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San Bei Ji (Three-Cup Chicken) Recipe

Ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and rock sugar make the chicken in this classic Taiwanese dish tender and incredibly flavorful. 

The “three cups” refers to the heady amounts of rice wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil that chicken is braised in for this dish. A favorite of casual restaurants (re chao) as well as home cooking, the flavor combination is so good that you can find “three cup” squid, tofu and other proteins cooked in a similar style. 

For chicken, dark meat is traditionally hacked by a butcher to bite-size, bone-in chunks when you purchase it from a market. If you don’t live near an Asian grocery that can provide this cut, substitute whole, bone-in dark meat pieces (thighs and/or legs, or for more bite-size pieces, go for all party wings). 

Just don’t skimp on the ginger, garlic and basil — these powerful aromatics lift the dish from simply savory to sublime.


Active Time: 20 mins

Total Time: 40 mins

Servings: 4 servings



1/2 cup sesame oil

1 three-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into coins (about 3 tablespoons)

12 garlic cloves, peeled

2 large (about 1 1/2 ounces total) scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1/2 cup)

2 small (about 1/8 ounces total) fresh red chiles (such as Thai chiles) (optional) 

2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and/or legs, or wings (flats and drumettes)

1 cup mijiu (Taiwanese rice wine), or Shaoxing (Chinese cooking rice wine) or dry sake

1/4 cup light soy sauce

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce (if unavailable, increase light soy sauce to 1/3 cup)

1/4 cup rock sugar or 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 

2 cups packed Thai basil leaves

Steamed white short-grain rice



  1. Heat sesame oil in a large skillet with a lid over medium until fragrant, 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium-low; add ginger and garlic, and let sizzle for 1 minute, being careful not to burn (reduce heat to low, if necessary). Add scallions and chiles (if using), and let sizzle for 10 to 20 seconds.
  2. Push ginger, garlic, scallions, and chiles to outer edges of skillet, and arrange chicken, skin side-down, in oil. (You can crowd the pieces so that they all touch.) Increase heat to medium-high, and cook, undisturbed, until chicken skin is mostly golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add rice wine and soy sauces; sprinkle evenly with rock sugar. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high. Reduce heat to medium; cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove lid, and turn chicken pieces. Simmer, uncovered and undisturbed, until sauce is slightly thickened and reduced by almost half, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and add basil, stirring until just wilted. Serve with steamed rice.

This recipe is updated slightly from Erway’s book, The Food of Taiwan (2015, courtesy of HarperCollins).

Recipe Courtesy Cathy Erway / Food & Wine

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