A Taiwanese Chicken Dinner That Cuts No Corners—But Is Still Weeknight-Friendly

September 15, 2016

In Chinese cooking, meat destined for a braise or a soup is often parboiled first, a step whose goal is to remove impurities before the slow-cooking begins. For anyone accustomed to browning meat before braising, this step may feel unnecessary, something easy to skip and thus save time. Even chef and author Kian Lam Kho, who learned the technique from a "formidable cook" questioned the process, only embracing it fully when he found his sauces to be "muddied with residue" when he skipped it.

Ridding the meat of the scum that foams and collects on the surface of the water during the short pre-cooking—as when simmering meat and bones for a stock—will encourage the final sauce to be clear and visually appealing.

Parboiling meat is as common a practice for long three-hour braises, like red-cooked lamb shoulder, as it is for short 30-minute ones, like three cup chicken. The latter caught my attention in Kian’s Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees with its short, accessible ingredient list: ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine.

Shop the Story

The “three cups” in the title of this traditional Taiwanese dish refer to the original recipe, which, legend holds, called for a cup each of soy sauce, sesame oil, and cooking wine. In this simple version, which yields tender meat and a salty-sweet sauce, the quantities have been pared down and the proportions slightly altered. The end result: Unlike many versions—and there are countless—of three cup chicken, which often call for hot chiles, heaps of garlic, and sugar, this one's flavors are simpler, the final sauce subtly infused with ginger, its slight sweetness a result of the wine reduced during the braising.

Here are a few tips for making it:

Bone-in, skin-on dark meat will lend the best flavor. The recipe calls for cutting thighs and drumsticks into small pieces, but if you’re not comfortable whacking through bones, you can use whole drumsticks or boneless dark meat.

Boiling the chicken *before* browning it ensures a clear, bright sauce in the finished dish. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

Mise en place. Though the sauce is made with few ingredients, the soy sauce and rice wine are divided, added at two separate times in the recipe. It’s best to have everything measured ahead of time, ready to be added when called for.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Is there a decent soy sauce substitute for this? I'm allergic to anything soy and usually substitute with Worchestershire sauce. Thank you!”
— Lisa

White rice wine or Shaoxing cooking wine, both easily found at an Asian market, will give the dish a flavor truest to its origins—though I’ve had success using dry sherry in its place. And while Thai basil offers that unique fresh, anise flavor, traditional basil works well, too.

Alexandra Stafford is a writer, photographer, and occasional stationery designer based in upstate New York, where she is writing a cookbook. You can read more of her work on her blog.

Sometimes shortcuts don't pay off! What other recipes do you resist the temptation to take the short route in?

Order Now

The Dynamite Chicken cookbook is here! Get ready for 60 brand-new ways to love your favorite bird. Inside this clever collection by Food52 and chef Tyler Kord, you'll find everything from lightning-quick weeknight dinners to the coziest of comfort foods.

Order Now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Lisa
  • Connor Bower
    Connor Bower
  • Kenzi Wilbur
    Kenzi Wilbur
  • Cynthia
  • Alexandra Stafford
    Alexandra Stafford
I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.


Lisa September 18, 2016
Is there a decent soy sauce substitute for this? I'm allergic to anything soy and usually substitute with Worchestershire sauce. Thank you!
Cynthia September 18, 2016
Try Bragg Liquid Aminos, which is a good, and healthy, substitute for soy sauce:
Alexandra S. September 18, 2016
Thanks so much, Cynthia!
Connor B. September 15, 2016
My favorite! I've had this on my "to make" list ever since visiting Taiwan, so thank you for the reminder!
Alexandra S. September 15, 2016
So great to hear this! I hope they turn out well for you!
Kenzi W. September 15, 2016
I feel like my "must-make" list is all of your posts recently!
Alexandra S. September 15, 2016
This makes me so happy Kenzi!
Fresh T. September 19, 2016
I know the feeling!
Alexandra S. September 19, 2016
Thank you, Dana xo