The first time I tried Taiwanese 3-cup chicken was in Shanghai nearly 2 decades ago, during an early winter morning, at a charming little nook aptly called Charmant. The seeming simplicity of this dish, mixed in heady aromatics of ginger, garlic, spring onions or scallions and basil, coated in sesame oil, rice wine and soy sauce, was truly comforting for a shivering adventurer whose delayed flight landed in Pudong airport past midnight, and there was only a handful of restaurants still serving supper until the wee hours.
From then on, I would look for this dish every time I need a little pick-me-up. I tried this in some restaurants through the years, but no 2 dish had the same taste of umami and warmth that I craved for. Until belatedly, I found the right recipe from my trusted @nytcooking, of all places. Thank you for saving me, Sam Sifton! The trick here is not to take the 3 cups literally. Depending on the number of servings /hungry mouths you are feeding, you can adjust the cup-fulls of sesame oil, rice wine and sauce.
Cooking Time: 35 to 40 minutes
Serves: 3-4 persons
3 tablespoons sesame oil
1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced into coins, approximately 12-14 slices
12 cloves of garlic
3 whole scallions or 4 stalks of spring onions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 dried red birdseye chilli peppers, or 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 kilo chicken thighs, boneless or bone in, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon unrefined or brown sugar
3/4 cup rice wine
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 cups fresh basil leaves
Heat wok over high heat and add 2 tablespoons of sesame oil. When the oil shimmers, add the ginger, garlic, scallions or spring onions, and peppers, and cook until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.
Scrape the aromatics to the sides of the wok, and add remaining oil, allow oil to heat through. Add chicken, stir occasionally, until it is browned and crisping at the edges, about 10-15 minutes.
Add sugar and stir to combine. Then add rice wine and soy sauce, and bring just to a boil. Lower the heat, then simmer until the sauce has reduced and started to thicken, approximately 20 minutes.
Add basil and stir to combine for 2 minutes. Turn off heat. Serve with rice.