Introduction to samgyetang, the classic Korea dish of ginseng chicken


(THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Samgyetang, or ginseng chicken soup, is the most often mentioned dish when talking about revitalising cuisine for the summer season. 

Its appearance may seem strange, as a whole small chicken sits in the steaming broth - seemingly taking a bath with legs crossed. 

Looking closer, goosebumps on the chicken skin can be observed. While some crave the skin for its melting mouthfeel, others dislike it for the fat.

Some places serve a glass of ginseng liquor with the soup. One can either enjoy the drink by itself or pour it into the broth. The strong-scented hard liquor combats the unique, mostly unpleasant, gamey smell. 

The young chicken has to be deboned before eating. It feel close to studying chicken’s anatomy, as one dislocates the wings, the legs, the rib bones and sometimes even the neck of the chicken.

The chicken legs have been crossed to hold in the stuffing. The tender chicken is stuffed with various tonic ingredients, such as ginseng, garlic cloves and jujubes. Some believe the stuffing should not be eaten, as it absorbs the toxins of the chicken. But recent studies have confirmed it is safe to eat.

There is one more ingredient hidden inside the chicken - chapssal, meaning glutinous rice. After finishing the meat, one can enjoy the rice inside like porridge. 

The chicken broth, boiled for hours, is clean and refreshing. As samgyetang is usually served in heat-retaining pots, the soup remains boiling hot for more than a few minutes.

In Korea, chobok, the first day of the hottest summer period which lasts about a month, calls for foods that restore vitality and samgyetang is the most commonly sought dish on the day. Long waiting lines at popular samgyetang restaurants are a common site on chobok, which falls on Tuesday this time. 

As temperatures rise, the ready-to-eat samgyetang market has been heating up as well. Many local retailers have launched precooked samgyetang in half the usual size served at restaurants, targeting one-person households.