Three cup chicken is a classic Taiwanese dish that has become quite popular at any Chinese tai-chow menu. However, it can be disappointing when they don’t do a good job in reducing the gravy, so what you end up is a watery dish that don’t deliver the punch that you’d expect from the three cups of flavouring.
The cup measurement used does not refer to the standard cup measure of 250 millilitres of each ingredient, but it is actually the size of a traditional Chinese teacup, about 150 millilitres. And that is also the amount meant for cooking one whole chicken of about 2 kilograms, so you’d need to reduce accordingly if you are cooking less.
The simplicity of the ingredients makes this dish easy to replicate at home. You just have to remember one cup sesame oil, one cup Shaoxing wine and one cup soy sauce. All the other complementary seasonings: dried chillies, ginger, garlic, scallion and rock sugar are commonly stocked in any Chinese kitchen.
The only essential ingredient that you will need to include in your shopping list is the basil leaves, without which you cannot call the dish three cup chicken. I’ve been to a tai-chow where they substituted basil with curry leaves. It’s not the same!
If you are cooking this dish in bulk, like my wife did during the last Chinese New Year, you do not need to increase the ingredients proportionately because the potency of these seasonings goes quite far. In theory, cooking three whole chickens would require three cups of each seasoning, but she used only two cups of each and the gravy still had so much flavour that many people went for double helpings of rice. I sure ate a lot that day too.
- 60ml sesame oil
- 5 dried chillies, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 inch ginger, sliced
- 5 cloves garlic, pounded whole
- 3 stalks scallion, diced
- 600g chicken leg quarters, cut into bite-size pieces
- 60ml Shaoxing wine
- 60ml premium soy sauce
- 2 tbsp rock sugar
- 3 red chillies, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 8 stalks fresh Thai basil leaves
- Heat sesame oil, fry dried chillies until fragrant.
- Add ginger, garlic and scallions and sauté together.
- Add chicken and try to get a good even sear on all surfaces.
- Add Shaoxing wine, premium soy sauce and rock sugar.
- Cover lid and stew for 1 hour, or braise in pressure cooker for 20 minutes.
- Remove lid and reduce gravy at medium heat until almost dry.
- Add red chillies and basil leaves.
- Serve immediately over steamed rice.