This 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.
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!
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Baked Three Cup Chicken (三杯鸡)
- 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)
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 C).
- Arrange chicken in a large oven-safe skillet without overlapping pieces, skin side down.
- 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.
- Bake at 300 F (150 C) for 40 minutes.
- Transfer the skillet to the kitchen counter. Flip the thighs so that skin side faces up.
- 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.
- Turn on broiler or turn oven to its highest temperature.
- Use a ladle to skim oil from the surface of the sauce (*see footnote 1). Add basil leaves and serrano peppers.
- 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.
- Transfer the skillet to the kitchen counter and let rest for 5 minutes.
- Serve over steamed rice or other preferred side with sauce while warm.
- 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.