Thursday, August 26, 2010

A dish with the aroma (but not the bitterness) of wine
Recipe #8: three-cup chicken/sanbeiji

Once, when I was little, I saw my father drinking something. It looked really good, so I asked him, "Dad, what are you drinking?" He told it me was wine. I asked him, "What does wine taste like?" He told me it was spicy and bitter. As soon as I heard that it was bitter, I no longer wanted to taste it. From then on, my impression was always that wine was bitter.

Until a few years ago, I would reject anything that had to do with wine, not just wine itself. However, there is one exception: dishes that involve wine. Of course, my mother neve encouraged me to drink wine, but she thought it wasn't to turn down anything with wine in it. The first time she made a dish called three-cup chicken, it smelled so good that the entire street must have smelled it. I joked to my mother, "Let's be careful. We don't want people driving recklessly because they got distracted by the flavor. Is someone going to come knocking on our door?" It tasted so good that I could hardly put down my chopsticks. I asked her how she made it, and she told me that the "three cups" are one each of wine, sesame oil and soy sauce.

I could hardly believe that there was wine. One of our family friends loved to try different kinds of food. She said that out of all the three-cup chicken dishes she has tried, none were as good as my mother's. Those made in restaurants were a bit bitter, even though the wine was gone. The meat was also harder due to overcooking. She wanted to know how my mother made it. Of course, you will know once you read the tips.


1. 3 whole chicken legs, or a half chicken
2. 1 bunch Asian basil
3. 2 slices ginger
4. 2 Tbsp. dark sesame oil
5. 1/4 cup each of soy sauce, sake and water


1. Cut chicken legs into 1 inch×inch pieces.
2. Wash basil, drain, and keep only the leaves
3. Heat sesame oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ginger. Wait about 1/2 minutes and add chicken legs
4. Sir-fry until lightly brown on all sides, which takes about 3 minutes.
5. Add soy sauce, cooking wine and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 30 minute, or until there is only about 1/4 cup of liquid left in the skillet .
6. Stir in the basil and increase heat to medium-heigh; continue cooking until the liquid is almost gone.


1. The "three cups" can be that from the original recipe: wine, sesame oil and soy sauce. Howeer, soy sauce tends to be very salty, and there is limited choice in the United States, so you can replace it with water.
2. If you don't have Asian basil, you can use regular basil. The dish still tastes just as good.
3. The original recipe uses Taiwanese rice wine. However, it is very strong bitter, so my mother uses Japanese sake. Thus, there is no bitterness at all; the taste is very light. Because of adding water and cooking over low heat, the chicken is very tender. The reason for using medium-high later is to let the liquid thicken, and let the gelatin-like texture appear. The mixture sticks to the chicken and makes it beautiful and aromatic.

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