You may have heard about boknal (복날), the three hottest days of summer in Korea. And you might also know that you’re supposed to eat boyangsik (보양식, restorative/preventative health foods) on these days, and that samgyetang (삼계탕, ginseng chicken soup) is one of those foods. During Korea’s sweltering summers, people sweat a lot, so we believe that it’s important to eat the right foods to regain your energy. Samgyetang, with its nutritious chicken and energizing ginseng, is one of summer’s most popular dishes—on particularly torrid days, you’ll see lines down the sidewalk at popular samgyetang restaurants.
Usually, you use one small-ish chicken for each serving—if you’re at the market in Korea, look for a yeonggye baeksuk (영계 백숙) chicken. It’s young and tender, and just the right size (around 400g) to feed one person. When I was young, we had eight family members living together in one household, so I remember my mom stuffing eight little chickens into one huge pot for the family whenever she made samgyetang. Traditionally, samgyetang was made in a gamasot, or huge iron pot, but these days any heavy pot will do. You can also use a pressure cooker, which will reduce cooking time by about half or even 2/3.
Keep in mind that while the cooking techniques are simple, they take time, so make sure you get an early start! This recipe serves two.
1 cup sticky rice
2 young chickens (about 400g each)
6 jujubes, dried
6 gingko nuts, roasted
2~4 chestnuts, peeled but uncooked
2 pieces fresh ginseng (~10 cm long)
4 cloves garlic
for the stock:
1 hwanggi (황기, milk vetch) root (about 10g)*
1 piece eomnamu (엄나무, prickly castor oil tree) bark*
*look for these at your local Asian grocery if you’re located outside of Asia
salt, black pepper and ground roasted sesame
1. Soak your sticky rice with a good amount of water to cover (2cm) for 2 hours. Drain in a sieve. You can prepare this a day in advance and store in the fridge.
2. Wash the hwanggi root & eomnamu bark with a brush under cold running water and soak in a bowl of room temperature water for about 2 hours. Simmer this water and aromatics together in a large pot for about an hour.
3. Wash your chicken under cold running water and pay extra attention to cleaning out the blood clots between the ribs. Otherwise, your white rice will come out with dark blood clots later—edible, but not pretty.
4. Scrub the fresh ginseng thoroughly under cold running water with a brush, dry it and cut off the tough top of the root.
5. Roast your gingko nuts with any kind of neutral vegetable oil, first on medium heat and then on low when the seeds start popping out of their skins. Shake onto a paper towel and rub the nuts between two sides of the paper towel to help them shed their skins. Set aside.
6. Cut the wingtips, tail and excess fat off the chickens. Stuff each chicken with alternating layers of sticky rice and fillings: chestnuts, jujubes, garlic, gingko and fresh ginseng.
7. Place the chicken in the center of your cutting board and cut a slit in the skin under each of the thighs. Tuck the legs crosswise into the opposite side hole so that the legs are crossed tightly. Make sure the opening is secured so the fillings don’t spill out! If you are not confident about this method, you can use cooking thread to tie the legs together. You can also close the opening with toothpicks. But give this one a try, it’s pretty and will impress your guests! And there are no dangerously sharp bits from toothpicks with this method. 🙂
8. Strain the stock.
9. Place chicken into a heavy pot and pour the stock over the chicken. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook for 2 hours. If your pot is too small for all of the stock to cover the chickens, turn the chicken over about halfway through.
10. Place each chicken very gently into an individual bowl or small stone pot (뚝배기) for serving.
11. Serve with sliced scallions and a mixture of salt, pepper and ground roasted sesame. Each person can season to their own taste.