“Three-Cup Chicken” or “Three-Glass Chicken” (Sanbeiji or San Bei Ji) is a dish from the Jiangxi province of southern China that has been popular in Taiwan. Although the dish is old, it is new to the United States. “Jiang xi is famous for a speciality known as ‘three glass (soya sauce, water and wine) chicken’ (san bei ji)” was printed in a 1964 guidebook to China.
“‘Three Cup Chicken,’ the meat double sauteed with sliced pork, is very nearly the seafoods’ equal” was printed in the Washington (DC) Times in 1983. “Diners move right on to ‘three-glass chicken,’ a Taiwanese dish, consisting of chicken parts stewed in an earthen casserole dish with a glass of water, a glass of wine and a glass of soy sauce” was printed in the New York (NY) Times in 1984. It appears that “three-glass chicken” was used in American restaurants in the 1980s, and “three-cup chicken” became the regularly used name in the 1990s.
The three glasses (or cups) are soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil (or water). The Chinese dish originally was prepared in an earthen pot and simmered for hours, while workers went into the fields. Ginger, garlic and basil are usually added.
Sanbeiji (simplified Chinese: 三杯鸡; traditional Chinese: 三杯雞; pinyin: sānbēijī; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: sam-poe-ke; literally: “three-cup chicken”) is a popular chicken dish in Chinese cuisine. The dish originates from the Jiangxi province of southern China, and is a specialty of Ningdu. The dish has become especially popular in Taiwan, being introduced to the island by the Hakka people.
The dish derives its name from the three cups of sauces required. For each chicken, a cup each of soy sauce, rice wine (usually mijiu although it may be mixed with Shaoxing jiu), and sesame oil are added. Lin Shangquan, a famous chef in Taiwan, believes that the traditional recipe called for a cup each of soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar, with added ginger, garlic, and basil.
Nagel Travel Guide Series: China
New York, NY: McGraw-Hill
1964 (This Google Books date may be incorrect.—ed.)
Jiang xi is famous for a speciality known as “three glass (soya sauce, water and wine) chicken” (san bei ji), and also for steamed meat or duck with crushed rice.
30 November 1983, Washington (DC) Times, “Taipei” by John Rosson, Magazine sec., pg. 15D, col. :
“Three Cup Chicken,” the meat double sauteed with sliced pork, is very nearly the seafoods’ equal.
17 February 1984, New York (NY) Times, “Diner’s Journal” by Bryan Miller, pg. C22, col. 3:
(Auntie Yuan on First Avenue, between 64th and 65th Streets.—ed.)
Diners move right on to “three-glass chicken,” a Taiwanese dish, consisting of chicken parts stewed in an earthen casserole dish with a glass of water, a glass of wine and a glass of soy sauce. It is seasoned with ginger, scallion, fresh coriander and hot green peppers, and cooked until all the liquid evaporates, leaving the meat moist and intensely flavorful.
28 December 1984, New York (NY)
, “Restaurants: Barnyard setting with Chinese food” by Bryan Miller, pg. C24, col. 4:
(Pig Heaven, 1540 Second Avenue near 80th Street.—ed.)
Three-glass chicken, a house specialty, is worth trying. The cut-up chicken is placed in a crock, mixed with ginger and assorted vegetables, and doused with a glass each of Chinese rice wine, soy sauce and water. It is covered and cooked until the sauce reduces to intensely flavorful brown drippings.
The Chinese Mosaic:
The Peoples and Provinces of China
By Leo J. Moser
Boulder, CO: Westview Press
The province is also noted for its steamed meat or duck with crushed rice and for san-bei-ji, “three-cup [soy sauce, water, and wine] chicken.”
1985 (This Google Books date may be incorrect.—ed.)
Three-Cup Chicken San Bei Ji This is a famous home-style dish of Jiangxi province, cooked not in water but in rice wine, soy sauce and lard, one cup — actually wine goblet — of each. Hence the name.
16 February 1987, New York magazine, “Great New Places to Have a Party” by Barbara Costikyan, pg. 64, col. 3:
(Pig Heaven, 1540 Second Avenue near 80th Street.—ed.)
For $25 per person, you can have the same meal, with the addition of three- glass chicken, shredded pork with bamboo shoots, and mustard greens.
30 March 1989, Washington (DC) Post, Maryland sec., pg. 6, col. 1:
(SUnny Garden, 1302 East Gude Drive, Rockville.—ed.)
Three-cup chicken, which is generally served in a deep pot covered with a spicy, thin, broth-like sauce, has a more conventional thickened sauce here. It’s a decent dish, but unremarkable.
7 April 1989, Knoxville (TN) News-Sentinel, Detours sec., pg. 8, col. 4 ad:
CHOICE OF ENTREES:
1. THREE-CUP CHICKEN
(Dynasty Restaurant and Lounge.—ed.)
The Best of New York
By Edward Guiliano, Jonathan Burton and André Gayot
New York, NY: Prentice Hall
Stick to three-glass chicken, lightly sauteed with fresh ginger, garlic, wine, soy sauce and vinegar, or a whole braised carp with hot bean sauce.
