Three Cups Chicken (三杯雞)

Three Cups Chicken on Brown Rice

It’s recipe time again, and this is one of my favorites. It’s essentially a sauce that yummy things get braised in, so if you’re not into chicken that’s all good and fine. You can pretty much ‘Three Cups’ just about anything you want. Tofu, veggies, potatoes, any kind of seafood, it all works and it’s all delicious. But because I want this recipe to work for you, I’m sticking with chicken because Three Cups Chicken is really what I wanted to master.


When I look for a recipe online, I follow what I like to call The Rule of 10. It’s as easy as it sounds. Search for at least 10 sources of that recipe and compare notes. This is especially useful when you’re looking for anything exotic, traditional, regional, or often less known to the English-speaking world. I found the original recipe here. It’s a great recipe site for people who love pressure-cooking. I wasn’t planning on making it in my pressure cooker though. I was just looking for a good recipe with legit amounts of each ingredient, and just trying to find 10 comparable recipes, so I could actually figure out what the hell ‘three cups’ was even talking about. After reading a lot of various recipes, blogs, and doing a lot of Google translating from Traditional Chinese to English, I found a decent swath of recipes, and all the amounts were more or less comparable. If you’re interested in reading about the history of san-bei-ji, you can here.  It’s meant to be quite simple, but I found it super confusing, that the 3 cups is this: 1 cup of each… soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil. But… After making this dish a few times, I found there was far too much sesame oil, not enough wine, and that you always need to be careful with soy sauce. So, you can’t just go and add a cup of everything, or you’ll end up with super oily, salty soup with chicken floating in it. Not nice. While it’s a super easy dish, it’s important with all Asian cooking that you get the balance of the sauce right. You’ll see in my recipe below that I’m a passionate lover of ginger, garlic, chilies and basil. So if you’re not, go a little lighter on each–cuz I sure didn’t.

Okay, so here’s my recipe after much tweaking and twerking over my hot stove. I’ve listed all the ingredients in the order that they be used, and I hope you find that as useful as I do when reading recipes. I also like to add all the ‘pro-tweaks’ at the bottom, so that you can focus on just getting comfy making the dish, and not get frazzled with all the additional information. I don’t know about you, but I always get a little hyper and nervous when I’m about to cook something new. It’s almost similar to that out-of-body clumsy nervousness you feel on a job interview or a first date. So best just to keep it simple. And do some nice prep work, putting everything into tidy little bowls, like you are making your very own cooking show. That works for me, and tones down my antsy madness when I’m learning a new dish. Okay, enough said.


  • A sturdy pot
  • A spatula

Three Cups Sauce

  1. 1 Cup of Ginger, sliced
  2. 1 Cup of Garlic, 1/3 minced, 1/3 smashed, 1/3 whole
  3. 1/4 Cup of Sesame Oil
  4. 1 Bone-In Chicken, roughly chopped up into good-sized pieces (Drumsticks are good too)
  5. 1 red chili pepper, chopped however rough or fine you like it
  6. 1 Tablespoon of Rock Sugar, Honey–or whatever Sugar you’ve got
  7. 1/2 Cup of Chinese Cooking Wine (Rice Wine)
  8. 1/4 Cup of Soy Sauce
  9. 1 Clove
  10. 1 Anise Seed Star
  11. 5-10 Sichuan Peppercorns
  12. 1 Cup of Fresh Basil, roughly chopped
  13. 1/2 Cup of Green Onions, rough or finely chopped
  14. Salt and Cracked Pepper to taste
  15. A few Drops of Sesame Oil


  1. On a Medium Heat, saute the Ginger and Garlic until slightly translucent and fragrant. About 3 minutes.
  2. Turn up the heat to Medium High and add the Chicken, Chili Pepper, and Sugar. Cook until the Chicken has a little bit of color, but not too much. You don’t want to dry it out. Also, about 3 minutes.
  3. Go back to your Medium Heat and add the Rice Wine, scraping any bits that got stuck to the bottom of your pot. Allow the boozy smell to evaporate, and keep stirring to mix all that goodness together.
  4. Add Soy Sauce, and mix.
  5. Add Clove, Anise, Sichuan Peppercorns, reduce the heat to Low, and cover your pot with a lid.
  6. Braise for 10-15 minutes. After the 10 minute mark, you can take a peak. Depending on how big your chicken pieces are, and the type of pot you’re using, cooking times will vary.
  7. With the lid off, crank the heat up to Medium, and allow the sauce to thicken up, taking care to constantly stir and mix everything all around. When it reaches a nice sticky consistency, you’re good to go.
  8. Add Fresh Basil,  Green Onion, Salt and Pepper to taste, and a few drops of sesame oil. Serve on Rice, or just eat it as is.


  • I use a big-ass enameled iron pot for pretty much all my cooking. It cost me an arm and a leg, but it was totally worth every penny. If you don’t have one, a clay pot works great too. Don’t have one of those? No worries–any pot will work just fine, but you’ll have to monitor your heat a little more carefully.
  • Did I mention my love of ginger, garlic and chilies? Well, it’s perhaps this dish that really made me fall in love with them in the first place. When the cooking is done, you really want to see caramelized chunks of both ginger and garlic. I had you cut the garlic into different sizes because the smaller pieces are sauce-enhancers and mostly disintegrate. The bigger chunks get all mushy, golden and slightly burned. Almost roasted, if you will. They will become sweet. The ginger slices become slightly hardened strips of spicy love candy.
  • During Step 7, the chicken should be starting to fall off the bone. It’s now safe to taste and adjust as needed. Because I like the taste of rice wine, I might add another 1/4 cup and let it cook back down to the sticky consistency desired. If that dilutes the saltiness from the soy, I’ll add a tablespoon or more. Once you’ve got your sauce to this stage, the sky’s pretty much the limit, and there’s no breaking it.
  • For vegetarians, if you’re plan is to use tofu, follow steps 1-5, then take out the tofu and finish cooking the sauce on its own. Re-introduce the tofu when you’re ready to serve.
  • For seafood; if you’re using some kind of delicate fish, follow the steps for tofu above. I found that for both, it was better to remove them for a little bit, to keep them from getting gross and mushy. That said, if you’re using prawns or clams in their shells, don’t worry about them. Cook on! Their flavors will only get better with them being in there with everything else.

So there you have it! This is the framework I use in the Donkey Kitchen. I almost don’t even measure anymore because it’s something I like to eat often. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, and I look forward to hearing some comments. Hee-haw!




2 thoughts on “Three Cups Chicken (三杯雞)

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