The eponymous “cups” in three cup chicken denote equal parts soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice vinegar. It’s a potent, salty and savory braised chicken dish with these ingredients alone, but the dish really gets its signature from the sheer volume of garlic cloves, thick pieces of ginger, and fresh basil leaves for flavor. This recipe’s name might underscore the fact that most recipes were passed orally in Taiwan, rather than written, until recent generations. After one taste of it prepared elsewhere, it is quite irresistible to try recreating at home. This dish bears similarities with Hakka-style preparations and red-braised styles of cooking, but its use of basil is refreshingly distinct. It has been enjoyed in Taiwan as a quintessential Taiwanese dish for quite some time.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
3/4 cup sesame oil
1 (3-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into 12 to 15 thick discs
12-15 whole cloves garlic
4 whole scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 pounds bone-in chicken legs, thighs and wings, cut into roughly 2-inch pieces
2 to 3 small, fresh red chilies, halved or sliced
1 cup rice wine
1 cup light soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups packed fresh Thai basil leaves
Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the ginger, garlic, scallions, and chilies, and cook until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chicken pieces and lightly brown, stirring occasionally, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the rice wine and soy sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the chicken pieces are cooked through and the sauce has slightly reduced, about 15 minutes. Stir in the sugar until just dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the basil. Serve immediately.
Recipes and photography from THE FOOD OF TAIWAN by Cathy Erway. Copyright © 2015 by Cathy Erway. Photographs by Pete Lee, 2015. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.