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Three-Cup Chicken (三杯雞)

I have yet to try this classic Chinese dish in a restaurant, although I have made it before. The ‘three-cups’ in the name refers to the fact that the chicken is cooked in a cup each of soy, rice wine and sesame oil, although, in actual practice, any volume of each can be used as long as they are in equal amounts. The dish apparently originated in Jiangxi Province in Southern China but is nowadays more closely associated with Taiwan where the basic recipe has been enhanced by the addition of fresh basil leaves towards the end of cooking.

The last time I made this dish I used the last leaves of basil we had growing in our indoor window box and there really wasn’t enough. I have been waiting for ages for fresh basil to appear in our local grocery store and when I saw some the other day I grabbed two of the only four bunches they had. There were some frozen drumettes of chicken in our freezer leftover from a steamed chicken wing experiment I did a few weeks ago and I though they might work nicely instead of the cut-up whole chicken many recipes call for… 

Chicken is the most traditional meat used but there are also ‘three-cup’ dishes featuring pork or squid and I have even seen a recipe using salmon. The simplest recipe just calls for the chicken to be cooked in the ‘three cups’ along with some sugar but garlic and ginger are very commonly added and, of course, basil is now almost ‘de rigeur’. Scallions are sometimes included and quite a few recipes call for chili, either fresh or in a sauce. I am keeping my recipe fairly simple…

The Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 1bs Chicken pieces (I used 16 wing-drumettes)
  • 1/3 cup Sesame Oil
  • 1/3 cup Rice Wine
  • 1/3 cup Soy Sauce
  • 4 tbsp. Sugar
  • 6 cloves Garlic
  • 2 thin slices Ginger
  • 1 bunch Basil (about 1 cup or so of leaves)
  • Vegetable Oil

The Method

First, finely sliver the ginger then slice each garlic clove into four wedges lengthwise and give them a sharp bash with the flat side of your knife to crush them slightly.

Next, heat as splash of vegetable oil in a large pan and brown the chicken wings. You don’t need to cook them all the way through. Just make sure that they are nice and golden brown on the outside. If you are using chicken parts other than the wing sections I used, make sure they are cut into small pieces.

Add the sesame oil to your wok and heat it on high (but not so hot it begins to smoke). Add the ginger and garlic, stir for a moment until they release their fragrance and then add the sugar, wine and soy sauce.

Let everything bubble until it is nice and frothy and then add the chicken pieces. Keep cooking until the chicken pieces are cooked through and the liquid has reduced by about 80 percent or so and is thickened and glossy. If things get to the point of being a bit to dry, add an extra splash of the wine.

When the sauce is just right, toss in the basil leaves and stir until they are just wilted but still a nice bright green. Plate and serve immediately.

The Verdict

This turned out very nicely and my wife declared it one of my best dishes in several weeks. The sauce, I found, was very rich, but we each only had eight little wing sections with some grilled French bread and it made for a nice light supper. More would probably be a bit overpowering, I would say, as it is really very rich

One thing that struck me was that the taste of sesame was less strong than the last time I made this dish. That was a little funny as  I was using the same brand of oil this time around so I am not sure why that would be so… unless, possibly, it was because I used more basil on this occasion and that taste dominated the sesame. I also rather though that a bit of chili heat might be nice with this and, next time, I’d like to add a few dry whole peppers at the same time I fry the garlic and ginger.

15 Comments Post a comment
  1. I ll try this, it looks great!

    May 24, 2012
  2. Looks very delicious. I’m bookmarking….

    May 25, 2012
  3. Thank you for stopping by my blog and liking my post, Batch baking. I ‘m very glad you did as I have now found your beautiful recipe for three cup chicken which sounds delicious. 🙂

    May 25, 2012
  4. This version was very nice. It is quite rich though. I would recommend serving it with some less sweet dishes and rice.

    May 25, 2012
  5. One of my favourite dishes! The brand of sesame oil that I use is this one: http://s7.thisnext.com/media/230×230/Kadoya-Sesame-Oil_32A0B077.jpg. It’s one that our family’s used for the longest time. Good, strong sesame flavour. I usually add a bit of dried chilli flakes – goes well with the flavour! 🙂

    May 25, 2012
  6. Thanks for the tip … I think I have seen that brand in Ottawa. I’ll look when I visit again!

    May 25, 2012
  7. The basil sounds like it really lightens up the flavor. With all that soy sauce, it would be pretty strong!

    May 25, 2012
  8. I’m not sure it does lighten it up that much … the sauce is very rich… although, now that I think about it, not that much more so than the ‘honey-garlic’ sauce often served with ribs. This is better though, I think 🙂

    May 25, 2012
  9. Wauw looking gooooood. I’m hungry already 😀 Thank you for visting my blog. I’m going to follow you, because you have such great pictures that makes me hungry!! 😀

    May 26, 2012
  10. Wow, this looks great! I’m always looking for more chicken recipes. Even though I jus ate, I want to make this..

    May 26, 2012
  11. This looks fabulous!!

    May 26, 2012
  12. Your Three-Cup Chicken is the perfect recipe for my Monday night get together. It looks fantastic and simple to make, and I like SIMPLE a lot! BTW – thank you for stopping by my blog. Because of you I now have more tasty chicken ideas. Thanks! 🙂

    May 27, 2012
  13. Looks extremely yummy!

    May 29, 2012
  14. Yum! That looks wonderful!

    May 29, 2012
  15. I LOVE 三杯雞!! and chicken tighs and wings are my fave part of the chicken! I cannot wait to try!!

    May 30, 2012

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