Three Cup Chicken, Taiwanese-Style • Sanbeiji • 三杯鸡

Three Cup Chicken  Fae's Twist & Tango

Sanbeiji   (sān bēi jī),   literally  ‘three-cup chicken’  is a popular chicken dish in Chinese cuisine.
The dish originates from the Jiangxi province of southern China, and is a specialty of Ningdu.
However, it has become especially popular in Taiwan, so much so that it is said, a restaurant that cannot cook Sanbeiji is not a true Taiwanese restaurant.

There are several versions of the origins of  ‘three-cup chicken’.  These stories often involve a cook who placed three cups of sauces into an earthenware pot and simmered them for a long time.  One version of the story relates to the Song Dynasty, national hero, Wen Tianxiang, a Jiangxi native. A sympathetic prison warden cooked the dish for him, using the limited resources available, before Tianxiang’s execution.

The dish derives its name from, for each chicken, a cup each of soy-sauce, sesame oil and rice wine are added. Lin Shangquan, a famous chef in Taiwan, believes that the traditional recipe called for a cup each of soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar, with added ginger, garlic, and basil.  I’m happy with chef Shangquan’s story. (Traditional Chinese or Japanese cup is equivalent  3/4 cup U.S. = 180 ml)

Sanbeiji is served dry with no liquid’y sauce… that is, the dish is cooked in an earthenware pot on high heat until all the sauce evaporates and is absorbed by the chicken. When it is served at the table, the chicken should be sizzling—even popping—on the cusp of burning. This gives the chicken a crispier texture and richer flavor. The dish is then eaten with either steamed rice or rice congee.    [Excerpts from Wikipedia]

Sanbeiji • 三杯鸡 • Three Cup Chicken, Taiwanese-Style

  • Servings: 4 ~ 5
  • Time: < 1 Hr
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Print

Recipe by:    Fae’s Twist & Tango (fae-magazine.com)
Three Cup Chicken  Fae's Twist & Tango
Tips:
◊  Unlike many other Asian-style meals, the sauce in this dish is cooked until it is fully absorbed by the chicken, which also provides a crispier texture.
◊  Don’t be tempted to use vegetables in this dish. The result is not the authentic flavor expected.
◊  Although it will not make it authentic/traditional either, if desired for variety, just add roasted cashews or peanuts at the end.

INGREDIENTS

•   1/2 ~ 3/4 cup water
•   3  Tbsp low sodium soy-sauce
•   3  Tbsp sesame oil
•   3 Tbsp sugar
•   675 gr/1.5 lb boneless chicken thighs, weight after  skin and fat removed, cut in 5cm/2″ pieces
•   3 tsp peanut or vegetable oil,  divided
•   7.5 cm/3″  knob ginger, peeled and sliced 3mm/ 1/8″ thick
•   12 cloves garlic, peeled whole
•   (optional for color)  2   red jalapeno chili (sweet), de-seeded and sliced
•   36 large Thai or regular basil leaves, whole

DIRECTIONS

◊  In a small bowl, mix together, water (1/2 cup only), soy-sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and set aside.

◊  In a deep, medium-large, non-stick pot (or wok), on medium, heat 2 tsp peanut oil. Add chicken pieces and sauté until lightly browned on all sides. Remove chicken from the pot and set aside.

◊  Turn on the stove exhaust fan. Very important!

◊  In the same pot, on medium, heat 1 tsp peanut oil  (if any oil is left from sautéing of the chicken, use it instead).  Add ginger, garlic, and stir until fragrant (1 minute).

◊  Add prepared sauce mix and chicken pieces. Slightly lower the heat  and simmer for 15 minutes (at this point, liquid level is very low. If liquid is low before 15 minute mark, add a little water, no more than 1/4 cup to assure chicken is cooked).

◊  When the liquid level is very low, remain near the pot, since the liquid quickly evaporates and the meat/garlic/ginger go into frying mode. Stir constantly, so all the liquid is absorbed and caramelized. Turn off the heat.

◊  Add jalapeno and basil, stir briefly. At this point oil is separated. It is a preference to dish out with oil, or without. Plate in a platter or a shallow bowl.   Serve with steamed rice.

~   食福 / chiah hok  –  Eat well, enjoy good food!   ~

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55 thoughts on “Three Cup Chicken, Taiwanese-Style • Sanbeiji • 三杯鸡

  1. This dish looks stunning, Fae! I have to admit that I have never ventured myself into the Chinese cuisine although I love it. The flavors and the techniques are so far away from what I’m used to. It’s intimidating to me. I’m bookmarking this. I might find the courage someday … :-)

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    • Sweet Francesca, I thought like that about many dishes. You remember me making risotto? :D It wasn’t difficult at all, only attentiveness. This dish is the same. All its ingredients are available in almost every home, don’t you think! :D )))

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  2. This looks/ sounds great; right up my hubby’s alley too. I wonder what would happen if you just put a whole chicken in a pot with one cup each soy, sesame oil and rice wine vinegar? I am glad I read your recipe or else that is what I might have done…

    How do I bookmark a recipe? This one looks to be a keeper.

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    • - The key is, sanbeiji is served “dry with no liquid’y sauce… chicken should be sizzling—even popping—on the cusp of burning”. You may use bone in chicken thighs (best to cut-off the bone part to have it like a ball) and/or end part of chicken wings, and when the liquid has been absorbed, be able to stir-fry them in the oil that has been separated.
      – Probably at the top right of your Explorer (a star outside of the url address bar), Chrome (a star in the url address bar) or whatever application you are using, you see something in the nature of ‘bookmark’. Click on it and it is self explanatory after that. If you have a printer, my recipe is printable.

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    • I cannot say it well, but what we like about the basil in this dish is, a leaf of basil in between each bite is like refreshing your palate and again having the tasty meat, ginger and garlic. Oh, my mouth is watering. :P

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  3. What a lovely version of the dish looking so appetizing! It does look ‘heavy’ on the garlic and gingeer, but since I use large quantities of each every day shall try exactly how you have presented it!!

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  4. What a gorgeous dish, Fae. The story behind the name is fascinating. I love that the flavors are complex, yet not overwhelming. These are ingredients that don’t compete with each other – and that almost every cook has on hand. Thank you for sharing! Best, Shanna

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