Three Cup Chicken with Thai Stir-Fried Spinach

Both recipes from Milk Street, this stir-fry combo was startlingly good. Yes, between the two of them, you use over a head of garlic but it didn’t overwhelm in any way. There is quite a bit of prep involved so don’t begin cooking until all of the ingredients are ready; the dishes come together quickly.

Milk Street says Taiwanese three-cup chicken is named for the formula once used to prepare the dish: one cup each of sesame oil, soy sauce and rice wine. Not surprisingly, recipes no longer adhere to that ratio, but the name has stuck, so we’re sticking with it too.

If you plan to serve over rice, make sure to start cooking the rice before you begin stir-frying anything. The spinach takes only minutes, but is done in three batches. If you have two cooks in the kitchen, one can finish stir-frying the main chicken entrée while the other works on the spinach.

The original recipe calls for a serrano chili, but with none available at our grocery store, we opted to use a jalapeño, which is not as hot on the Scoville scale as the serrano. Three cups of basil may seem like overkill but it wilts down considerably and imparts a sweet pungent flavor with a clove-like back end.

Three-Cup Chicken

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 3 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • ¾ cup sake
  • 2 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. grapeseed or other neutral oil
  • 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1-inch-wide strips
  • 12 medium garlic cloves, halved lengthwise
  • 1 bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch lengths 
  • 1 serrano (or jalapeño) chili, stemmed and sliced into thin rounds
  • ¼ cup minced fresh ginger
  • 2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 3 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves, torn if large
  • 1 cup jasmine rice, cooked to package directions


  1. In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and soy sauce, then stir in the sake and sugar. Set aside.
  2. Heat a wok over medium-high for 3 minutes, or until a drop of water evaporates within 1 to 2 seconds. Add the oil and swirl to coat the wok. Add the chicken in an even layer and cook without stirring until browned, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is well-browned and softened, about 4 minutes.
  4. Add the scallions, serrano, ginger and sesame oil, then cook, stirring constantly, until the scallions begin to wilt, about 1 minute.
  5. Stir the sake-cornstarch mixture to recombine, then add to the wok. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thickened, about 3 minutes.
  6. Off heat, add the basil and stir until it begins to wilt, about 30 seconds.
  7. Serve over hot jasmine rice.

Thai Stir-Fried Spinach

This simple, bold stir-fry uses regular bunch spinach rather than the water spinach common in Thai cooking. The wilted leaves and crisp-tender stems combine for a pleasing contrast of textures, and is not cooked to death like many recipes. In fact, we’ll go as far to say, it was probably the best cooked spinach we’ve ever had! Be sure to dry the spinach well after washing thoroughly (a salad spinner works great); excess water will cause splattering and popping when the spinach is added to the hot oil.

Don’t use baby spinach, which can’t handle high-heat cooking and doesn’t have stems to offer textural contrast. And don’t allow the spinach leaves to fully wilt in the pan; some leaves should still look fairly fresh, but will continue to cook after being transferred to the bowl.

Thai Stir-Fried Spinach

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 1 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. oyster sauce
  • 2 tsp. white sugar
  • ¾ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 4 Tbsp. grapeseed or other neutral oil, divided
  • 3 Tbsp. coarsely chopped garlic
  • 1½ pounds bunch spinach, trimmed of bottom 1½ inches, washed and dried well


  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar and pepper flakes until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.
  2. In a large skillet over medium-high, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil until just beginning to smoke. Remove the pan from the heat, add the garlic and cook, stirring, until just beginning to color, 20 to 30 seconds.
  3. Return the skillet to high and immediately add about ⅓ of the spinach. Using tongs, turn the spinach to coat with the oil and garlic. When the spinach is nearly wilted and the garlic has turned golden brown, 30 seconds or less, transfer to a large bowl. The leaves will continue to wilt but the stems should remain crisp-tender.
  4. Return the skillet over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil, swirl to coat the pan and heat until just beginning to smoke. Add half of the remaining spinach and cook, as before, for 20 to 30 seconds. Transfer to the bowl and repeat with the remaining oil and spinach.
  5. Pour the fish sauce mixture over the spinach and toss. Transfer to a platter and drizzle with any accumulated liquid.

Both recipes hail from Milk Street

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