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…
- 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
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.
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.