When you order samgyetang at a restaurant, the bowl arrives at your table with the broth still bubbling. It might seem counterintuitive to some, but this Korean soup is best eaten on the hottest days of summer.
Samgyetang, or ginseng chicken soup, looks impressive. Each bowl holds a whole young chicken filled with glutinous rice. The chicken is cooked in the soup, which is also flavoured with ginseng, jujubes and other herbs.
“It’s a dish that’s good for energy and vitality. It’s given to revered guests such as the son-in-law. That’s a dish the mother-in-law would be cooking whenever the son-in-law comes to visit,” says chef Heather Jeong. “My parents, when they thought I’d needed some strength, they’d cook samgyetang to give me strength and health.”
The properties of samgyetang are thought to be heightened if you eat it on sambok days, which are the three hottest days of summer. “You feel warm when eating it. It’s an Asian concept to combat the heat with heat. When it’s really hot, you have something even hotter,” explains Jeong.
But even if you’re not looking to fight the heat or boost your energy levels, samgyetang is a beautiful, homey dish. “My family mainly ate it because we love the taste,” says Jeong.
What goes into making samgyetang
Jeong learned how to make samgyetang from her grandmother and now teaches how to make it at the Korean Culture Centre in Sydney. “There’s a misconception that it’s a difficult dish to make, but it’s a very simple dish so I like to make it at home,” she says.
She stuffs small, young chickens with glutinous rice and garlic, and cooks them in a saucepan with water, ginseng root and jujubes. “Just before you eat it, add a lot of chopped spring onions and black pepper. It elevates the taste,” she says.
"It’s an Asian concept to combat the heat with heat. When it’s really hot, you have something even hotter.”
If you have trouble finding all the ingredients separately, Korean grocers sell samgyetang herb packages.
Insu Kim is the founder of Korean restaurants Dooboo and Sam Sam, where samgyetang is served. “When I was a kid, I wasn’t a big fan because of the ginseng taste. But as I got older I started to love the flavour and now, from time to time, particularly when I’m not feeling well, I crave the chicken and the ginseng together,” he says.
Some restaurants use store-bought chicken stock, but not Kim’s: “For the soup, we put chicken bones and chicken feet together to make the broth thicker.” He developed a recipe where he cooks the soup and the stuffed chicken separately, before combining them
The chicken spends time in a combi oven, before joining the soup, which also contains ginseng, jujubes and lots of herbs.
How to eat samgyetang
“We usually start eating the chicken first. Because it’s stuffed with sticky rice and herbs, once you finish, the soup turns into porridge – so you can eat the porridge after. You can also shred the chicken into the soup and eat everything together, there’s not only one way to eat it," he says.
You’ll often get a mix of salt and pepper on the side, which you can use to season your soup and dip your chicken. Both Jeong and Kim recommend eating samgyetang with a side of kimchi. The spiciness and sweetness of the Korean staple compliment the soup perfectly.
Summer is the ideal time to eat samgyetang, so head to a Korean restaurant to enjoy it. Hanabi offers it in Sydney or, if you're in Melbourne, you can order it at Sam Sam in the CBD, or the Box Hill outpost of Dooboo, which will start serving it this Friday. Or you can make it at home using Jeong’s recipe.
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