“Three Cup” refers to the base recipe, which is supposed to include equal parts sesame oil, soy sauce, and rice wine. Ironically, most cooks these days put their own spin on it, changing the ratios, or adding other ingredients, like scallions, chili peppers or black pepper.
For my Three Cup Chicken, I like adding a little extra rice wine for the flavor and sweetness it imparts. The additional liquid allows you to cook the chicken for a bit longer, making it more tender, without burning it. I also like to add a bit of brown sugar, which balances out the salty soy sauce and gives the glaze a luminous sheen. If you happen to have some kecap manis in your pantry, you can swap the dark soy sauce for that and omit the sugar.
For the soy sauce, I like to use a 50:50 mix of dark soy sauce and regular soy sauce. Chinese dark soy sauce is viscous and almost black in color with an intense flavor. By regular soy sauce, I mean your garden variety Kikkoman, it’s still dark in color, but has a milder taste. This give the chicken a glorious mahogany color, without overwhelming it with the flavor of fermented soybeans.
As for other ingredients, I add a ton of garlic and ginger to my Three Cup Chicken at the beginning for flavor. I like to leave the garlic in big chunks as this prevents it from burning while you’re browning the chicken and provides sweet creamy bombs of garlic bestrewn amongst the savory chicken. Then, I finish the San Bei Ji off with a handful of Thai basil for a bit of freshness. If Thai basil isn’t your thing (or you can’t find it), scallions also make for a delicious addition with the white parts being added at the beginning and the greens added at the end.
I usually pass on chili peppers for my Three Cup Chicken as the heat makes it too similar to Pad Krapow Gai and it makes me want to top it with a fried egg. Instead I’ll occasionally add some coarse cracked black pepper if I’m feeling feisty.
By the way, Three Cup Chicken is the perfect addition to a biandang (Taiwanese version of a bento) as it makes for a super flavorful accompaniment for the rice, so make a bit extra and take the leftovers to work for lunch the next day!
- Heat a large pan or wok until hot. Add the sesame oil, ginger and garlic and fry until fragrant, but don't let it brown.
- Add the chicken in a single layer, skin-side down and fry until the skin is well browned.
Flip the chicken over, and then add the rice wine, dark soy sauce, regular soy sauce, and sugar. Cover and simmer over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, or until the chicken is tender, flipping the chicken over a few times as it cooks.
- Remove the lid and turn up the heat. Reduce the liquid into a thick sauce.
- Add the Thai basil leaves and toss to coat. Serve the Three Cup Chicken with rice.