Samgyetang 삼계탕 (Whole Chicken Soup w Ginseng)

Samgyetang, a healthy and invigorating Korean chicken soup with the chicken being stuffed with sweet rice, dates (daechu), and ginseng (insahm) is a dish I have ambivalent feelings about even after a decade of eating it. Why you ask? It conjures up images of my time in Korea where my boss forced (ok persuaded) me to eat this soup in the dead-heat of summer (aka boknal, “dog days of summer”). His reasoning/logic/explanation (take your pick) was that you have to eat this particular hot soup in order to combat the summer heat (like fighting fire with fire, I guess).  I really didn’t like his answer very much so I did some research of my own. One reasoning I did find that made a little sense was that most nutrients are lost through sweat and physical exertion, thus the need for something invigorating and nutrient-rich like samgyetang. As if the dish weren’t hot enough, samgyetang restaurants always serve this in an earthenware bowl called a ddukbaegi, which keeps soups and stews hotter than anything you can imagine (perfect for the winter months).  Anyways, I was confronted with this wildly fascinating, annual phenomenon every summer when Koreans (including my coworkers too) would flock to get their fix of this soup, and this soup alone! And what do you know, life has come full circle and my conversion to Korean culture/superstition fulfilled when I found myself wanting this soup a few days back when the weather turned unexpectedly hot. Did it make me feel “colder” in the warmer weather? Not one bit. But it did bring cooler weather that has lasted up until the present time.

 

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 60 minutes

Ingredients: Serves 2 people

  • 1 Cornish hen (or small chicken)
  • 3 pieces of ginseng root (insahm)
  • 4 Korean red dates (daechu)
  • 4, 5 cloves of garlic, whole
  • 1/2 cup sweet rice (chapssal)
  • 2 green onions, diced
  • 3 chestnuts (bahm; dried or fresh)
  • salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 8 cups of water

Directions:

1. Soak the rice in water for at least 30 minutes to an hour, then drain.

2. Wash the chicken thoroughly inside and out. Remove giblets that should be stuffed in a plastic bag inside the chicken. Chopping off the wings is optional.

3. Stuff all the ingredients (minus the green onions and garlic) inside the cavity of the bird and tie/suture/sew the ends with a thread. I actually sewed mine with a thread and needle just in case.

4. Place the chicken in a large pot submerged in water. Throw in garlic cloves and extra sweet rice if you like and bring to a boil. Skim off any foam or scum that will eventually surface to the top. Let simmer on medium heat for about an hour.

5. Add the green onions and let simmer for another 10 minutes. If you want fall-off-the-bone chicken, cook another 30 minutes while replenishing with more water.

6. Serve alongside with salt and pepper to season the soup on an individual preference. Also, salt and pepper can be used as the dipping sauce for the chicken pieces.
7. Enjoy with rice and other banchan.

*I highly recommend purchasing pre-packaged samgyetang packets with ginseng, red dates, chestnuts, and sweet rice. They can be found at your local Korean grocery store and will save time and energy in the long run.

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