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A bowl of san bei ji

Sanbeiji "Three Cups Chicken" (simplified Chinese: 三杯鸡traditional Chinese: 三杯雞pinyin: sān bēi jī; Taiwanese: sam-poe-ke) is a popular chicken dish in Chinese cuisine. The dish originates from the Jiangxi province of southern China, and is a specialty of Ningdu.[1] However, it has become especially popular in Taiwan, so much so that it is said "a restaurant that cannot cook Sanbeiji is not a true Taiwanese restaurant."[2]

Its name literally translates as "three cups chicken," referring to the sauce used for it.

Origins

There are several versions for the origins of "three cups chicken." These stories often involve a cook who placed three cups of sauces into an earthenware pot and simmered it for a long time. One version of the story relates to the Song Dynasty national hero Wen Tianxiang, a Jiangxi native; a sympathetic prison warden cooked the dish for him using the limited resources available before Wen Tianxiang's execution.[3]

The "three cups"

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 and basil.[4]

The chicken, together with the sauces, is cooked in an earthenware pot on high heat for ten minutes, then on low heat to allow the sauces to be absorbed by the meat. The dish is usually served in its cooking pot when the sauce has 80-90% evaporated. Sanbeiji is that it is served with no sauce: that is, the dish is cooked until all the sauce evaporates and is absorbed by the chicken. When it is served at the table, the chicken should be sizzling—even popping—on the cusp of burning. This gives the chicken a crisper texture (and richer flavor) unlike most other Chinese or Taiwanese stewed dishes. The dish is then eaten with either steamed rice or rice congee.

Other meats, such as pork or frog, can be substituted for chicken in this dish without detracting from the taste.

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