Lately I’ve been watching programs on youtube on cooking, in particular historical cooking. The scenes would show a pot suspended over a fire built right on the floor in the centre of the dwelling and in the pot the main meal of the day would be bubbling away. There is something to be said about one pot meals. The simplicity and comfort of a bunch of quality ingredients melding and transforming into a tasty meal. One of the best one pot meals is Korean Ginseng Chicken Soup – Samgyetang. This soup is made with a whole chicken stuffed with cloves of garlic, ginseng, jujube red dates, chestnuts, and sticky rice, simmered gently in a pot until tender. Samgyetang is a dish for summer. The ginseng and the essence from the chicken fortify one against the heat and exhaustion. After eating this soup and the piece of ginseng I certainly felt invigorated.
I was poking around in a Korean grocery store and came across a package with all of the essentials to put this soup together. The dried essentials can also be found in a Chinese medicine shop. You can of course buy the ingredients separately but the package I found contained the quantities to make one soup and didn’t leave me with economy sized packs of jujube red dates. The one piece of equipment that I didn’t have, but covet, is a Korean earthenware cooking bowl, the type that you put directly over the fire. I made do with a heavy cast iron enameled pot. I’d also like to get a Korean stone cooking bowl, and a Korean cast iron table top grill would be nice too.
A few notes:
1) If you are using dried ginseng and dried chestnuts soak them in water overnight or at least 6 hours or they will be too hard to eat even after simmering in the soup.
2) Some Koreans believe it is necessary to remove the stem end of the ginseng or it will give you a fever. I didn’t want to chance a fever so I trimmed my ginseng.
3) I used all of the rice included in the package (what wouldn’t fit in the chicken went into the pot directly) and my soup came out as a rice porridge (like a jook or okayu), next time I might consider using less rice for a thinner soup.
2-3 lb young chicken Or 2 cornish hens
1⁄3 cup to 1 cup glutenous rice*see note above
1-2 pieces ginseng
1-2 heads garlic, cloves peeled
6 jujube red dates
green onion, chopped for serving
Soak the ginseng and chestnuts overnight or for 6 hours. Soak the rice for 40 minutes, strain and sit for 10 minutes. Trim the chicken of extra fat and skin. Stuff the chicken with the rice, 3 garlic cloves, the chestnuts, 3 jujubes. Close up the cavity by tying drumsticks together with string or toothpicks, or through slits in the skin. Place in a snug heavy pot. Add the remaining rice, ginseng, garlic and jujubes. Fill the pot with cold water, bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer covered for 1.5 to 2 hours. During the first 20 minutes of cooking skim the foam and fat from the surface. Stir the pot occasionally, scraping the bottom so that the rice won’t stick and burn to the pot. Season with salt very lightly at this point.
The soup is ready when the chicken is tender but not falling apart. Serve family style with chopped green onions and a dish of salt for diners to dip the chicken meat into. Complete the meal with a side dish of kimchi. Be sure to eat the garlic cloves and ginseng too for maximum health benefits, their intense flavour will be mellowed from cooking.