Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Three Cups Chicken (三杯鸡)

San be ji is one of the earlier, true tasting Chinese dishes I attempted to prepare. Here in the western world the majority of the Chinese food consumed is Cantonese in style, but numerous things are added and deleted to the original recipe to satisfy the westerns pallet, nose, and eyes. With that being said, I should also clue you in that unlike our recipes for certain dishes (meatloaf, chili) in the western world, Chinese dishes have only one true recipe in the classic Chinese cuisine. There is only one way of preparing a dish, the right way. It will always look, smell, taste, and have the same texture no matter who prepares the dish. This is the basis of my blog, and my search for these classic Chinese dishes, and their preparation.

I was visiting my husband in the fall of 2009 at the start of the fall semester. He'd become roommates with two young ladies that were from China as well, named Joyce, and Nora. To celebrate their new found friendship, and becoming roomies. I decided to prepare a nice dinner. I made fried pork chops, peas, whipped potatoes, macaroni and cheese, corn on the cob, and baked Alaska drizzled with chocolate for dessert. In sharing my western foods with them, I was to be over shadowed in my mind by a much tastier dish. At this dinner was a dish that was to be the beginning of my interest, and love for Chinese cooking. Another friend of the girls, named Enan joined us for dinner as well. Enan had brought with her a small black clay pot for an addition to the dinner. The yummy goodness inside of this small black pot was San bei ji, or 3 cup chicken. As do many Chinese cooks I've found, she said it wasn't any good. She didn't have the Thai basil it required, and had to use sweet basil instead, and offered other reasons as to why it was just not up to her standards. I personally thought it was just amazing. The soft tender chicken morsels melted in my mouth, spreading layers of flavors dancing across my pallet. I attempted to prepare this San bei ji a few days later, but it was just not right. Armed with Sam's perfect pallet, and his translation skills, I went on a quest for the perfect recipe for this amazing 3 cup chicken. After about 3 attempts, I finally achieved the dish, and have received great praise since from all who have tried it. Not because of my great ability, but because I found the right recipe, and ingredients. The story of the dishes origin relates to the Song Dynasty's national hero Wen Tianxiang, a Jiangxi native, next to the Fujian province. A sympathetic prison warden cooked the dish for Wen Tianxiang as his last supper, using the limited resources available before his execution.

Sam, Phill (me) Enan, Joyce, and Nora

3 Cups Chicken


1/3 cup sesame oil

10 slices thin fresh ginger sliced into coins

1 whole bulb garlic - peeled, mashed and rough diced

2 lbs bone-in chicken rough cut pieces

1/3 cup Shaoxing/hua tiau wine*

1/3 cup soy sauce

2 Serrano peppers, quartered and sliced with seeds
(different peppers for hot or mild flavor can be used)

3 tbs sugar

2 cups Thai basil - whole with stems**

1 cup of 1-inch sections of scallion


1. Heat the sesame oil in a pan until it's very hot, and sizzling.

2. Add the sliced ginger fry until the edges turn crispy and curl up.

3. Add the rough diced garlic until it starts to turn golden brown.

4. Rough chop the chicken into a little bigger than bite size pieces leaving the bones intact.
This allows for the bone marrow to be released when cooking heightening the chicken flavor. I prefer to use leg quarters, because they don't have many small bones, they absorb the chicken flavors better, and become more juicy than white, or breast meat.

5. Stir fry the chicken until you can see no pink, and it starts to become a dark golden, and crispy.

6. Add the 1/3 cup Shaoxing/hua tiau wine, and let the liquid get hot. Then add 1/3 cup soy sauce.

7. Add 2 Serrano peppers, thinly sliced, being sure to add the seeds as well, because this is where many of the hot capsaicin, and flavors are found. Make sure the liquid is hot, but the chicken is not sticking to the pan. Be careful to not stir to aggressively or the chicken will come apart, or fall off the bone.

8. Now you sprinkle the 3 tablespoons of sugar over the top of the chicken, continuing to stir fry. The sugar adds a shiny glaze to the liquid, as well as a light sweetness as a balance to the hot chili, the bitter basil, and the sour vinegar of the wine, and the salty of the soy sauce.

9. Cover with lid, turn heat to low until meat is tender, and sauce thickens,about 30 minutes. Once the liquid has thickened, and the chicken has soaked it up, add 3 or four whole stems of Thai basil, as well as the scallions, lightly toss.

10. Cover for a a few more minutes to allow the Thai basil to release their aroma, and flavors, around 5 minutes.

The balance lesson here is to make sure the timing is correct when you add each ingredient making sure the chicken soaks up all of the flavors and becomes tender without falling apart. So that it is whole pieces, but has soaked up all the flavors, and is dark brown in color. It makes a nice contrast to the plain white rice when served "Gai fan style". which is Chinese for over rice.

Cooks Helpful Hints:

Sesame oil is about half the price in an Asian grocery as to what it is in a western grocery.

Older dried ginger that is more ripe has a much better flavor, and in this dish you don't peel it. It adds flavor like the potato skin offers to a potato when fried.

*Shaoxing wine is a special cooking wine from Shaoxi city, Zhejiang Province. The one I used for this dish is hua tiau Shaoxing wine, it's reddish brown in color. Of the 4 Shaoxing wines it's the sweetest in flavor, reddish brown in color, and lowest in alcohol, and cost about $2.00 for a large bottle in my local Asian grocery. $2.00 for a large bottle in my local Asian grocery.

**Thai basil is about $1.25 a bunch at my local Asian grocery. It is a bit purple under the leaves. It has a anise herb or licorice taste. Quite different than sweet basil really.


No comments:

Post a Comment