This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
Three cup chicken (san bei ji) is a popular Taiwanese dish that pairs tender chicken with an irresistible sauce made with soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, and plenty of garlic. It’s so easy to make, it’s sure to become a favorite!
This three cup chicken (三杯雞) recipe is one of my favorite dishes that my mom makes. It’s so comforting and reminds me of home and Taiwan—and luckily it’s also simple, so I can make it anytime I’m craving some comfort food.
Mom shared her recipe with me and today I’m going to teach you how to make authentic three cup chicken (san bei ji). If you’ve never tried Taiwanese cuisine this is a great recipe to start with. It’s simple, flavorful, and goes with everything from scallion pancakes to dumplings.
Usually, though, I just serve this juicy, tender chicken covered in a garlicky sauce over a bed of white rice. Do whatever feels right to you!
Why You’ll Love Three Cup Chicken
Three cup chicken is one of my all-time favorite dinners! Here’s why I think you’ll be obsessed with it, too:
- Garlicky, ultra-flavorful chicken. This juicy chicken is cooked with tons of smashed garlic and warm ginger. Add in the easy sauce made with salty soy sauce, nutty sesame oil, and sweet Chinese cooking wine, and you’ve got a winner of a chicken dinner.
- Easy. It only takes 10 minutes to prep the chicken, and then all you have to do is flip the chicken occasionally while it cooks, and wait for it to be done!
- Comfort food. There’s nothing like a saucy plate of chicken served over some fluffy rice – it’s the best way to end your day on a high note!
What Is 3 Cup Chicken?
The name of the dish comes from the 3 main ingredients in the sauce: soy sauce, sesame oil, and Chinese cooking wine. Despite what the name implies, though, you don’t actually use a cup of each. Instead, the word “cups” refers to using an equal amount of each ingredient.
In addition to these ingredients, authentic 3 cup chicken features fresh basil leaves, which add incredible flavor and more nuance to this meal. Another key ingredient? 20 cloves of garlic. I know that sounds like a lot, but trust me, it’s so good!
As with all traditional dishes, the recipe is always altered to suit the cook’s tastes and it’s never made the same way twice. Use this 3 cup chicken recipe as-is, or continue to build upon it based on your personal preferences. I do suggest that you taste the sauce before adding the chicken because you can’t turn back after that!
Scroll down to the recipe card below this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.
- Black sesame oil – Black sesame oil has a richer, nuttier flavor than regular sesame oil—and no, it’s not toasted sesame oil, it’s sesame oil made from black sesame seeds. If you don’t live near an Asian market, you can order it from Amazon, or you can substitute regular sesame oil.
- Smashed garlic cloves – Fresh garlic is definitely best for this recipe, but you could try using store-bought minced garlic in a pinch.
- Ginger root – Again, fresh ginger is best!
- Chicken drumsticks – These need to be halved; you can buy them that way at most Asian markets, or simply buy them whole and cut them yourself.
- Dark soy sauce – Dark soy sauce has more depth than regular soy sauce; it’s also saltier. If you can’t find dark soy sauce at the store, it’s perfectly fine to use regular soy sauce or low-sodium soy sauce. Adjust the seasonings to your taste.
- Chinese cooking wine – Also known as Shaoxing wine or rice wine.
- Water – This is added so that the salty flavor is not too overwhelming.
- Basil leaves – You can use Thai basil if you’d like, but regular basil is fine too.
How Do I Smash a Garlic Clove?
For this recipe, you’ll need to smash whole garlic cloves, which essentially means crushing them so they release their flavor into the dish. To do this, set a clove on a cutting board and place the blade of a chef’s knife on top of it, with the sharp edge of the knife facing away from you. Put the heel of your hand on the blade, then press down firmly to smash the garlic. Peel away the skin, then repeat with the remaining cloves.
How to Make Three Cup Chicken
Ready for a restaurant-style dinner at home? Here’s how to make authentic three cup chicken!
- Cook the ginger and garlic. Set a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add some sesame oil and, once it’s shimmering, add the garlic and ginger. Cook until the edges of the ginger slices are slightly browned and golden, stirring frequently—this should take about 7 minutes.
- Add the remaining ingredients. Place the chicken in the skillet, then add the soy sauce, cooking wine, water, and basil leaves. Toss to coat, then cover the skillet and cook for 10 minutes.
- Finish the chicken. Turn the chicken and cook for another 10 minutes. Continue to cook the chicken and turn it every 10 minutes until the meat is dark brown; this usually takes me 35-40 minutes.
