Baked Three Cup Chicken (三杯鸡)

Baked Three Cup Chicken (三杯鸡) - Cook the best chicken with minimal effort | omnivorescookbook.comThis baked Three Cup Chicken recipe lets you cook the best chicken with minimal effort. Use this method to create the most flavorful, tender, and moist chicken with crispy skin.

Three Cup Chicken (三杯鸡, san bei ji) is a famous clay pot dish that features super flavorful bone-in chicken bites with crispy skin. In addition to the Chinese flavor profile – soy sauce, cooking wine, and sugar, it uses tons of basil to create a unique and refreshing aroma that highlights the dish. Although Three Cup Chicken originated in Jiangxi, a province in southern mainland China, it has become very popular in Taiwan and is known on the mainland as a signature Taiwanese dish.

To cook Three Cup Chicken the way restaurants make it, is not easy. You need to use a whole chicken, chop it into bone-in bite sized pieces, and quickly fry it in tons of oil until crispy. The chicken is then briefly braised in a rich, sweet, savory sauce with a lot basil in a clay pot. When the dish is ready to serve, there should be no liquid remaining in the pot, just a thin layer of the rich, sticky sauce coating the chicken. The chicken absorbs tons of flavor from the braising, but remains crispy on the surface.

The reason this dish is called “Three Cup” is because the sauce calls for a cup of soy sauce, a cup of rice wine and a cup of oil. Yes, it typically requires tons of oil (no worries, though, because I’ve cut the oil in the recipe below).

To create the perfect Three Cup Chicken, there are three key elements – bone-in chicken, a well balanced sauce, and a method to produce a moist texture with crispy skin.

Baked Three Cup Chicken (三杯鸡) - Cook the best chicken with minimal effort | omnivorescookbook.com

After examining the existing recipes, I decided to cook this dish a new way – baked. This might not look like an authentic recipe, but it helps you minimize cooking time with ingredients that are easily accessible. Even more, it cuts the process of chopping up a whole chicken. Yes, you can use skinless boneless chicken thigh and still get a delicious dish. But once you try this recipe, you’ll see how powerful it can be if you cook chicken with bones.

I guarantee you, all the most important elements of the original dish are covered in this recipe, yet it will allow you to create the best chicken with minimal effort.

I used a baking method I learned from America’s Test Kitchen, but simplified the steps.  The basic idea is to submerge the chicken in the sauce and bake it at low temperature at first. This process allows the chicken skin to render its fat and the meat to be cooked slowly to achieve a moist texture. The chicken is then baked under the broiler to get the skin crispy and charred.

The recipe calls for quite a lot of sesame oil. It adds a nutty aroma to the chicken and keeps the meat moist throughout baking. The oil will be removed at the end of the cooking, along with the oil rendered from the chicken skin. Although you add 1/4 cup of oil at the beginning, you’ll remove about 1/2 cup oil at the end (Less fat and calories!).

The recipe requires 1 hour to cook, but the total time you’ll need to spend in the kitchen is about 10 minutes.

You’ll be surprised at how great the chicken turns out. The skin is nicely charred, the meat so tender and moist, bursting with the flavor of the sweet savory sauce, tons of herbs, and the aroma of the basil. It is truly addictive!

Baked Three Cup Chicken (三杯鸡) - Cook the best chicken with minimal effort | omnivorescookbook.com

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5.0 from 3 reviews
Baked Three Cup Chicken (三杯鸡)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: main
Cuisine: Chinese
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 3 pounds (1.4 kg) bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1/2 cup Japanese sake (or Shaoxing wine)
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce or tamari for gluten-free
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 thumb ginger, sliced
  • 12 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 big shallot, peeled and divided
  • 4 dried chili peppers
  • 2 cups fresh Thai (or regular) basil leaves
  • 2 serrano peppers (or Thai chili peppers), sliced
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 C).
  2. Arrange chicken in a large oven-safe skillet without overlapping pieces, skin side down.
  3. Combine Japanese sake, soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar in a bowl. Mix well until sugar is fully dissolved. Pour into the skillet with the chicken. Add ginger, garlic, shallot, and chili pepper.
  4. Bake at 300 F (150 C) for 40 minutes.
    Baked Three Cup Chicken Cooking Process | omnivorescookbook.com Baked Three Cup Chicken Cooking Process | omnivorescookbook.com
  5. Transfer the skillet to the kitchen counter. Flip the thighs so that skin side faces up.
  6. Continue baking at 300 F (150 C) for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the thickest part of the biggest thigh registers 165 degrees F (74 C). Transfer the skillet to the kitchen counter.
    Baked Three Cup Chicken Cooking Process | omnivorescookbook.com Baked Three Cup Chicken Cooking Process | omnivorescookbook.com
  7. Turn on broiler or turn oven to its highest temperature.
  8. Use a ladle to skim oil from the surface of the sauce (*see footnote 1). Add basil leaves and serrano peppers.
  9. Return the skillet to the oven and bake until the skin is crisped and charred, 2 to 4 minutes. Leave the oven light on and watch closely during the process. I found that baking time can vary a lot depending on the oven model.
    Baked Three Cup Chicken Cooking Process | omnivorescookbook.com Baked Three Cup Chicken Cooking Process | omnivorescookbook.com
  10. Transfer the skillet to the kitchen counter and let rest for 5 minutes.
  11. Serve over steamed rice or other preferred side with sauce while warm.
Notes
1. Alternatively, you can transfer the chicken to a plate, skim the oil with an oil separator, and place the chicken back in the skillet. The oil will be removed more thoroughly this way.

