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What Is Samgyetang?

By Rebecca Cartwright
Updated May 16, 2024
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Samgyetang is a kind of Korean soup traditionally served during the heat of the summer. The name means "chicken ginseng soup." This mild flavored soup includes a whole chicken, stuffed with the other ingredients and simmered until it is very tender. Samgyetang is considered a tonic for those suffering from the extremely hot Korean summers. In South Korea there are many specialty restaurants serving only this soup.

An entire young chicken is the basis of the dish. Traditionally it is a chicken so young it is not yet laying eggs. It is customary in restaurants for each bowl to include an entire chicken. Some modern recipes call for Cornish game hens, one per diner.

In addition to chicken, samgyetang includes sweet, or glutinous, rice, ginseng, dried jujubes and ginger. These are stuffed inside the chicken, which is closed with a skewer or a few stitches. The rice is often soaked before being stuffed in the chicken, which helps make sure that it cooks completely.

Ginseng, the major flavoring agent in this soup, is a root traditionally used in Chinese and Korean medicine and cooking. The roots are long, thick and gnarled. Ginseng gives the soup a slightly bitter taste.

Jujubes are the dried form of a plum-like fruit. Though not related to dates they are often called "Chinese dates" because of their appearance and dried texture. They give the soup a mild sweetness. Pine nuts and chestnuts are also often used in the soup.

Some recipes call for cooking the chicken in chicken broth, which gives the soup a deeper flavor. For a clear, light-flavored broth the soup is simmered just until the chicken is properly cooked. Longer simmering produces a white or cloudy broth with a stronger flavor.

Traditionally, samgyetang is brought to the table still boiling, in a clay bowl which helps hold the heat. The soup, as served, is not highly spiced and is often a bit under-salted. Small bowls of salt and pepper are placed on the table so diners can add them to the bowl as they wish. Some diners prefer to dip pieces of chicken in the seasonings instead.

Most meals in Korea include kind of kimchi, the spicy, fermented vegetable mixtures which are a staple in Korean cooking. Samgyetang is traditionally served with kkakdugi, a kimchi made from daikon radishes. Kochujanggi, a spicy condiment made from red chilis, is also often served on the side, for diners to add to the soup as desired.

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