Ginseng chicken soup (in Korean, Samgyetang) is a hot, steaming, delicious dish that features a small chicken stuffed with rice, ginseng, garlic, and jujube. You have to commit to eating a whole chicken all by yourself when you sit down for a bowl of samgyetang! But it’s totally worth it.
Koreans traditionally eat this dish during the hottest days of summer as a way to keep up their energy and to balance their body heat with the weather outside. We have a saying: Yi yeol chi yeol (以熱治熱: 이열치열), which means “fight fire with fire.” If it’s hot outside, you have to overcome it with hot soup!
A while ago I ran into one of my readers in a restaurant here in New York. He was sitting at a table with his friend. The first thing he said was: “Oh man, Maangchi!! I can’t believe I ran into you here!” We talked for a while and I asked him what his favorite recipe of mine was. He answered “Samgyetang” and told me how he often made it for himself and his mother. I was very impressed!
Koreans designate the 3 hottest days of a year as sambok (3 bok: 삼복) and their dates vary from year to year but they usually fall in July and August. First is chobok (beginning), and then 10 days later is jungbok (middle), and 20 days after that is malbok (last).
During this time, well-known samgyetang restaurants will be lined up outside, and inside they are full of diners eating hot, steamy, ginseng-infused soup, with sweat trickling down their foreheads as they fight fire with fire! Housewives make samgyetang for all her family, too. I usually prepare samgyetang and cold watermelon. After finishing hot samgyetang, finish with cold watermelon. The contrast makes your body feel shocking cold.
So if you like to follow Korean tradition, you can join them in 2015 on July 13 (chobok), July 23 (jungbok), and August 12 (malbok). Let me know how it turns out!
- 2 cornish hens. Each hen weighs about 1½ pounds, a nice portion for 1 person.
- ½ cup short grain rice (or glutinous rice), rinsed and soaked in cold water for 1 hour.
- 2 fresh ginseng roots, washed
- 2 large dried jujubes, washed
- 16 garlic cloves, washed and the tips are removed
- 2 to 3 green onions, chopped
- kosher salt
- ground black pepper
For the sesame dipping sauce:
- 1 to 2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
- a pinch of ground black pepper
- 1 to 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
For sweet sour soy dipping sauce:
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey (or sugar)
- ½ a medium size onion, cut into chunks
- 1 Jalapeno (or green chili pepper), chopped
Make the dipping sauces:
- Combine salt, sesame seeds, ground black pepper, and toasted sesame oil in a small bowl and mix well. Set aside.
- Combine soy sauce, vinegar, and honey (or sugar) in another bowl. Mix well with a spoon. Add onion and jalapeno. Set aside.
Cook the chicken:
- Strain the rice.
- Remove the giblets from the hens and rub them with salt all over to clean them nicely. Rinse under cold running water.
- Put the hens on the cutting board, pat dry, and remove any extra fat around the body cavities with kitchen scissors. Cut off the tips of wings if you want.
- Stuff each hen with rice, 1 ginseng, 1 jujube, and 8 garlic cloves. Put any leftover rice in the pot.
- Place the hens into a heavy pot. Add 8 cups of cold water, cover, and cook over medium high heat for 30 minutes.
- Turn down the heat to medium and cook another 40 minutes until the chicken, ginseng, and rice turn soft. Open up the pot from time to time and ladle some broth from the bottom over top of the chickens. If the broth evaporates too much, add more water.
- Remove from the heat.
- Place each hen into 2 individual bowls and add the chicken and broth. Sprinkle with chopped green onion and ground black pepper. Serve with kimchi, the 2 kinds of dipping sauce, and a small bowl of salt on the side for seasoning.
- If you serve them in earthenware pots, preheat the pots with a little water inside (about 2 tablespoons) and add the chicken and broth. Let them sit in on the heat until the samgyetang starts to sizzle. Then remove from the heat and sprinkle green onion over top and grind some black pepper. Serve hot with the dipping sauce, kimchi, and a small bowl of salt on the side for seasoning.