Chinese Three-Cup Chicken | Hong Kong Food Blog with Recipes, Cooking Tips mostly of Chinese and Asian styles | Taste Hong Kong

Chinese Three-Cup Chicken

Chinese Three-Cup Chicken 三杯雞

With no marinades and a short list of seasonings, the chicken (drumsticks) can still be deftly flavored and succulent braised . The stories behind this traditional Chinese recipe (三杯雞) shall speak for me how simple this dish can be made.

Some say it was a dish cooked by a sympathetic prison warden for a respectful Chinese official before his execution. Some say it was a lady, believing the official was dead, wanted to pay her last worship to him. Having found that the official was still alive, she bribed the wardens and cooked him this dish in an earthenware pot. Regardless which was true, it meant that the original dish was cooked with very limited resources.

To prepare a sauce for that dish, the cups, supposedly for containing wine for the worship (or for the last dinner), were then used as the handy tools to measure out soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine . ‘Three-cup’ in this recipe thus is not the standard measuring cups but means an equal amount of the three key ingredients in the sauce.

Chinese 3-Cup Chicken

Choices of sesame oil
Either classic sesame oil (from white sesame seeds) or black sesame oil will do. Do read the label to look for a pure version (100% sesame oil) as some bottles may contain soya bean oil or vegetable oil. The black version would infuse a strong aroma while the classic, a rather mild nutty flavor.

Taiwanese style
For variation, you may replace the spring onions by basil leaves, a simple tweak that will transform the traditional Chinese style to Taiwanese style.

Chinese Three-Cup Chicken

  • Ingredients
  • 3 chicken drumstick, ~300g
  • 5-6 sprigs spring onion, sectioned, white part only (reserve some for garnishing)
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, skinned and lightly crushed
  • a piece of ginger, ~3cm length, skinned and sliced
  • Sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice wine
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp black sesame oil
  • ~10g rock sugar

Chinese Three-Cup Chicken
Chinese Three-Cup Chicken


Thoroughly thaw chicken drumsticks if they are frozen. Wash and pat dry. Chop them into chunks. I made a deep-to-the-bone slit lengthwise and slice each drumstick flat before choppingit into chunks. It will be fine if some are attached with the bone, while some are not.

Over low to medium flame, heat sesame oil in pot. Briefly sauté ginger slices and garlic until lightly browned, about 1 to 2 minutes

Drop in spring onions, followed by chicken pieces, then keep stir-frying for about a minute, or until the meat no longer looks pale. Add wine, soy sauce and rock sugar; stir-well and bring to a simmer.

Switch to low flame, cover, cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until the chicken meat are tender. You may want to check once or twice in between to flip and turn the chicken pieces, making sure there is no sticking and the sauce does not get dried. If the sauce gets too thick, add 1-2 spoons of water.

Update 2012.4.1: The resulting sauce should be thick enough that it clings well to chunks of the meat. In case your sauce is rather runny, simmer the chicken a bit longer. Or, if you actually like a thinner sauce, you may need to add a pinch of salt to supplement the taste of diluted dark soy sauce.

Serve hot.

Chinese Three-Cup Chicken


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  1. Acorn


  2. The Missing Lokness

    Yum! This looks a lot easier than I thought it would be! Now, I just need to buy a clay pot. I can’t wait to get my hands on these. Thank you!

  3. Bite and Sip

    I have heard about this dish and ate it but never knew the history. Thanks for sharing. The chicken looks yummy.

  4. noobcook

    3 cups cooking is a great way to enjoy chicken thighs, my favourite cut. love the sheen from the braising sauce.

  5. TasteHongKong

    @The Missing Lokness,
    You’re right, this is easy to prepare. A heavy-bottom pot good for stir-frying is also fine, I sometimes use my cast iron pot. Have fun and enjoy!

  6. Lucy L

    Oh this looks so good, and sounds super easy. Going to try this at home this wkend! 🙂

  7. TasteHongKong

    @Lucy L,
    I could feel your confidence : ), happy cooking and enjoy!

  8. Ann@Anncoo Journal

    This is my family’s favourite dish! Looks so delicious (^-^)

  9. kristy

    I love this dish too! Yours look really tempting. Wish I can have some right now. Hope you’re having a great weekend.

  10. Lori

    Love the rich, dark color of this dish. Black sesame oil is something I haven’t come across. I need to look harder for it!

  11. food-4tots

    This is a dish that I want to try for the longest time but still in my KIV list. Your method sounds pretty easy and your dish looks so inviting! I must give it a try soon.

  12. Stephanie

    This looks so easy and delicious! I’m great at baking but when it comes to tasty meat dishes I always feel so lost! My boyfriend is Chinese and I want to learn more Asian dishes to make for him. Going to be trying this one out!

  13. tigerfish

    I enjoy this dish very much too! So good with steamed rice! ….which reminded me, I have not cooked this dish for the longest time. Hmmm, time to get ready the seasonings.

  14. Yu

    Making me so hungry by looking at your pictures. Do you have any tips for maintenace the clay pot? Thanks!

  15. TasteHongKong

    Thank you for your interest, and I’m glad that you asked.
    Basically, clay pots do not like sudden change in temperature or they will crack, so
    – do not water it immediately (or place on a cold surface) after cooking, let cool before washing;
    – avoid storing in fridge, if required, warm it enough in room temperature before cooking.
    During cooking, do not overheat the pot while it is empty. Start heating it with low heat and regulate to moderate heat with oil and sauce if required. Do not use very high heat especially for prolonged cooking. And, do not clean it with abrasive materials.
    Hope this help and have fun cooking!
    Excuse me for my belated reply.

  16. lena

    hvnt eaten this at all, supposed to try it at a restuarnt 2 weekss ago but unfortunately, they were not serving it that day, would like to get the taste of it and see if i like them.

  17. Daisy@Nevertoosweet

    Oh oh oh I remember having Three Cup Chicken with my Taiwanese friends last time I was there 🙂 I thought it was so fragrant yum yum ~ Gotta try this recipe soon!

  18. Debs @ The Spanish Wok

    Looks delicious.

    BTW You are welcome to join in my food blogger event THE SOUP KITCHEN, here all bloggers are welcome, hope to see you participate soon. April’s theme is chinese soup.

  19. Tina

    mmm…the aroma of ginger and garlic. Going to remember this recipe for next time. 🙂

  20. Helena

    Hi again, I’ve already made this one and I loved it, but at that time I had no clay pot. Now that I’ve bought one, I’d like to use it to cook this dish again, but I was wondering if I could put the clay pot directly on an electric plaque ? And if not, could you tell me how to procede to cook it in an oven, as it is recommended for a clay pot ? Thanks for your reply, and all the best !

  21. Helena

    One more thing ! I forgot to say it, but my clay pot is exactly the same as the one you used for this recipe, which appears to work on a gas stove…

  22. TasteHongKong

    Happy to hear you love this.
    Yes, I use this clay pot over gas only. There are clay pots that can be used over both gas stove and oven (those I saw were all in black), but not this one. I’m not sure how best it could perform on an electric plate (though sounds feasible) as I have not tried that before. So can’t say for sure.

  23. wilson

    mm wow this was actually a falvour i havnt tasted before, its a nice one.
    When it was simmering i tried the sauce, all it was too plain and sesame oil everywhere
    but when i actually tried the chicken, it was great!
    love it thankyou

  24. Azianbrewer

    Looks great but missing the basil.

  25. TasteHongKong

    Right, no basil here, see Taiwanese style above.

  26. China

    Three-Cup Chicken is Created in Taiwan, I do like that dark color and soft chicken, Great Job