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?
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:
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.
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.
* 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)
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.