5 February 1992, Austin (TX) American-Statesman, “The tastes of Chinese New Year: Traditional foods fill feasting days” by Emily Baker, pg. E5:
1 teaspoon cooking oil
1 1/2 pounds chicken legs, wings or thighs (or a combination)
2 half-inch slices ginger root
5 cloves garlic, whole
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/4 cup cooking wine
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup water
23 February 1992, The Times (Trenton, NJ), Parade magazine, pg. 22, col. 2:
This classic Chinese dish is so named because of the three glasses or broth, soy sauce and wine that are used. The ginger, garlic, mushrooms and watercress add a rich, robust flavor. Serve Three-Glass Chicken atop rice, accompanied by a salad.
1 ounce dried mushrooms (black or shiitake)
2 cups chicken broth, defatted
4 tablespoons canola or other vegetable oil
1 chicken (3 pounds), cut into 7 or 8 small pieces
2 bunches watercress (stems removed), washed and coarsely chopped
2 bunches scallions (with the last inch of green removed), cut into 2-inch pieces
4 pieces of ginger (each about 2 inches long), peeled and cut lengthwise into slivers
20 whole cloves garlic, peeled
1 pound fresh cultivated mushrooms, quartered
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup white wine
1 cup cilantro leaves, minced
Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
16 April 1992, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Down in Birdland Where Chicken Is King” by Jonathan Gold, second sec., pg. H31, col. 4:
(Chicken Garden, 18406 Collma Road, Rowland Heights.—ed.)
The most popular dish seems to be “three-cup” chicken-a famous Taiwanese dish made by cooking the bird with a glass of soy sauce, a glass of oil and a glass of wine-and the chicken is superb, served crackling in an earthen pot, powerfully flavored with ginger and what must be an entire head of garlic, slightly sweet and impossible to stop eating until each little nub of chicken has been gnawed to the bone.
4 June 1992, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Cook’s Walks: Wok ‘n Rowland” by Barbara Hansen and Minnie Bernardino, pg. H21, col. 1:
THE CHICKEN GARDEN’S THREE-CUP CHICKEN
Oil for deep frying
1/2 chicken (about 1 3/4 pounds), cut with bone into 1- to 1 1/2-inch chunks
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Chinese wine
10 slices ginger root
10 cloves garlic, peeled
3 small dried red chiles
2 green onions, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 cup loosely packed Asian red-stemmed basil
9 October 2002, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Quick Fix; The Power of Ginger and Basil” by Sandra Wu, pg. H7:
Three Cup Chicken (San Bei Ji)
Active Time: 10 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 30 minutes
1 (3 1/2-pound) chicken, cut up
1/2 cup sesame oil
1 (3-inch) piece ginger root, peeled, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
10 cloves garlic, lightly smashed
1/2 cup shaoxing wine or other rice wine
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup loosely packed basil leaves
17 December 2006, New York (NY) Times, “Dim Sum, Borough by Borough” by Seth Kugel, pg. D14, col. 5:
Gu-Shine (in Queens—ed.) has three-cup chicken (on the English menu, it is called ‘‘chicken with basil in casserole’‘), named for the one cup each of sesame oil, soy sauce and cooking wine traditionally used in the recipe.
Taiwanese Three Cup Chicken (San Bei Ji) Recipe
SERIOUSLY ASIAN Asian cookery, with an emphasis on the traditional, underappreciated, or misunderstood elements thereof.
April 23, 2014
Cooked in soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil, and loaded with heaps of whole garlic cloves, slices of ginger, and fresh Thai basil, this classic Taiwanese chicken dish is a perfect reminder of just how good an over-abundance of flavor can be.
UES institution Pig Heaven is closing. I’ll miss the three-glass chicken! http://on.wsj.com/1oFGXal
6:58 PM - 9 Jul 2014
Insight Guides City Guide Taipei
By Insight Guides
Apa Publications (UK) Limited.
San bei ji or “Three Cup Chicken,” an island specialty most often experienced by foreigners in local beerhouses, is perhaps Taiwan’s most representative dish. It was perfect for farming folk in pioneer days because it allowed them to be away in the field.
The ingredients are simmered in an earthenware pot for hours, meaning no need for constant attention to a hot fire, in a “three cup” sauce, one of soy sauce, one of rice wine, one of sesame oil. Simple. Some substitute cane sugar for the sesame oil. The traditional recipe also calls for ginger and basil leaves, perhaps a more surprising ingredient.
Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI)
25 plates: Dishes that define Madison
Nov 15, 2018
Natt Spil Three Cup Chicken
The plate: Three Cup Chicken, a popular South China and Taiwanese dish, has been on Natt Spil’s menu since the King Street restaurant opened in 2004.
The dish gets its name from its three sauces and the fact that it was traditionally made in three cups or three bowls. In the three bowls are soy sauce, sesame oil and Shaoxing wine, a distilled rice wine that is popular in Taiwan and mainland China.