This super-charged Taiwanese treat is one of the best things to come out of the Cook Eat Blog kitchens this year. This beloved Taiwanese dish, in fact, has its origins in China; hailing from the South Eastern Jiangxi region. Like many traditional Chinese dishes, 3-cup chicken or San Bei Ji (sanbeiji) 三杯鸡 made its way to Taiwan, in this case by the Hakka people.
It is in Taiwan that sanbeiji became somewhat of a national treasure, a much-loved restaurant and home-cooked dish. It's also a very simple creation and a really easy dish to cook yourself at home.
What is 3-cup chicken?
Like many loved and coveted international dishes, there is much folklore surrounding the origins behind the name. Many a tall tale explain its heritage, but the explanation I'm going with is the version where originally the dish was created using a cup each of the three major flavour components; soy, sesame and cooking wine. As you'll see from the recipe, there is not a cup measurement in sight, but this tale still feels like the most likely.
3-cup chicken is really easy to make at home - follow along to see for yourself. Let's get started.
↓ Step 1: Seasoning the oil
We add fresh ginger and garlic and a couple of dried chillies to some sesame oil. Imagine if you can the aroma - it's quite spectacular.
↓ Step 2: Chicken in!
The chicken goes in, briefly frying, then followed by our liquids. The flavour-forward umami splendour of dark & light soy, Shaoxing cooking wine and a bit of brown sugar to counteract the saltiness. We're off to a great start! We just need to simmer these tasty treats for 20 minutes until cooked through.
Note: I'm using chicken drummettes and wings combined. This is a great cut for offering up lots of flavour, while giving a finger-licking eating experience. You can use legs and thighs too. Just be sure to cook for 10-15 minutes longer to ensure the chicken is cooked through. You might need to add a little more water too.
↓ Step 3: Reduce the sauce!
Now the chicken is cooked, we want to reduce the cooking liquid so that it clings to the chicken pieces. It's a sticky business but creates a wonderfully glossy and richly flavoured sauce. If you reduce the sauce too much, add a little water to loosen things up a bit. it's a forgiving sauce.
↓ Step 4: Holy Basil!
The true magic comes in the form of one of my favourite ingredients. Thai Basil, or holy basil is the Asian equivalent of basil. It has a more floral and pronounced aniseed flavouring that that of its Italian counterpart. It is a stroke of genius to add this to the mix. It brings a fantastic fragrance and freshness to the rich, intense sauce.
NOTE: If you can't find Thai basil, regular basil will do just fine.
We want to retain all the freshness of the Thai basil, so like in most Asian dishes, the herbs are added at the very end, just before serving, to make the most of their flavour. Simply remove the chicken from the heat and stir in the basil leaves until they wilt. Then hot-foot it to the table because these wings are a dish best served HOT!
Most times, I'll dispense of the need for a serving bowl, and run directly (and I mean run) to the table and serve them from the wok. The wok keeps them hot and it saves on washing up. These chicken pieces won't last long, and really are spectacular served hot.