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 (三杯鸡).
Three cup chicken (or San Bei Ji) 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.
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 an unique fragrance.
- Soy sauce provides a kind of flavoursome saltiness (more sophisticated than that of salt). And the sweetness from rock sugar gives the dish a nice balance.
- 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 plain rice cooked while you are preparing the chicken. Within 20 minutes, you will have a complete meal ready to tuck into.
Have a lovely day!
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