Three-cup chicken is a classic Taiwanese dish and one of my favorites! Actually, I did some fact-checking about this dish, and turns out, it originated from Jiangxi Province in China. In the original rendition of the dish, the “three cups” referred to 1 cup each of the following ingredients: lard, sweet rice wine, and soy sauce. There’s actually even a legend relating Three-Cup Chicken to a Chinese historical hero, Wen Tianxiang. Apparently the legend goes, Wen lived in the last years of the Song Dynasty and fought against conquer by the Yuan. However, he was eventually captured, and an old lady from his village visited him in prison with a live chicken. She asked a sympathetic guard to help her find ingredients to cook the chicken, and the only thing he was able to procure was three cups of rice wine. So, she cooked the chicken in the three cups of wine and served it to Wen as his last meal. After he died for his country, the old lady prepared the dish everyday as an offering to his spirit. She replaced the three cups of wine with one cup each of sweet rice wine, lard, and soy sauce, which are the ingredients we see today.
Yup, Chinese people love stories… I think there’s probably a story behind every single dish in Chinese cuisine.
Source of story: Baidu Baike (Chinese).
Anyway, eventually, this dish made its way to Taiwan, where it was modified to be cooked with regular cooking oil instead of lard, and incorporated sugar and regular rice wine as sweetened rice wine became less common. In addition, the Taiwanese added a special ingredient – Thai basil, which adds a truly aromatic flavor to the dish. (There’s another story about the basil, too… But I’ll spare you of that.) The usage of Thai basil is so iconic now that I can’t imagine Three-Cup Chicken without basil.
Okay, that was a lot of rambling and story-telling… All this to say, I love this dish, and I love making it at home, so I wanted to share the recipe with you!
(I only snuck in one quick photo of the dish before S and I started eating it… Oops. I’ll try to be better next time about taking photos!)