A super easy, one-pot recipe for an incredibly flavorful, three cup chicken (San Bei Ji), loaded with garlic and ginger and braised in a sesame soy sauce which caramelizes into an addictive sauce that goes amazing with rice!
Three cup chicken (San Bei Ji) is a Chinese dish that is traditionally made with 1 cup of soy sauce, 1 cup of cooking wine and 1 cup of sesame oil, hence the name three cup chicken. Three cup chicken (San Bei Ji) is also traditionally cooked with an abundant of aromatics such as garlic, ginger, chilies, and basil which gives this dish some crazy intense flavors! For this recipe, I tweak the amounts of soy sauce, sesame oil, and Chinese rice wine, so that the sauce is not super salty and greasy. I also like to use caramelized shallots and add fresh green onions (which is not traditional, but my own twist) to give this dish even more flavor! The magic is really in the addictive sauce that goes absolutely amazing with rice.
The best part of this recipe is, it uses only one pot (or pan) and it’s super easy to make, especially if you want something on the table quickly. From start to finish, the recipe takes about 30 minutes to make since we are using smaller (bite-sized) pieces of chicken so it cooks quickly.
INGREDIENTS FOR THREE CUP CHICKEN (SAN BEI JI)
- Chicken Wings – Traditionally this is made with chunks of bone-in chicken pieces, but I prefer chicken wings and I find comes out a lot tastier as well
- Sesame Oil – Sesame oil is important in this recipe and should not be omitted or substituted.
- Garlic & Ginger – These ingredients are very important for this recipe and should not be omitted or substituted.
- Shallots – Personally, I think shallots are a lot more flavorful than onions, but in a pinch, you can substitute it with regular onions as well.
- Birdseye Chili – This is an optional ingredient if you like spicy foods. 5-6 of these peppers will give this dish a medium heat. You can use less to make it less spicy or more to make it spicier
- Chinese cooking rice wine (Mijiu) -Chinese cooking wine has a bit of salt in it, so if you do substitute it with Shaoxing wine or Dry Sherry, keep in mind that your final dish might be less salty.
- Soy Sauce – I like to use light soy sauce for this.
- Thai Basil – I like to use Thai basil for this but if you cannot find it, Italian basil will work as well.
CUTS OF CHICKEN FOR THREE CUP CHICKEN (SAN BEI JI)
Traditionally, three cup chicken (San Bei Ji) is made with chicken legs which have been chopped into smaller pieces using a meat cleaver (bone in). Unfortunately, it meant that if the cleaver wasn’t sharp enough, the cuts between the bones would have bone shards and fragments which are terrible to eat through if they were not carefully picked out before cooking it.
Personally, as much as I love bite-sized and bone-in chicken I don’t feel that it’s worth the effort of finding and picking through bone fragments and bone shards so out goes tradition for me! Besides, there are many other cuts of chicken that are just as good, if not better!
Here are a few ideas to get you started, that I like to use depending on my mood
- Chicken drummettes – These are the drums part of the chicken wing and as close to traditional as chopped chicken thigh because it still has a bone, but minus the bone shards and cleaving
- Chicken wings (separated by segments) – I personally love eating the flats/wingette part of the chicken wings so I use chicken wings both drummette and wingette a lot (like in my photos). To make it easier to eat they should be separated
- Chicken drums – Chicken drums also have the bone and is a lot meatier but it takes slightly longer to cook because of its size, with its bone in and all.
- Boneless dark meat (any cut, cut into small chunks) – This is also an amazing alternative if you are okay with having no bone in your recipe. Every bite is bite-sized boneless meat so it’s a lot easier to eat, and it also cooks a bit faster too.
- Boneless white meat (cut into small chunks) – If you’re looking for a healthier cut of meat, white meat also works but you have to be careful not to overcook it so it stays tender and moist. I like to marinate the chicken chunks in a 1:1 ratio of soy sauce and water (like a mini brine) 1 hour ahead before using it. This mini brine draws the water into the meat (you’ll notice the mini brine actually disappears and gets absorbed) which makes for a more moist chicken.
KEEP AROMATICS BIG AND CHUNKY
For this recipe, you want to keep the aromatics (ginger, garlic, shallots, chilies) big and chunky so they don’t burn as easily since you will be toasting them in sesame oil for quite a bit of time (and so you can pick out the ginger slices easily before eating it). Don’t worry, they won’t stay big and chunky. The caramelized garlic and the shallots will eventually soften and slightly melt into the sauce during the braising step.
WHY IS THERE WATER IN THIS THREE CUP CHICKEN RECIPE?
Whenever I make this dish, I find it quite salty. Especially, when the sauce starts to reduce at the end. I found that the best way to work around that is by adding water to the sauce. It will take a bit more time to reduce the sauce to thicken it but the sauce will be a lot less salty, without sacrificing any flavor.
