Korean Chicken and Ginseng Soup: Sam Gye Tang

homemade sam gye tang
Originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

Last year, I did a lot of sweating in Seoul’s hot sticky summer heat, where I looked for relief wherever i could find it: air conditioned department stores, eating icy pat bing soo, and finally indulging in sam gye tang, (or sam gae tang however you want to spell it) a chicken and ginseng dish traditionallly eaten on the hottest summer days.

The torturous irony of this dish is that it involves more sweating. Sam gye tang, particularly its ginseng proponent, is revered as a medicinal dish that induces sweating, which “detoxifies” you, and ultimately rejuvenates you. This is a dish that shows the recipient a lot of caring–not only can you serve it on a hot summer day, you can serve it to someone who is feeling under the weather. In fact, it originated out of royal and upper class kitchens, before precious ginseng became widely available. Who says Jewish chicken soup is the only one that revives? πŸ™‚

Last summer, I told my relatives I wanted to go to Tosokchon for sam gye tang, per the recommendation of one of my esteemed friends/readers of this blog. They didn’t realize I wanted to visit a restaurant that specializes in this dish (many restaurants in Seoul do specialize in this one dish)…and proceeded to make me some homemade sam gye tang in an already hot and sticky apartment:

Homemade samgaetang

It was delicious–though I was dismayed at missing Tosokchon, I really enjoyed the chicken and ginseng soup.

This summer, I decided to make some of my own. I gathered the ingredients (the sweet rice, ginseng and red dates at the Korean store and the cornish hens from Whole Foods), and set out making what I thought would be a complicated dish. It turned out to be very straightforward and simple, and I found my mind wandering to many happy memories, the “medicine” of this dish already beginning to work before I’d even taken the first bite.

sam gye tang ingredients

I hope you try this dish and enjoy it, too. The ginseng adds a slightly bitter taste to the dish, and dates and sweet rice counteract as sweeteners. The garlic gives it a mellow savory flavor note. Very different from an Eastern European Jewish chicken soup, it still hits the spot. My Jewish husband ate this dish right up.

RECIPE FOR SAM GYE TANG (Ginseng Chicken in Broth)
Adapted from both the Dok Suni Restaurant cookbook and Hi Soo Hepinstall’s Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen.
Serves 3-4

* 2 cornish game hens, or one 2-pound chicken (I like to use cornish hens for this dish)
* 1/2 cup sweet rice
* 4 pieces of dried ginseng root or 2 whole 3 year old fresh ginseng roots
* 6 garlic cloves
* 8 red dates
* approximately 9 cups water
* 2 green onions, sliced into thin rings for garnish

* Korean hot red pepper powder (optional)
* salt
* pepper

1. Wash rice and put aside.
2. Clean out game hens or chicken thoroughly, discarding all guts; trim off the area around the cavity and discard the tail ends. If you’re using Cornish hens, divide the rice, ginseng, garlic and dates to stuff the hens evenly (I like to distribute the garlic and dates and ginseng evenly throughout the cavity). If you’re using chicken, combine all the ingredients for the stuffing. Stuff loosely, keeping in mind that the rice will expand while it cooks.
3. Use a heavy pot (I used my Le Creuset dutch oven), good to make soup in, that will securely hold the chicken/hens. Place the stuffed hens into the pot, ticking in the flaps to prevent the stuffing from falling out. Some people prefer to sew up the flaps to prevent the stuffing from falling out. Tucking the flap only works of the chicken is a snug fit in the pot. What I did was bind with a skewer stick–it’s a lot easier to remove a skewer than it is to cut thread.
4. Pour in 9 cups of water, until the hens are covered and cook for 30 minutes over a medium flame with a lid on. Skim the fat and foam as the hens/chicken cook. After 30 minutes, the broth should have decreased by half, and the hens should be well cooked and tender. Poke to test with a fork. Cook for awhile longer if necessary (I like to simmer for another 30 minutes). Since I had awhile to go until supper, I turned the heat to low and let the hens cook for another hour. It was a great result, the chicken very tender and almost falling off the bone.
5. To serve, gently transfer the Cornish hens to a bowl (traditionally it’s a clay bowl that retains heat, but I used an oversized run of the mill Corelle bowl). You want to serve this immediately. Add broth to cover about 3/4 of the hens. Remember to tell your guests to discard the ginseng. Set out green onions, red hot pepper and salt and pepper so that guests can adjust their own seasoning.

