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Traditionally, you make Korean Chicken Soup by stuffing the cavity of a poussin (baby chicken, or Cornish hen in America) with soaked rice, whole peeled garlic cloves, dried aromatics such as chestnuts and dried dates before being simmered in water or stock enriched with more garlic cloves, sliced ginger and dried ginseng roots, possibly with astragalus and some other aromatics added in for even more delicate, herbal flavour.
I’ve included instructions to make this more traditional version below (with some of my own non-traditional tweaks – such as finishing the dish with a hit of toasted sesame oil) and the simplified version I’ve pictured using a samgyetang kit sachet to infuse my soup. Think of it like adding a tea bag or a bouquet garni to produce a richer, better broth!
I actually prefer this soup on the second day so if you have time, make it ahead and keep it in the pot in the fridge before gently warming to serve the next day. However, whatever you do don’t skim off any of the chicken fat from the top before re-heating as it is essential to the flavour.
Interestingly, Samgyetang is a summer food, not a winter food as we’d usually associate chicken soup. Traditionally this is a summer dish as the health benefits derived from the added aromatics are supposed to help replace the nutrients lost through sweating. The ginseng and astragalus traditionally used are also supposed to provide an energy boost needed when it is too hot out.
Where can I buy Samgyetang kits?
Check the Korean section in your local Asian supermarket or in your local Chinatown which is always my first stop to stock up on Asian ingredients when I’m in town. You can also order kits from OrientalMart – I for one would have no problem finding enough to stock up on for free delivery!
Should I buy soup sachets or dried aromatics?
If you can buy samgyetang kits in your local Asian grocery store, just get what is most convenient, but if you’re shopping online my preference is for sachets for convenience, but if you’re planning on serving this soup at the table with a couple of poussins in the pan, using whole dried aromatics that float in the broth will look a lot prettier! You’ll also then be able to try the traditional method of stuffing them into the cavity along with the garlic and the rice for a more intense flavour.
What sort of rice should I use?
Traditionally you should be stuffing your poussin cavity with sweet glutinous rice or short grain white rice. However, I tested this soup a couple of times both with jasmine rice and with white basmati rice so you can use whatever you’ve got to hand. Basmati rice cooks perfectly and is what is pictured here, but the jasmine rice gave a better flavour. However, if you like your rice cooked so it is soft, choose basmati. The jasmine was cooked and I preferred it, but towards the middle of the poussin it had more of an al dente texture which I know won’t be to everyones liking.
Should I use chicken stock or water?
Honestly I think this is up to how many people you’re making soup for. As I only have a big casserole or saucepan but I’m doing just one poussin, I use a lot of cold water covering it and I don’t finish all the broth usually, so it would not be economical to use stock because you really want homemade or best quality store bought stock here to produce a nice clean broth. But, if your poussin(s) fit nicely in your pot, feel free to amp up the flavour with stock.
This light, nourishing, rice-stuffed Korean Chicken (Ginseng) Soup (Samgyetang) serves two as a light lunch, or a one-pot solo supper, but is easily scaled up to serve a crowd.
60g (2 oz) white rice (see note), soaked overnight
6 garlic cloves
thumb size piece fresh ginger
1 x Samgyetang kit
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 x poussin
cold water or fresh chicken stock (see note)
2 large spring onions, for serving
toasted sesame oil, for serving
kimchee, for serving
Peel the garlic cloves and thinly slice the ginger into coins – don’t worry about peeling it!
Combine the soaked rice, 3 of the garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp of the sea salt and the dried dates from the samgyetang kit if you’re using whole aromatics rather than a sachet.
Stuff the rice filling into the cavity inside the poussin. To secure the filling, cross the legs of the chicken across the cavity entrance and tie them tightly together with a piece of kitchen string. If you don’t have any, un-dyed, plain white cotton from the sewing box or a hotel mending kit will do!
Place the stuffed bird, remaining garlic cloves, ginger coins and either the remaining dried aromatics or the samgyetang sachet in a heavy bottomed casserole or lidded saucepan. Cover so the poussin is just covered with cold water and add the remaining 1 tsp of salt.
Clap on the lid and set the pan over a high heat and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and leave to cook for 1 hour. Don’t be tempted to flip over the bird over to make sure the rice gets cooked through – this will dry out your breast!
Remove the poussin from the pan and season the broth to taste with a little more salt.
To serve, spoon a couple of ladles of the broth over the poussin either whole to serve one, or halved down the middle to serve two in a deep but shallow bowl. Trim and slice the spring onions before sprinkling them over the top along with a light drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Serve the kimchee on the side.
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