basil 3 cups chicken (三杯雞, san bei ji)

san bei ji

basil san bei ji

my dad absolutely LOVEs this classic taiwanese dish. i swear, sometimes, i think my dad is very silently plotting when he orders this dish on how he can have it all to himself.  his tactic, i’ve noticed, is to spoon out small portions to others at the table and to then to give himself a very generous portion — which is usually the rest of the dish.

as a kid, i asked my mom why the dish was named 3 cups of chicken. i thought at first that the 3 cups referred to having 3 cups of chicken in the pot — a bizarre measurement for poultry i must admit. turns out that the 3 cups refer to the classic seasoning ingredients: (1) 1 cup of chinese rice wine, (2) 1 cup of soy sauce, and (3) 1 cup of sesame oil. having an immense craving for this dish, in college i followed its eponymous recipe and actually poured the 3 items above in specified quantity into a pot with some chicken.  needless to say, it resulted in a total disaster. there are a few more nuances to this recipe than its name suggests. moreover, basil the key ingredient in this recipe isn’t even mentioned in the name — surely it deserves to be elevated as i’ve done!

i’ve been experimenting with how to reproduce this dish at home, and i think i’ve gotten it right or at least close.

Basil San Bei Ji
(enough for about 1-2 people)

Chicken                            2 chicken legs chopped into quarters about 1 inch thick; about 3/4 to 1 lb  (i used jidori chicken)
Sesame Oil                      2 tbsp
Garlic                               5-7 large cloves, peeled
Ginger                              ~ 1 inch piece, peeled and cut into thin slices
Rice Wine                        2 tbsp (can use either shaoxing wine or chinese rice wine)
Soy Sauce                        2 tbsp
Sugar                                1 tbsp
Basil                                  a large handful of basil leaves, julienned into thick strips

  1. This recipe is typically cooked in a claypot; however, it can be cooked in a small sauce pan as well.
  2. Wash chicken legs and pat dry
  3. Combine soy sauce, sugar and wine in a small bowl and set aside
  4. Heat sesame oil in pan over medium/high heat
  5. Add garlic and ginger. Stir fry until lightly brown.  Take care not to let the garlic burn; it will do so quickly
  6. Add in chicken and cook until chicken pieces have nicely browned on both sides
  7. Add in soy sauce, sugar and wine sauce from step 3 into the pot.  Turn the heat down to a simmer
  8. Allow the sauce to reduce to half  (about 10 minutes)
  9. Add in basil and stir it around to incorporate it into the dish (about 20 seconds)
  10. Remove from heat and serve
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2 responses to “basil 3 cups chicken (三杯雞, san bei ji)

  1. i love 3 cups chicken too! and 3 cups squid, 3 cups shrimp… always orders this with lu rou fan and black forest crushed icee at lu gan xiao zheng

    • tomatointribeca

      oooo love lu rou fan. so fatty tho…you really have to make it with pork belly otherwise, it doesn’t come out the right way.

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