Three Cup Chicken
Three Cup Chicken is another famous Chinese dish with a story attached to it. According to it, the dish was prepared by an anonymous cook as a last meal for Wen Tianxiang, an official from the Song dynasty during the 13th century, who had been captured by the armies of the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan of Yuan, when they invaded Jiangxi. Despite being tortured, Wen refused to work for the Yuans, and he was executed after four years of imprisonment. He has since been considered a Chinese national hero.
The dish bears its name from being cooked with a cup each of fat, soy sauce and wine. Unlike other Chinese dishes, it's served dry, without a sauce.
Three Cup Chicken has become an iconic dish in Jiangxi, but it's popular in many areas of China and, in particular, in Taiwan - where it was introduced by the Hakka people. Indeed, most of the recipes I found were of Taiwanese origin, though I also relied on a Jiangxi one from my Chinese Regional Cooking cookbook. The Taiwanese innovations might have been to replace lard with a combination of peanut and sesame oil and to add sugar and basil. If you use lard, do add a teaspoon of sesame oil for additional flavor. I used rock sugar, as I had it and it gives a beautiful shine to the wings, but you can use whatever sugar you have. Similarly, Thai basil is probably more authentic but I used sweet basil as it's what I have growing at home currently. You can't actually taste the basil, but it adds to the complex flavoring.
Three cup chicken is now usually made with a rice wine called mijiu, which is similar to Japanese sake, or with a combination of mijiu and Shaoxing wine. I used a combination of sake and Shaoxing wine as it's what I had at home - you can also use sherry. All recipes I found called for a combination of light and dark/black soy sauces. I used that as I'd previously bought both for other Chinese dishes. As dark soy sauce is less salty than regular soy sauce, if you only use light/regular soy sauce you might want to use a little less and perhaps add a bit of water.
All in all, the wings were both beautiful and tasty, though a bit messy. This dish is often served with rice.
Three Cup Chicken
- 3 Tbsp lard or or 1 1/2 Tbsp peanut oil + 1 1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
- 2 green onions, white parts only, sliced
- 1" ginger root, peeled and sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
- 2 lbs chicken wings or bone-in chicken dark meat pieces cut into small portions
- 1 1/2 Tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 1/2 Tbsp black soy sauce
- 3 Tbsp rice wine, Shaoxing wine or sherry
- 1 1/2 Tbsp rock, white or brown sugar.
- 1 bunch Thai basil or sweet basil, chopped or shredded (optional)
Heat oil in a large pot over high heat. Add the green onions, ginger root and garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the chicken wings on one layer and brown on both sides. Add the soy sauces, rice wine and sugar, cover, turn heat down to low and cook for 15 minutes, turning wings every 5 minutes. Uncover, turn heat up to medium, add the basil and continue cooking until the wings are done and the sauce has evaporated.
Adapted from several recipes
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