Three Cup Chicken Sanbeiji Recipe

Chinese three cup chicken recipe
Chinese three cup chicken recipe. Liv Wan
  • 45 mins
  • Prep: 15 mins,
  • Cook: 30 mins
  • Yield: Serve 4 people

Sanbeiji (三杯雞), otherwise known as Three Cup Chicken, is one of my all time favourite Chinese foods to eat. The stories behind it usually involve a chef cooking in a clay pot with soy sauce, rice wine and toasted sesame oil. My version involves a national hero of the Song Dynasty, “Wen Tianxiang”(文天祥).

Wen Tiansiang was the Duke of Xinguo and is famous in Chinese history due to his loyalty to the Song Dynasty. He refused Khublai Khan’s demand for the song forces to surrender to the Khan invasion so he suffered four years in military prision before he was executed. He wrote a lot of poems while in prison and one of his famous quotations is “None since the advent of time have escaped death, may my loyalty forever illuminate the annuals of history”.

This three cup chicken was cooked be a kind prison warden who was also from Jiangxi province (江西省) and Wen Tiansiang’s home was in Luling, Jiangxi Province. So this prison warden was especially friendly with Wen Tiansiang and admired his loyalty so cooked him a dish with limited ingredients. It had one cup of sweet rice wine, one cup soy sauce and one cup of lard to stew the chicken for Wen Tiansiang for his last meal before his execution. So this was one of the most popular stories behind this delicious Chinese chicken dish.

In Taiwan, three cup chicken has evolved into one cup of rice wine (you can also use Shaohsing rice wine), one cup of soy sauce and one cup of toasted sesame oil. The smell and taste of this three cup chicken is just divine. The other important ingredients are Thai basil and ginger. If you can’t get hold of the Thai basil then you can use normal basil but even Amazon now sells fresh basil online so you should be able to get it. This dish will taste a bit different if you use normal basil but it will still taste delicious. I recommend you use a big handful amount of normal basil for this dish.

When you heat up the toasted sesame oil don’t use too high a temperature to cook. This is because the toasted sesame oil is very easy to burn so do take more time than usual to cook. Another tip for cooking this dish is to try to slice the ginger thin and evenly. Ginger is easy to burn and burning it will add a bitter taste to the dish so just like the toasted sesame oil be gentle when cooking the ginger.

Another interesting thing about this dish is Chinese people believe it’s actually really good for the mother who just gave birth. In Chinese culture it’s believed the toasted sesame oil and ginger can help the mother who has just given birth by healing the body and it’s believed toasted sesame oil can help the womb’s contractions and clean the womb.

As I’m not the medical professional I can’t really tell you if it’s 100% correct or not. If you are considering making this dish but you are breast feeding, you can use non-alcoholic rice wine instead of regular rice wine.

What You'll Need

  • Ingredients:
  • 8 ounces chicken (4 chicken legs including thigh, de-boned)
  • 10 cloves garlic (just peel them)
  • 6 slices ginger (thinly sliced)
  • 1 chilli pepper (sliced)
  • 1 handful basil (Thai basil)
  • Seasonings:
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup rice wine
  • 1/2 cup sesame oil (toasted)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (I use demerara sugar)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

How to Make It


  1. Heat up a wok with toasted sesame oil and fry the ginger until the ginger dry up.
  2. Add chicken legs and stir-fry until the chicken meat turns white in colour.
  3. Add garlic, chilli and all the seasonings and cover the wok to simmer the chicken for 15-20 minutes until the sauce has dried out.
  4. Add basil and stir-fry for another 20 seconds. Place the chicken on a plate and serve with rice.