The nutrition facts are calculated based on 1 of the 6 servings generated by this recipe.

Baked Three Cup Chicken Nutrition Facts | omnivorescookbook.com

Syndicated on BlogHer.com

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Meet Maggie

Born and raised in Beijing, Maggie now calls Texas home. She’s learned to love barbecue, but her heart belongs to the food she grew up with. For her, Omnivore’s Cookbook is all about introducing cooks to real-deal Chinese dishes, which can be as easy as a 30-minute stir-fry or as adventurous as making your own dim sum. Recipes, step-by-step photos and video are the tools she uses to share her knowledge—and her enthusiasm for Chinese food.

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17 thoughts on “Baked Three Cup Chicken (三杯鸡)

    1. Maggie Post author

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment Jenny! I’m glad you like this dish. Hope the cooking goes well and let me know how the dish turns out 🙂

      Reply
  1. David

    Hi Maggie. I have been intrigued with this recipe since seeing it on Cooking with the NY Times site. As written, I could make no sense of how the skin would remain crisp after simmering on the stove, let alone how one would cut bone-in thighs into “bite-size pieces”! I knew that it would require cooking in the oven and probale use of the broiler. I was a bit intimidated to change the recipe drastically but now know that I was on the right thrack. Here’s the link if interested: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017456-three-cup-chicken Thanks for making Chinese cooking so approachable especially since I need to be completely gluten free (Celiac disease). You are a genius!

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi David, thanks for leaving a comment and I’m glad to hear you like this recipe 🙂
      The way a Chinese restaurant cook and serve three cup chicken is very different from the recipe I posted here and the one on NY Times. You’re right, it’s impossible to create crispy skin after simmering the chicken.
      The restaurant approach is: Chop chicken to small chucks (you need a large and thick cleaver for chopping bones, with a very sturdy cutting board. If you want to try it sometimes, try to use wings and cut them crosswise. Thighs are very difficult to chop, until you use smaller chicken); fry chicken in tons of oil with very powerful gas stove to create crispy surface; Briefly cook the chicken with sauce (with high heat), so the chicken skin will remain crispy. And the chicken will look like these: http://www.nipic.com/show/3116696.html http://www.dianping.com/photos/6612202/member
      It’s very unlikely to re-create this process at home. If you cook the NY times recipe, you’ll find the chicken skin will be sticky and delicious, but not crispy.
      You’re totally right about the oven and broiler. I thought about this too and I’m glad to find out it’s totally possible to make Chinese dishes in the oven and get even better result.
      Happy cooking and let me know how the dish turns out! 🙂

      Reply
  2. Helen @ Scrummy Lane

    Maggie! I read this post and recipe from start to finish and now I’m seriously tempted to make it tonight! I think I already have everything in my fridge and cupboard apart from the basil which I can easily grab later. It sounds just delicious and it’s so easy – just my kind of recipe!
    I’ve been wanting to make another of your recipes again for a while now – I think this might be the one!!

    Reply
  3. Lokness @ The Missing Lokness

    I have no idea that the three cups refer to 1 cup of soy sauce, 1 cup of oil and 1 cup of rice wine. Learned something new today. 🙂

    I love this new version that you created! Just as delicious, but healthier! Awesome recipe, Maggie! Looking forward to trying this.

    Reply
  4. Gloria | Food Oh Glorious Food

    Wow! This was amazing!!! We loved every bite and I just couldn’t believe how crispy the skin was! The chicken meat just soaked up the delicious subtle flavours of the sauce and the rice just lapped up the sauce! So so so easy to make too – fantastic meal for those nights when I just want to be lazy but enjoy a delicious meal. Brilliant. Just perfect. J Daddy has requested this again already!

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Gloria, I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed the recipe! Yep, I really like the sauce and crispy chicken skin in this one. Your instagram picture looks great! Thanks for taking time to leave a comment and sharing the photo 🙂
      Happy Friday!

      Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Yes it works with chicken legs. They require a bit less cooking time though. You can try cooking at 300 F for 30 minutes, flip, and continue to cook for 20 to 30 minutes. Happy cooking and hope the dish turns out great!

      Reply