sam gye tang ingredients

21 responses to “Korean Chicken and Ginseng Soup: Sam Gye Tang

  1. looks wonderful! these pictures are awesome, btw,

  2. Great site for healthful oriental cooking especially this Korean Chicken and Ginseng Soup .Want to have more recipes like this in the future.

  3. Pingback: North Korean Chicken Soup « Muffin Top

  4. Thanks for the blog. But what is the ailment for which sam gye tang used as a medicinal dish “that induces sweating, which ‘detoxifies’ you, and ultimately rejuvenates you”?

  5. I’m not sure what that ailment might be–though “detox” is generally a desirable quality in many “health foods.” Detoxing, as in sweating out the bad stuff.

    I’m guessing detoxing would be good after a toxic weekend of drinking and smoking, or if you’re generally feeling low in energy and need to help your body purge toxins and “purify” itself.

    Hope this helps–I’m not a herbologist or herbalist or anything. πŸ™‚

  6. Just wanted to let you know…
    i googled “sam gae tang” 5/23/07
    first up was your write up of 8/6/06…
    i was blown away by the pics, words +recipe! Thank You !
    (and for a great intro to a whole new blogarena for me!) newbeme

  7. Thank you for sharing the recipe, I was seaching to get this recipe to try out this dish.
    Thanks, will write to inform you after I have cooked it,

  8. You have to add dried chestnuts to the dish! When the hens are done, the chestnuts are a great texture and sweet surprise as you eat the rice. Make more porridge by adding more sweet rice in the bottom of the pot while making the hens. Season with salt.. its the best part! Also helps to soak the sweet rice in water overnight or for a few hours before using. By the way, Koreans eat this in hot weather to combat the heat. Ironic I know but it works. πŸ™‚

    Great pictures!

  9. I have always wanted to try making this and finally with your recipe (thank you) I made it last night for both my parents and they loved it! “It was delicious”, said my dad. It also helped cause my they both have been under the weather lately due to the season, and with it raining these past few days, there’s nothing better than soup!

    Thank you!

    I’m off to try more of your recipes!

  10. Jess–glad you liked it! If you like Korean soups, try the sullungtang recipe. πŸ™‚

  11. this is good..

  12. Looks wicked!!
    Better try it out some day…

  13. Michelle Shafagh

    Thank you so much for your great description of Sam Gye Tang! I am half Korean and half English. Sam Gye Tang is my favorite soup in the whole world. My husband is making me some right now for I am not feeling well (flu?). Looking at your pics, I just cannot wait for it to be done! Yum…yummy comfort food πŸ™‚

  14. Found this page by browsing the web to look for clarifications on the recipe for Samgye-tang I got from a free calendar at Super H Mart in Atlanta this week. No doubt …. they got their cooking directions (translation) from your post (Same syntax just some sentences were removed for brevity to fit on the calendar) . Their recipe is slightly different so that is why i was looking the recipe up because the recipe and directions dont match exactly. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Thanks for the recipe.

  15. Samgaetang is one of my favorite Korean foods. I modified this recipe to stretch it out a little bit, adding carrots, potatoes and some celery to cook in the broth. It came out great!

  16. I am looking at your recipe and making SAM GYE TANG now. thank you for putting together this recipe! wonderful!

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  20. Pingback: Sam Ye Tang: Korean Chicken | Delicious Chicken Recipes Your Mother Never Knew

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