ADD DELICATE AROMATICS IN THE END TO PRESERVE THE FLAVOR
Delicate spices and aromatics like fresh basil, lose it’s flavor when it’s cooked. To keep this dish super flavorful, I like to add the green onions at the very end to wilt it slightly and then turn off the heat before putting in the basil leaves. The residual heat from the chicken will wilt the basil slightly but will not cook out the oils which give it its flavor!
LOOKING FOR MORE ASIAN COMFORT FOODS? TRY THESE!
- Steamed Chinese Spare Ribs with Black Beans
- Chinese Tomato and Egg Stir Fry
- Beef & Onion Soy Sauce Noodles
- Easy Creamy Congee Recipe
DID YOU TRY THIS THREE CUP CHICKEN RECIPE?
If you made this, I want to see! Follow Pups with Chopsticks on Instagram, snap a photo, and tag and hashtag it with @pupswithchopsticks and #pupswithchopsticks. I love to know what you are making!
Three Cup Chicken (San Bei Ji)
- 2 lbs chicken wings (or boneless dark meat chicken)
- ⅓ cup sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon butter (optional)
- 15 cloves garlic (smashed and intact, do not chop them.)
- 10 slices ginger
- 4 small shallots (or 1 small onion - cut into 1-inch chunks)
- 5-6 birdseye chili (medium heat. Use less to make it less spicy or more to make it spicier)
Delicate Aromatics (Add At The End)
- 3 stalks green onions (chopped into 2-inch length)
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves (I like to use Thai basil for this but in a pinch, Italian basil will work as well)
- Slice the ginger and set it aside for later
- Peel the garlic and use the side of a knife to smash it down to crush it. Do not cut them into small pieces, leave them intact so that they don't burn as easily. Don't worry it will soften and caramelize during the cooking process. Set it aside for later
- Peel and chop the shallots into 1 inch chunks. Set it aside for later
- Cut the green onions 2 inches lengthwise and set aside for the end
- Wash and pick the basil leaves off the stems and set aside for the end
Making the Sauce
- In a bowl, combine the hot water and sugar. Stir it until the sugar has dissolved
- Once the sugar has dissolved, add the soy sauce and Chinese rice wine.
- Mix it and set aside for later.
Putting It Together
- Set the stove to medium heat and add the sesame oil into a large pot. Try to use a pot with tall wall to prevent the oil splatter from getting everywhere.
- When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the ginger and toast it for about 3 minutes
- Once the ginger has toasted for a bit, add the shallots, chilies and garlic and toast it for 2 minutes until it is golden brown.
- Add in the chicken and brown it for approximately 5 to 10 minutes
- Once the chicken has slightly browned, pour in the sauce and cover the pot with a lid. Adjust the heat to medium low heat and let it braise for 10 minutes.
- Once 10 minutes is up, remove the lid and raise the heat back to medium heat. Let everything simmer for 8-10 more minutes (lid off). The sauce will start to caramelize and thicken.
- Once 8-10 minutes is up and the sauce should have thickened, add in the green onions and mix well for 1 minute.
- Turn off the heat and add in the basil and mix well.
- Enjoy with a bowl of rice! (don't eat the ginger slices! Remove them ahead of time, or when you're eating 🙂 )
- Keeping the onions into 1 inch chunks and smashing the garlic and keeping it intact, prevents it from being burned when you are browning them in the oil
- Delicate aromatics such as fresh basil loses a bit of flavor when it's cooked for too long. Using the residual heat from the dish to wilt it, maintains the flavors.
- Do not substitute Chinese Rice Wine with Rice Vinegar - it is a completely different flavor. You can substitute it for Dry Sherry or Shaoxing Cooking Wine for this recipe. If you substitute it with Dry Sherry, the sauce will be slightly more sweeter since Chinese Rice Cooking Wine and Shaoxing Cooking wine have a bit of salt in it.
- In the past, I have noticed Shaoxing cooking wine usually has less sodium than Chinese rice wine, so if you use Shaoxing cooking wine, you may need to adjust the salt to taste at the end with a taste test.
- This recipe also works well with white meat. If you use white meat, cut it into bite sized chunks and marinate it in a mini brine of 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 2 tablespoons of water for 1 hour before using the chicken. This will keep the chicken moist and tender, and won't overcook as easily.
- If you use boneless chicken, the sauce will need to use a corn starch slurry (1 tablespoon of corn starch mixed with 1 ½ tablespoon of cold water) to thicken the sauce at the end. The cartilage from the bones helps thicken the sauce to a thicker consistency.
All calories and info are based on a third party calculator and are only an estimate. Actual nutritional info will vary with brands used, your measuring methods, portion sizes and more.
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