Taiwanese Three-Cup Chicken (三杯雞, Sān Bēi Jī)

Three-Cup Chicken is a quick, easy and delicious dish to make, perfect for a midweek meal or part of a weekend feast. Originating in the Jiangxi Province of China, it came to Taiwan with the Hakka people. The Taiwanese version adds a big handful of basil and is a staple of both home cooking and the kinds of eateries where friends gather to enjoy cold beers and an array of hot, stir-fried dishes.

This recipe is from Made in Taiwan by Clariss Wei, published by Simon and Schuster.

Three Cup Chicken

Read our detailed book review of Made In Taiwan.

Three-Cup Chicken | 三杯雞, Sān Bēi Jī

A sizzling pot of diced chicken, the three in three-cup chicken refers to soy sauce, black sesame oil, and rice wine, though not in the same proportions, and definitely not a cup of each. Add a bit of sugar, and the combination of the aforementioned ingredients creates a versatile nutty, salty, and sweet concoction that can also be reused on mushrooms, calamari, or even eggplant. A kiss of fresh Taiwanese basil—a local variety that’s most similar to Thai basil but with light anise overtones—rounds out the dish and gives it a lovely brightness. While this dish can be traced to the Jiangxi province of China, the biggest difference is that the Taiwanese renditions incorporate a generous handful of basil.
Servings 4
Author Clarissa Wei / Ivy Chen


  • ¼ cup (60 ml) Taiwanese rice wine or cooking sake
  • 3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon (50 ml) soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) water
  • 1 tablespoon coarse raw sugar, such as demerara
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lard or canola (rapeseed) or soybean oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 2-inch piece (20 g) fresh ginger, unpeeled and cut into 1⁄16 inch (1.5 mm) slices
  • 2 pounds (900 g) skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, chopped into 2 inch (5 cm) thick pieces (see Note)
  • 2 cups (40 g) fresh Thai basil
  • 1 red jalapeno pepper or any fresh medium chili, deseeded and sliced into thin rings (optional)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons black sesame oil


Free-range, bone-in chicken is traditional, but it’s totally okay to make this with boneless chicken thighs for general ease. Boneless chicken will cook a bit faster than bone-in chicken, so be sure to watch the meat closely and check it at about the 10-minute mark. Dark meat is mandatory, or else the dish will come out dry and stringy.


  • In a small bowl, make the sauce by mixing together the rice wine, soy sauce, water, sugar, and white pepper.
  • In a wok, heat the lard over medium heat. When it begins to shimmer, add the garlic and ginger, and cook until they are lightly brown and the edges of the ginger begin to curl, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the garlic and ginger, reserving the oil in the wok. Set the garlic and ginger to the side.
  • Increase the heat to high and add the chicken. Sear until the chicken is well browned on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour in the sauce, bring to a boil, and return the ginger to the wok. Cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Gently simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has reduced to a treacly, sticky glaze, 12 to 15 minutes.
  • Uncover the wok and increase the heat to high so the sauce begins to bubblevigorously. Return the garlic to the wok, and quickly toss in the basil and jalapeno pepper, if using. Mix to combine, and drizzle the black sesame oil over the chicken. Turn off the heat, and transfer to a clean plate. Enjoy immediately.

You can find more Taiwanese content here.

You may also like to see all of our East Asian recipes.


Kavey Eats bought a copy of Made in Taiwan by Clarissa Wei when visiting Taiwan in October. Recipe and images from the book reproduced courtesy of Simon and Schuster. Styling and photography by Yen Wei and Ryan Chen. Home-cooking photography by Kavita Favelle.

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