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Three-Cup Chicken is a truly restaurant-worthy Taiwanese dish that's easy to make at home. With a simplified method and everyday ingredients, you'll be sitting down to dinner in about 40 minutes.
Chicken thighs are browned in sesame oil then braised in rice wine, soy sauce, and loads of fresh garlic and ginger, then finished lavishly with fresh basil. A wildly aromatic and deeply flavorful dish!
Ingredients You Need to Make Three Cup Chicken
- Sesame Oil: Regular, not toasted sesame oil.
- Fresh Ginger: Look for a firm, plump ginger hand with smooth skin.
- Garlic: You'll want a large, firm head of garlic with smooth, taut skin.
- Green Onions: Look for bright green onions (scallions) with fresh green tops (not wilted) and white bottoms.
- Red Pepper Flakes: Increase or reduce the amount to manage the spice level.
- Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs: Trim off any large sections of fat before cutting into bite size pieces.
- Light Brown Sugar: Or dark brown sugar if that's what you have on hand.
- Rice Wine: Shaoxing wine or other Chinese rice wine that you would enjoy drinking, not cooking wine which has added salt.
- Light Soy Sauce: Thinner and lighter in color than dark soy sauce.
- Fresh Basil Leaves: Common sweet basil or Thai basil leaves both work well.
- Hot Cooked Rice: Long grain white rice or brown basmati are great choices.
Why is it called Three Cup Chicken?
Taiwanese Three Cup Chicken (San Bei Ji or Sanbeiji) is a popular dish that originated in the Jiangxi province of southern China. Recipe lore is that “Three cups” refers to the original recipe calling for one cup each of soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil. Perhaps a myth since nobody seems to make it this way.
Nearly every Three Cup Chicken recipe you find will be a little different, and mine is no exception. In fact, there is a lot of debate around the recipe details: how much sauce you should use, how thick it should be, what cuts of chicken should be used and whether or not they should be boneless or bone-in with skin.
Recipe Inspiration and Changes
The inspiration for my version came from Sam Sifton. After testing his recipe, I decided to make three main changes:
- For ease, I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs. The dish has ample fat without the chicken skin and is easier to enjoy without bones to deal with.
- Instead of leaving the garlic cloves whole, they're very coarsely chopped. In testing Sam's recipe, I didn't care for chomping into a whole garlic clove. With 12 cloves of garlic it's still a prominent flavor, but more distributed throughout the dish.
- Similarly, instead of cutting the fresh ginger into rounds, it's finely chopped to distribute the flavor.
Not your average weeknight chicken dish, make this once and I promise you'll crave it often. So easy and a great alternative to takeout!
More Delicious Asian Inspired Dishes
- Chinese Cucumber Salad
- Crispy Baked Egg Rolls
- Soba Noodle Bowl
- Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts
- Homemade Ramen Noodles and Pork Belly Ramen
How to Make Three Cup Chicken
Step 1: In a wok over high heat, cook ginger, garlic, green onions, and red pepper flakes in 2 tablespoons hot sesame oil for 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant.
Step 2: After scraping aromatic mixture to the side, add one tablespoon of oil and swirl to coat. Add bite-size chicken pieces and cook, stirring often until brown and starting to crisp.
Step 3: To chicken add sugar, wine, and soy sauce and stir to combine; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 12 to 15 minutes to thicken sauce.
Step 4: Remove wok from heat and add basil; stir to combine. Serve with hot cooked rice.
- 3 tablespoons sesame oil divided, (not toasted sesame oil)
- 3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
- 12 cloves garlic coarsely chopped
- 4 green onions coarsely chopped
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes or more
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- ½ cup rice wine
- ¼ cup light soy sauce
- 2 ounces fresh basil leaves torn if large
- 3 cups hot cooked rice (about 1 cup dry rice)
- Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat until hot. Add 2 tablespoons oil, ginger, garlic, green onions, and red pepper flakes; cook and stir until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Scrape aromatics to the side of the skillet. Add remaining oil and swirl to distribute. Add chicken; cook and stir until browned and beginning to crisp, about 7 minutes.
- Add sugar, rice wine, and soy sauce; stir to combine, scraping up any browned bits, and bring to boil. Lower heat and keep at a high simmer until sauce has thickened to a sticky, deep golden brown, 12-15 minutes. (recipe note #1)
- Turn off heat and stir in basil. Serve with hot cooked rice.
- If your sauce is thickening too quickly, reduce the heat instead of the braising time. You want to allow the flavors to fully permeate and tenderize the chicken.
- Note that you'll need to cook rice according to package directions to be hot when the rest of the dish is ready to serve. I recommend long grain white rice or brown basmati.