A whole cup of oil? Yes, I know, that sounds excessive. That’s why modern recipes of three-cup chicken don’t follow the old ratio. The Shaoxing rice wine is sometimes replaced with sweet rice wine like mirin or sake which gives the dish a flavor reminiscent of Japanese teriyaki.
This lovely chicken dish is considered a classic Taiwanese dish but, like many Taiwanese food, three-cup chicken, or san bei ji, originated in China. Where exactly is a matter of debate.
Unlike many dishes where sesame seed oil is drizzled in after the dish is cooked, in the case of three-cup chicken, the spices are sauteed in sesame seed oil. Ginger, chilies garlic are cooked slowly until the oil soaks up their flavors.
The heat is turned up, cubed chicken fillets are added to the chilies, ginger and garlic, and everything is stir fried just until the chicken meat loses its raw appearance.
Once the chicken chicken meat is no longer pink, soy sauce and rice wine are poured in, and the braising begins.
The garnish of Thai basil leaves toward the end of cooking gives the chicken dish a lovely floral flavor and aroma. I’ll repeat that — Thai basil — and not the sweet basil used for Italian cooking. Thai basil can be cooked without losing its flavor.
Three-cup chicken (san bei ji)
- 700 grams chicken thigh fillets cut into 1 ½ inch cubes
- 3 tablespoons sesame seed oil
- 1 one-inch knob ginger peeled and thinly sliced
- 6 cloves garlic peeled and lightly pounded
- 2 chilies or one teaspoon dried chili flakes
- 6 tablespoons soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
- 1 large handful Thai basil leaves
- Heat the sesame seed oil in a large frying pan.
- Saute the chilies, ginger and garlic.
- Turn up the heat to medium-high.
- Lay the chicken cubes in a single layer on the hot oil.
- Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is no longer pink.
- Pour in the soy sauce and Shaoxing rice wine.
- Turn the heat to low, cover the pan and braise the chicken for about 10 minutes. Taste the sauce occasionally; you may need to add more soy sauce.
- Turn up the heat. Stir in half of the Thai basil.
- Continue cooking the chicken, uncovered, until the sauce is thickened and reduced.
- Add the rest of the basil leaves. Cook for another minute.
- Serve the three-cup chicken with rice.