Three Cup Chicken – San Bei Ji (三杯鸡)

I was planning to share this recipe earlier but I’ve had such a difficult weekend because of my back and nerve issues. I’ve been mostly in bed today and I thought it would be a good idea to try using text to speech apps to minimize typing, using my hands, and sitting in front of the computer for long periods. but I made it! I am hoping you will be able to try this recipe at home.

Three cup chicken is a dish that my family loves to order in a restaurant in one of the nearby cities. We love how the flavors seem to stick to the chicken down to the bone. But this isn’t where I first encountered this dish.

I went on a student exchange program in Taiwan in 2005 for about half a year. During that time, I met people from all over the world as well as people from that beautiful country. We learned more about the country’s culture and way of life. We most especially loved the food. During our stay, our student buddy took us on a trip to the countryside of Kaohsiung. We went to this restaurant near a hill called Lunar Chicken Farm (https://itainan.com.tw/moonworld-chicken/, text in Chinese), and has a history of about 40 years of serving chicken, and even roosters on their menu. I couldn’t forget that experience because all we ate for that meal was different chicken dishes, but we loved and devoured every single bit that was served on the table. I even recalled her mom ordering more and I looked at my Filipino classmates thinking, “What? Do we even have space for more?” But we ate everything anyway because it was so good. We asked what the dark chicken dish was and it was called 3 cup chicken or San Bei Ji (三杯鸡), because the seasonings for the dish that make up the sauce is 1 cup each. I remember trying to take note of that so that I can find it at home if there were any Taiwanese restaurants in Manila.

It took a while for me to find a good one because there are many different versions, and the commercialized versions tend to reduce cooking time. My Taiwanese student buddy explained to me that 3 Cup Chicken is a family dish, so the recipe varies per household. Some people use fillets while some like it with the bone still on the chicken. But to me what makes a good 3 Cup Chicken is something that has a strong garlic flavor a thick sauce that has been simmered down and its flavors seeping into the chicken up until the bone.

It also took me more than three tries to be able to find the best recipe according to how I recalled that dish in 2005. I tried to marinate the chicken in the ingredients before cooking it down, I tried cooking the recipe straight up like I would a normal chicken stew, I made the mistake of adding too much liquid because I was used to having a lot of sauce when making a stew. The method was simple but I just didn’t trust the ratios that were placed on the recipe. The common thing for my successful attempts was that the chicken needs to cook and simmer in low heat, sometimes even with a clay pot. So I’m sharing with you the recipe that has yielded the best result.

Three Cups Chicken

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 30-45 minutes

Serves 5

Ingredients:

• 1 whole chicken chopped into individual pieces (1.5 – 2 kg)
• 10 to 15 cloves of garlic peeled
• 6 slices of ginger
• 1/4 cup of leeks sliced into 2-inch pieces
• Two birds-eye chili chopped
• 1/2 cup of sesame oil
• 1/2 cup of shaoxing rice wine
• 1/4 cup of regular soy sauce
• 1/4 cup of dark soy sauce
• 1 and a half teaspoon of sugar or any sweetener
• 1 cup of basil leaves
• 1/4 teaspoon of white pepper

Instructions:

  1. In a wok or saucepan heat the sesame oil.
  2. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté until fragrant.
  3. Add the leeks and bird’s eye chili and saute for about 2 minutes.
  4. Place the slices of chicken skin side down and cook until it is slightly brown. (Don’t cook through)
  5. Add the dark soy sauce and regular soy sauce on to the pan. Add the Shaoxing rice wine as well.
  6. Let it simmer in low heat for about 30 minutes to an hour. You can decide to do this in a slow cooker or a clay pot as well. The goal is to let the sauce reduce to about half and for the flavors to stick to the chicken up until the bone.
  7. During the last ten minutes add a cup of basil leaves. If you want a bit of crunch you can add 1/4 cup of basil leaves into the dish while cooking and fry up the other 1/4 until crispy. Then top the fried leaves onto the dish when you are ready to serve. Serve with steamed white rice.

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