaves, stems removed

Instructions

    1. If you choose the traditional route and are using drumsticks, with a butcher knife, chop the drumsticks in to 3 segments (or 2 if they are smaller). If you are not using drumsticks, just cut the chicken in to smaller pieces.
    2. Heat a wok or large cooking pan over medium high heat and add sesame oil.
    3. Add the sliced ginger first and cook until slightly browned.
    4. Add the chicken, and cook stirring occasionally, until it is browned at the edges, approximately 5 to 7 minutes.  Then add rice wine, garlic, and scallions.
    5. If you have a clay pot, transfer it over to the clay pot.  If not, either continue using the current skillet.
    6. Add the rock sugar and stir to combine, then add the soy sauce, and bring just to a boil. Lower the heat, then simmer until the sauce has reduced and started to thicken, approximately 15 minutes.
    7. You can give it a taste and if it’s not as salty as you like, add salt as desired.
    8. Add the basil and stir to combine and then turn off the heat.  
    9. Remove from heat and serve!
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 437Total Fat: 28gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 21gCholesterol: 129mgSodium: 969mgCarbohydrates: 7gFiber: 0gSugar: 2gProtein: 27g

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Looking for more Asian Chicken recipes?  Try my most popular Easy Coconut Chicken Curry!

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Victor

Saturday 16th of September 2017

Recognizing that there are different types of soy sauces and sesame oils, which should be used in this recipe? Wouldn't the sesame oil burn if used for frying?

Tina T

Monday 18th of September 2017

Hi there! Great questions!!! So, light sesame oil has a higher smoke point than dark, but we're not really deep frying here... only stir frying, so either one will work. As for soy sauce - I know this is probably not the answer you're looking for but it depends on your preference. Some people like dark sweet soy sauce and some people like the light soy sauce. I like it light and low sodium, so that is what I personally used this time around.

Darryl

Monday 11th of September 2017

Love the story about your childhood and such a great recipe to boot!

Katja

Monday 11th of September 2017

This looks delish! I have never had this before and really want to try it.

Donna

Monday 11th of September 2017

A perfect comfort food dish for the upcoming winter - definitely a saver!

ChihYu

Saturday 9th of September 2017

Love three cup chicken. Absolutely one of our go-to dishes for sure !

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