Fried in sesame oil, braised in rice wine and soy sauce, then flavoured with fresh basil, Taiwanese three cup chicken is super aromatic and very easy to cook.
In Chinese culinary culture, three criteria are applied to judge the quality of a dish: colour, aroma and taste (色,香,味). Before tasting or even seeing a dish, its aroma is the first factor to attract your attention and trigger your interest. Today I’d like to introduce a classic Chinese dish that is super aromatic: Three cup chicken (San Bei Ji, 三杯鸡).
What is three cup chicken?
Three cup chicken is widely considered to be a Taiwanese speciality (Some suggest that it originates from Jiangxi province, China, over 700 years ago). Originally, “three cup” refers to the equal usage of three main condiments: sesame oil, soy sauce and rice wine.
However, in practice I’ve never seen any recipes using them in an equal quantity (It would be overly salty and oily). I believe that the idea is to emphasize the importance of these three ingredients which make this dish different from others.
How to make it super aromatic
Now let me explain to you what makes three cup chicken super aromatic.
Instead of using regular cooking oil, this dish calls for pure sesame oil which has an intensely nutty flavour. In my recipe, it’s firstly used to fry the chicken. Then right before serving I like adding a little more of it to enhance the aroma.
You don’t need any water to braise the chicken. The generous usage of rice wine gives the chicken a unique fragrance. Shaoxing rice wine is the most popular type that can be easily found in Chinese stores.
Soy sauce & Sugar
Soy sauce provides a kind of flavoursome saltiness which is more sophisticated than that of salt. I use both light soy sauce and dark soy sauce for this dish. The latter offers a hint of sweetness as well as an appetizing look. Rock sugar (can be replaced by regular sugar) is also added to balance the saltiness.
Ginger & garlic
I recommend that you use lots of ginger and whole cloves of garlic. They are for seasoning the dish. But in fact, they are delicious on their own! After cooking, they will lose much of their spiciness and absorb lots of flavour from the sauce.
Basil leaves give a great final touch to the dish. Authentic versions call for Thai basil which has a stronger flavour and aroma than regular basil. But the latter can certainly be used as a substitute.
Scrumptious dishes are not necessarily complicated to cook. Three cup chicken is a good example. Have some steamed rice cooked while you are preparing the chicken. Within 20 minutes, you will have a complete meal ready to tuck into.
Three cup chicken (San Bei Ji, 三杯鸡)
- 6 chicken thighs (about 600g/1.3lb) - cut into chunks (see note 1)
- 2 ½ tablespoon sesame oil
- 15 slices ginger
- 10 cloves garlic
- 120 ml Shaoxing rice wine - ½ cup
- 2 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rock sugar - or regular sugar
- ½ red bell pepper - cut into square pieces
- 2 stalk scallions - chopped
- 1 handful fresh basil - see note 2
- Blanch chicken chunks in hot water then drain well.
- Heat up 2 tablespoons of sesame oil with ginger and garlic in a cold wok (or a deep frying pan) over a medium heat. Fry until the ginger becomes slightly brown.
- Stir in drained chicken. Fry for 1 minute or so.
- Add rice wine, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, and rock sugar.
- Cover the wok with a lid (keep medium heat). Cook for about 5 minutes.
- Put in bell pepper and scallions, then cover and cook for a further 2 minutes.
- Uncover the wok and turn up the heat. Stir around until most of the liquid is evaporated and the chicken is coated evenly by the remaining sauce.
- Turn off the heat. Stir in the remaining ½ tablespoon of sesame oil and basil leaves. Cover the wok for 1 minute.
- Dish out and serve with plain rice.
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