Three Cup Chicken (Taiwanese Chicken with Thai Basil)

We love Taiwanese food so much that it keeps coming on the blog (and that we are already thinking about when to there again). We liked the “three cup” scallops and squid so much, that I decided to try it with chicken as well (which is probably the most common version of this dish). Although the name refers to the three liquid components of the sauce (soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil), the star of this dish is the Thai basil (which is called Taiwanese basil in Taiwan), also known as horapha. Compared to regular (Italian) basil, it has a pronounced licorice/aniseed flavor that works very well with the other ingredients and especially the ginger. Other than the name suggests, I prefer to use less sesame oil rather than the same quantity as the soy sauce and rice wine, as sesame oil has a very pronounced flavor (especially toasted sesame oil) and I replace the remaining oil with neutral oil like soy, peanut, or canola.

Another key to great three cup chicken is to use chicken thigh meat instead of chicken breast, and to make sure not to overcook it. Some recipes will tell you to simmer the chicken in the sauce for 15 minutes, and that will definitely dry out the chicken. In just a couple of minutes the chicken will be cooked through, tender, and very juicy. As long as you have access to Thai basil, this is a quick and easy dish that can be ready in less than 20 minutes.


For 2 servings

300 grams (.66 lb) boneless and skinless chicken thigh, in bite size pieces

about 40 grams (1.5 oz) Thai basil, leaves only (I used a bunch that was 80 grams including the stems)

60 ml (1/4 cup) light soy sauce

60 ml (1/4 cup) shaoxing rice wine

1 Tbsp sesame oil

2 Tbsp cooking oil

1 Tbsp minced red chillies, or to taste

1 Tbsp minced garlic

1 Tbsp thinly sliced garlic

4 Tbsp minced shallots or scallions/green onions


Heat the cooking oil in a wok or frying pan. Add the shallots, ginger, and chilli.

Stir fry until the aromatics start to color, then add the garlic and stir fry for 10 seconds longer.

Now add the chicken.

Stir fry until the chicken is slightly golden on all sides and you see no more raw chicken.

Now is a good time to replace whatever cooking utensils you are using with clean ones, to avoid cross-contamination.

Add the rice wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil.

Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so that it keeps simmering nicely.

Cook, stirring, until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Do not overcook the chicken.

Add the basil leaves, then turn off the heat.

Stir until all of the basil has wilted slightly, then serve at once.

Wine pairing

Dry gewurztraminer from Alto Adige (Italy) or Alsace (France) is a great choice with all three cup dishes. It can handle the heat because of the low acidity, and it can handle the strong flavors because it is so aromatic. Good gewurztraminer smells of roses and lychees and is full bodied but dry, even though it seems to smell sweet.



Dirty Rice is soul food. It is rice (can be leftover cooked rice) mixed with meat, vegetables, and a Cajun or Creole spice mix.


19 thoughts on “Three Cup Chicken (Taiwanese Chicken with Thai Basil)

  1. I too, have a range of ethnic foods I enjoy cooking, but I go in phases, for example, we are totally loving Korean flavours right now. I just planted my summer herb garden (it’s too cold here in winter for herbs to last through) and Thai Basil is always one of my many favourite basils (I also have Italian, purple, Columnar (this is a woody Basil that can withstand a little drought and high heat).
    I agree that with sesame oil a little goes a long way. Sadly, I rarely see toasted sesame oil in my North American grocery stores (and if I do see it, it is ridiculously expensive!). I must head downtown to China Town, perhaps I’ll have better luck next time.
    Do you know Lorraine from Not Quite Nigella? She posted an interesting method for chicken that would add a velvety texture to your dish

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One nice thing about Thai basil: You can grow it very easily at home if you have a nice and sunny place for it on your window sill. The plant is very robust. I live in the south-west of Germany and can harvest Thai basil until October or even November. It is much more robust than italian basil. Just buy three pots of Thai basil and separate each in, say, four pieces. Plant these pieces in larger pots, and you will have enought basil for the season. It is as good as the stuff from the asian supermarket.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Even on said ‘blogbreak;’ you made me smile and nod and say ‘I also do it thus’! Well, sans the chillies usually! And hate to tell you ‘dirty rice’ is a very Australasian concept also . . . . really have to try Gewurztraminer again . . . .

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That looks so good! I never was sure if there was a difference between different basil varieties, except the obvious ones like cinnamon. Can’t wait to make this, although I’ll have to use my garden-variety basil.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Couldn’t agree more about using chicken thighs. I’ve had three-cup chicken made with the breast, and it’s invariably disappointing. Wasn’t even aware of the squid and scallop versions they sound delicious, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m a diabetic so I look for the nutritional information on new recipes. Do you have such a list for the Three Cup Chicken or any other recipes? They all sound and look fabulous!


    1. You can download an app called MyFitnessPal on your phone and then enter the individual ingredients. The app will tell you the nutriotional information. Three Cup Chicken does not contain any sugar, so I would imagine it would be fine for diabetics.


  7. It looks great! Just a quick reminder from a Taiwanese person. It is actually way nicer to fried ginger with sesame oil at the beginning in slow heat until the ginger turn curly. And a bit of sugar with soya sauce also make the flavour more sophisticated 😛

    Liked by 1 person

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