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San Bei Ji (Taiwanese Three Cup Chicken)


San Bei Ji (Taiwanese Three Cup Chicken)
San Bei Ji (Taiwanese Three Cup Chicken)


This classic three-cup chicken dish originates from the Jiangxi province in southern China, however, for this recipe we will make it the Taiwanese way as I personally think it’s just a touch better than the original. Super savoury, tender and aromatic chicken packed full of umami, this dish is definitely a weekly go-to! During the recipe, I also want to show you how to break down a whole chicken using the classic French method. Not only is it a cost-effective way of using chicken there is also minimal waste and gives a good breakdown of the chicken anatomy. If you prefer you can simply use chicken thighs, wings or legs if you want to skip this process but that does make you think about what happened to the rest of the bird…With all that said let’s get straight into it!


Preparing Chicken for Saute:

1. Let’s start off by breaking down the chicken, classically we are looking for 8 parts plus the 2 wings giving us 4-5 portions. This way of breaking down a chicken is a French method known as cutting chicken for saute. Begin by exposing the wishbone that is situated towards the backside of the chicken. Using a pairing knife to scape against the wishbone to ease from the flesh then when loose pull and twist to remove.

2. Next we want to remove the wings, start by scoring just above the joint around the top part of the wing to reveal the bone. Now we want to pop the joint out and twist to remove the wings leaving the bone clear. repeat this process for both wings.

3. Now moving onto the leg joint, similar to the wings make a cut going around the top of the leg to reveal the bone then pull by popping to remove the ankle section of the bird. Next make a long incision where the top of the leg meets the body of the chicken to open up the leg. We now want to pop the hip joint of the chicken to free from the body. Use a knife to slice away where the seam of the leg is to remove. At the bottom of the chicken you will find a small oval shaped dark meat just around the thigh, this is the oyster and is the best part of the chicken. Try and keep this attached if possible. Now that we have our chicken leg simply divide the leg into 2 pieces by cutting straight down at the joint where the leg and thigh are. Again repeat for both legs.

4. Now we have our wings, drumsticks and thighs all that should be left is the breasts. To get 4 pieces out of this begin by slicing directly down approximately halfway from the centre of the back bone. This 1/2 breast should also have the tip of the wing bone attached. This will give 2 small breast pieces leaving the centre breast piece and the back bone.

5. The final step to breaking down the chicken is to now separate the bottom half of the carcass from the meat. Use a heavy cleaver to cut half way through the centre to remove the bones (we can use these bones to make stock or ramen in the future). When removed all that should be left is a the breast meat attached to the back bone. Just above half way you will find a grove towards the thickest part of the meat. Use this groove to slice the back bone to make 2 pieces. When ready place all of the prepared pieces onto a tray and that’s how to prepare chicken for saute. Now let’s cook!

Three Cup Chicken:

6. Now to cook, first thing to do is to get a good seal to make the chicken nice and crispy. If using a whole chicken like this recipe we want to cook the chicken in different stages as each part will have it own cooking time. In a large pan add a small drizzle of oil then start by adding the thighs, drumsticks and wings. Fry for 10 minutes until golden brown and crispy then remove from the pan. Now add the breast, wings and the backbone and again seal until crispy and remove from the pan.

7. In the same pan that we sealed the chicken in we now want to add some aromats, add 3 spring onions cut into 2, 10g of sliced ginger, 6-8 dried red chillies (seeds in optional) and 6 peeled garlic cloves cut in half. Turn the heat to low and fry until fragrant adding a touch of additional oil if needed. When fragrant we want to make a small caramel in the pan by adding 2 tbsp of white sugar and as soon as the sugar starts to dissolve assist by adding a touch of water until a light caramel is formed.

8. As soon as a light caramel begins to form we now want to deglaze the pan by adding the infamous 3 cups, add 3 tbsp of rice wine, 3 tbsp sesame oil, 3 tbsp of light soy and 2 tbsp of dark soy. Add approximately 1/2 cup of water and begin to reduce the liquid and aromats on a medium heat.

9. We now want to add the chicken in stages as each part of the chicken will cook at different times. First add the drumsticks, wings and thighs and coat in the sauce. Place a lid over the top and turn the heat down to low then slowly braise for 10 minutes. After this we now want to add the remaining chicken pieces and again mix well, place a lid over the top and slowly braise again for a further 10 minutes. If the braising liquid seems too reduced at this point then add a touch of additional water.

10. When the chicken is cooked and finished braising we now want to finish the dish. The braising liquid at this point should be nice and reduced and slightly sticky. If not then remove the chicken from the braise and place onto a plate to prevent it from overcooking. Then reduced the braise until we get the right consistency. We are looking for the glaze to be thick enough to able to easily coat the chicken. When satisfied add the chicken pieces back to the braise.

11. Just before we are ready to serve we want to freshen up the dish by adding a bunch of picked basil leaves. Mix well and allow the basil to briefly wilt then coat all of the chicken in the sticky glaze. Add the chicken to a large serving bowl and nourish with some freshly steamed rice…Im sure you will love this super simple Taiwanese version of three cup chicken!

Additional notes

Ideally for this recipe, I would have used a clay pot to give the dish that little extra finesse, however, I don’t quite have a large enough one for a whole chicken but if you do then, by all means, use that for this recipe. Instead of chicken, you could also use tofu, seafood, pork, lamb or even beef using the same method. If preparing a whole chicken this way seems a bit too much then you could use prepared chicken wings or thighs alternatively. Have fun with this recipe and peace!


Prep Time 20 minutes / Cook Time 30-40 minutes
To serve 4-5
Three cup chicken:
1 whole free range chicken
3 spring onions
10g ginger
6-8 dried red chillies
6 garlic cloves
bunch of basil
3 tbsp sesame oil
3 tbsp light soy
2 tbsp dark soy
3 tbsp rice wine
2 tbsp white sugar
rice for 4