- Serve. While the chicken cooks, make a pot of rice. Serve the chicken with the rice and pour the extra sauce over the top!
Can I Make the Chicken Crispy?
If you want your three cup chicken to be crispy, you can briefly pan fry the chicken legs in oil. This will crisp up the outside of the chicken. Drain the chicken, then finish cooking it by following the rest of the recipe.
Tips for Success
As you can see, it’s a pretty simple process with a super delicious result! Here are some tips and hints for making three cup chicken:
- Peeling the ginger. When you’re grating ginger, you don’t have to peel it, but you might want to when you’re slicing it. You can do this by scraping the edge of a spoon down the root, removing the skin in the process.
- Cutting the drumsticks. If you’re not lucky enough to find halved drumsticks at the store, you’ll have to cut your own. Use a sharp cleaver and be sure to use a lot of force when cutting—like a lot more than you think.
- No Chinese cooking wine? You can substitute dry sherry or mirin, but it’s not quite the same.
What Goes With 3 Cup Chicken?
You can serve this 3 cup chicken recipe alongside other Taiwanese favorites for an authentic meal. Serve it with:
- Rice. Sticky Rice is another comforting Taiwanese dinner option that you could serve with 3 cup chicken for a large, filling meal. Or, just stick with a simple side dish of white rice – both are delicious!
- Salad. This Spicy Chinese Cucumber Salad is one of my go-to veggie sides.
- Steamed buns. Fresh Mantou 饅頭 (Chinese Steamed Buns) is a classic Taiwanese recipe that would fit in perfectly with this meal.
- Scallion pancakes. You can never go wrong with homemade scallion pancakes (linked above)!
How to Store & Reheat Leftovers
Three cup chicken stores and reheats quite well! Here’s how to save it for later if you have leftovers:
- To store. Transfer any leftover three cup chicken to an airtight container and refrigerate it for 3-4 days.
- To reheat. It can be reheated in the microwave or in a skillet set over medium heat.
Can I Freeze Three Cup Chicken?
You can freeze three cup chicken in an airtight container or freezer bag for up to 3 months. Let it thaw in the refrigerator, then reheat according to the instructions above.
More Easy Chicken Recipes
Looking for more Chinese chicken recipes that you can easily make at home? I’ve got you covered!
- Moo Shu Chicken
- Salt and Pepper Chicken Wings
- Instant Pot General Tso’s Chicken
- Kung Pao Chicken
- Chicken and Broccoli
Three Cup Chicken (三杯雞)
- 2 ½ tablespoons (2 ½ tablespoon) black sesame oil
- 20 cloves garlic, kept whole but smashed
- 1 large ginger root, sliced
- 3 pounds (1361 g) chicken drumsticks, halved
- ⅓ cup (79 ml) dark soy sauce*
- ½ cup (118 ml) Chinese cooking wine
- ¾ cup (178 ml) water
- 2 cups (48 g) loosely packed basil leaves
The default measuring system for this website is US Customary. Unit conversions are provided for convenience and as a courtesy only. While we strive to provide accurate unit conversions, please be aware that there may be some discrepancies.
- In a large skillet over medium high heat up 2 1/2 tbsp. of sesame oil until glistening. Add the garlic and ginger into the skillet and cook until the edges of the ginger slices are slightly browned and golden. About 7 minutes. You’ll need to keep tossing the garlic and ginger so they don’t burn.
- Add the chicken drumsticks to the skillet then add the soy sauce, cooking wine, water, and basil leaves. Gently toss to coat then turn the heat to medium low and cover skillet and let look for 10 minutes.
- After 10 minutes, turn the chicken so the other sides of the chicken can cook in the sauce. You'll want to keep turning the chicken every 10 minutes until the meat turns a dark brown. This took me about 35-40 minutes to cook to achieve the desired color.
- Serve over rice.
- Pour the extra sauce over rice and chicken. It’s so good!!
- Dark soy sauce has more in-depth flavor than regular soy sauce. It’s also saltier. If you can’t find dark soy sauce (different than regular soy sauce) at the store, it’s perfectly fine to use regular soy sauce or low-sodium soy sauce. Adjust seasonings to your taste.
- To store. Transfer any leftover three cup chicken to an airtight container and refrigerate for 3 to 4 days.
- To reheat. It can be reheated in the microwave or in a skillet set over medium heat.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition information can vary for a variety of reasons. For the most precise nutritional data use your preferred nutrition calculator based on the actual ingredients you used in the recipe.