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San Bei Ji – Three Cup Chicken

San bei ji is a popular chicken dish in Chinese cuisine. The dish originates from the Jiangxi province of southern China, is a specialty of Ningdu, and has become especially popular in Taiwan.

Origins

There are several versions for the origins of “three-cup chicken”. These stories often involve a cook who placed three cups of sauces into an earthenware pot and simmered it for a long time. One version of the story relates to the Song Dynasty national hero Wen Tianxiang, a Jiangxi native; a sympathetic prison warden cooked the dish for him using the limited resources available before Wen Tianxiang’s execution.

“Three cups”

The dish derives its name from the three cups of sauces required. For each chicken, a cup each of soy sauce, rice wine (usually mijiu although it may be mixed with Shaoxing jiu), and sesame oil are added. Lin Shangquan, a famous chef in Taiwan, believes that the traditional recipe called for a cup each of soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar, with added ginger, garlic, and basil.

The chicken, together with the sauces, is cooked in an earthenware pot on high heat for ten minutes, then on low heat to allow the sauces to be absorbed by the meat. The dish is usually served in its cooking pot when the sauce has 80-90% reduced. Sanbeiji is served with no sauce; the dish is cooked until all the sauce evaporates and is absorbed by the chicken. When it is served at the table, the chicken should be sizzling—even popping—on the cusp of burning. This gives the chicken a crisper texture (and richer flavour) unlike most other Chinese or Taiwanese stewed dishes. The dish is then eaten with either steamed rice or rice congee.

Other meats, such as pork or frog, can be substituted for chicken in this dish without detracting from the taste.

San Bei Ji - Three Cup Chicken
Cooked in soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil, and loaded with heaps of garlic cloves, slices of ginger, and fresh Thai basil, this classic Taiwanese chicken dish is a perfect reminder of just how good an over-abundance of flavour can be.
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Ingredients
  • 1 kg chicken, chopped into bite-size chunks (see instructions)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 10 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 10 slices ginger
  • 1 cup sesame oil
  • 1 cup rice wine
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 2 - 3 sprigs fresh Thai basil
  • 2 chilli peppers, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
Instructions
  1. In a clay pot or casserole dish, brown chicken in vegetable oil.
  2. Add garlic and ginger and fry for a couple of minutes.
  3. Mix sesame oil, rice wine, soy sauce, chillies and sugar, add to pot. Bring to a boil.
  4. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Place basil on top of chicken, cook for a further 5 minutes.
  5. Remove chicken, minus liquid, to a serving dish. Serve with white rice.
Notes
Don't be tempted to skimp on seasonings – this dish is meant to pack a punch.
Don't simmer much longer than 20 minutes or the chicken will start to resemble salty chunks of leather.

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